The Drama of Editing

Lady journalist with laptop open and decorated with stickers for Ford/Dole, McGovern/Shriver '72, Reagan/Bush '84? wat
Image courtesy of Max

by Shuja Haider

In the 1990s, Hollywood often dramatized stories about journalists—it was a much better-paid and potentially even glamorous occupation, back then. As a dramatic character, the journalist has a similar appeal to that of a police detective: both professions entail contact with various important, strange, or dangerous people, and each sets out to find the answers to unanswered questions. The role of a fictional editor, in turn, corresponds to that of the beleaguered police captain, barking orders and furrowing brows, granting either official censure or grudging permission to a protagonist who had enough gumption to bend the rules. These kinds of things do happen, but in my experience, most conflicts between writers and editors take the form of protracted correspondences about sentence structure.

With newsrooms thinning out and per-word rates declining, journalists may have lost some of their former dramatic allure. But they’ve started to appear with more frequency in movies and television again—perhaps as a result of the trend for screen adaptations of gossip and scandal reporting, which are among the few remaining meal tickets in the industry for an ambitious writer. A fictionalized example of this phenomenon is The Girls on the Bus, a recent TV adaptation of Chasing Hillary, Amy Chozick’s chronicle of her experience covering Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign for The New York Times. The series borrows its title from Timothy Crouse’s book The Boys on the Bus, a classic account of the journalists who covered the 1972 presidential election. 

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