The Last Laugh: It Ain’t Easy Being Editor

Mary Dee Wenniger, Editor and Publisher

As editor of WIHE, I often meet people at conferences who ask interesting questions, including whether this is a full-time job, what school is it affiliated withand the inevitable, where do you get your material? (Answers: Yes, none, everywhere.)

Those readers see an editor's job as all glory-travel expense accounts, three-beer lunches and the monthly ego trip of seeing one's name and words in type.

They don't realize that for every major decision like which articles to assign and include in each issue, there are many less clear-cut choices to be made on ethical dilemmas. Here are some from the past month:

Dilemma # 1: Should we reveal a partnership?

Last month's August issue included an In Her Own Words article by Dr. Marguerite Allington on Dr. Pat Washington's tenure denial case against UCSD. They are life partners.

In the office we had discussed the very question of whether or not to mention their connection. Revealing it could undermine the credibility of Washington's story by inviting readers to discount it, although they said we were free to disclose it.

Decision: In the end we chose not to connect the dots. In fact, a long-time reader familiar with the case phoned to ask if we knew the author was Washington's partner. She felt our not disclosing it was undermining the publication's credibility.

As director of a Women's Studies program, she said the NWSA conference did not pass a resolution on the case because it had members on both sides of the issue. It's an issue on many campuses: Schools hire new minority faculty members who have trouble fitting in when it comes to tenure time, based on differences of ethnicity and generation.

In clear 20-20 hindsight, our decision may have been a step backward from the notion of full transparency.

Dilemma #2: Should we reveal nepotism?

Eagle-eyed readers may have noted a new name on the WIHE masthead since July, that of Elizabeth Leigh Farrington, who went from copy editor to associate publisher in charge of online services in just one month.

Yep, she's my daughter, whom we've finally recruited into the family business big-time-after she worked in editorial and sales at three magazines in San Diego. The subject of many mentions in this column since WIHE started in 1992 when she was 14, she has been copy editor, contributing writer and now associate publisher.

Decision: Full disclosure here is the only way to go. It's nepotism for sure, but why not? Whether Liz admits to her roots is another question, as she represents WIHE on the west coast.

Dilemma #3: Should we object to ignoring process in hiring a coach?

Athletics is my passion, especially gender equity issues like hiring coaches and administrators. (See pages 8-9.)

Imagine my surprise to read that right in my own back yard, the football coach of my alma mater the University of Wisconsin (who also happens to be AD) announced that an assistant coach would inherit the head coaching job next spring, probably right after the signing deadline.

No job posting, as required by university policy, no search committee or interviews. There was just an exuberant announcement, and gloating that the new coach would gain a recruiting advantage because he could talk to recruits more frequently as assistant coach than as head coach. What should a "think globally, act locally" kind of woman do?

Decision: I wrote a letter to Wisconsin's Madison campus chancellor John Wiley, with copies to the local newspaper and the NCAA, outlining my concerns over abandoning the process of open hiring, mentioning fair play, NCAA procedures, equity and justice in hiring.

Dilemma #4: Should we change our style?

Every publication has its distinctive editorial style, based on what style manual it follows and certain idiosyncrasies. We follow AP style, not MLA or APA as used for scholarly publications. In our pages you'll see distinctions like the spelling of dialog, using the % sign, PhD without periods, and lots of lower case titles and departments.

But style is constantly evolving, and the question is whether we as a publication should change too.

Decision: Yes, let's keep current to some extent. First we called them Websites, then Web sites, and now we're making the leap to web sites, since the words are so common today and used about 35 times in the article on page 35. And now phone numbers have periods after each section, not the parentheses and hyphens of the past.

In today's chaotic world, just having the luxury of worrying about such comparatively trivial issues-while there are so many homeless, the price of gas is $2.69 a gallon and people are blowing each other up-can be considered getting the last laugh.

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