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Firing Order - The good, the bad, and the ugly magazine editorials

Posted in Features on April 21, 2016
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All hail the great and powerful editorial column. The soapbox upon which magazine editors have their say and eat it too. The bully pulpit from which any topic, no matter how irreverent or irrelevant, is fair game. Ideally, it should be a window into the mind of the guy running the show and, therefore, a solid indication of the caliber of the stories you’ll find inside. If the editor can grab and hold your attention with his editorial, then chances are there’ll be something in the issue that sticks with you. But sometimes it’s just another page of filler frosting atop a printed cake of crap. Naturally, the fact that I’m pulling the curtain back to reveal the inner workings of the machine means I’m fairly confident in my abilities as a magazine-putter-togetherer and think I’m a more gooder-word-typer guy than some hacky editors you might stumble across on the magazine rack. An editor needs to know how to be engaging. Nowadays, TEN’s senior vice president of content strategy, David Freiburger, mucks a big muckity, but back when he was a lowly magazine editor, I never missed one of his editorials for that very reason. I’m pretty sure if he was putting together a book on toenail fungus, I’d pick it up just so I could enjoy his editorial column. In fact, I seem to remember him railing against pansy editorials the same way I’m doing now. So, without further ado, here are some of my least favorite types.

• The “In This Issue”: Why some feel the need to rebarf the table of contents is fully beyond me. “In this issue we’ve got some crap, some stuff, and some other crap. I’m just saying this because I have nothing interesting to share with you and I’ve never had an original thought enter between my flappy ear lobes.” These types of guys are totally disconnected from the media they’re shucking and should probably go get a job as a day trader.

• The “Excusinator”: These editors totally blew it somehow in their last issue and got called out for it publically. Rather than bite the bullet and own up to their mistake, they dig themselves further into a hole of public outcry and damnation. These guys usually represent the highest level of disconnect from their publication’s focus, and the walking papers they’re invariably served shortly thereafter are usually well deserved. “I know I said fossil fuel vehicles are ruining civilization, but if we all focus less on performance and more on building vehicles that run on fuzzy hugs and positivity, we can save the polar bears and bring back unicorns for future generations.”

• The “Human Resources Newsletter”: You’re buying a magazine for entertainment. Do you really care who does what in the company that manufactures it? “Carl just got promoted to head of sales starting with this issue and Steve in the mailroom with the gimpy leg (you remember Steve from the August editorial?), well, Steve is now promoted to pushing that little mail cart from office to office. Way to go Steve!” Usually I see this kind of editorial in the free magazine you find in the seat back of an airplane.

• The “Eeyore”: “Eeeverything’s baaaad. I stubbed my toe and my computer crashed and my dog ran away and I left my tuna sandwich in the car and now the mayo is questionable.” Cheer up, sunshine! Post that drama on your personal Facebook page, not in your publication.

• The “Leona Helmsley”: As writers we sometimes get to do cool stuff for stories. For automotive types that’s usually an invite to go drive some killer vehicle on some killer trail; for travel writers it’s luxury trips at five-star resorts; and so on. But some forget where that line separating temporary fantasy with permanent reality lies. “I was appalled to discover the champagne on the catamaran had gone warm while we were scuba diving in Tahiti. Now I shall bemoan the loathly state of the service industry for the next four paragraphs.” Please—at a writer’s salary we’re lucky to supersize a value meal, let alone gripe about an all-expense-paid plum trip for a story. Keep it in perspective, schmuck.

Thankfully, here at TEN, you won’t normally find these kinds of editorials ’cause most of the editors are real enthusiasts who grew up loving and cherishing both the subject matter, as well as the craft with which it’s delivered. There’s an art to this whole thing, and folks who not only possess knowledge on the subject matter but can also deliver entertaining writing and photography don’t exactly grow on trees. But we’re always looking, and pretty soon we may just be hiring. So if you can tell good edit from bad and think you have what it takes (especially strong writing skills), let us know at editor@fourwheeler.com. You just may wind up writing a column like this one day.
-Christian Hazel

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