Some twenty years ago I was on the staff of my community college student newspaper. It was there that I made the biggest editorial blunder I’ve ever made.
I was working with a small team of great minds on an ad promoting the school’s tutoring department. We bounced around a few ideas, but what we landed on was something like “Is Homework Getting to Be a Real Pain in the Ass? Come to the Tutoring Center for Help.”
I remember having strong reservations about publishing it, but I was a rookie and the person leading the charge on the project was a senior member of the newspaper staff. So I, and the others involved, agreed, and we put our names on it and submitted it.
There were admonishing emails from the college administration.
There were retractions and apology ads run.
There were lessons learned.
Yes I was young but I should have just said I didn’t want to have my name on such an ad, and that I didn’t think it was the best we could do. Sure it was eye-catching, but not in the best way. I should have suggested we talk to the people above us, or who worked in the tutoring center. At that point I think it would have been clear what we should do.
I have a feeling this ad never would have run had we done that. The opinion of those who we were doing the ad for would have edited us. And when you are doing advertising, or marketing, or doing freelance of any kind those opinions are the ones that matter.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes popular opinion is wrong and you shouldn’t make your decisions based on what others are going to like or what is going to be popular if you are writing something you deeply believe in. And I DID deeply believe that homework was a pain in the ass. But you pick your battles, right? This wasn’t worth all of the fallout. And it did not serve our client.
In any case, I should have edited myself.
Recently as a pro blogger, a similar situation came up when a staff member at the company I was writing for dropped a line that I really wanted to use because It was eye-catching and not just in the shock-value sort of way. But I had a feeling that the owner would prefer I leave it out. I was sure of it actually. I asked her anyway, I guess just to show her I was a conscientious of the image I was creating for her business. I was correct.
I could have gone with my gut and edited myself. I asked and let her edit me. But I was glad I at least asked.