Letter From the Editor

It is hot, with insects buzzing in the wine and fruit juices in the hands of spectators, mostly men, in the wooden stands.  There is little talk; the entire populace of the arena is focused on two men.  In the sand of the area, two men, brawny and oiled, fight for their lives in symbolic, but dreadfully real, combat.  One falls to the sand to the cheers and boos of those who enslaved him and made him fight to live or die. 

The audience turns to where a young senator stands in the bleachers.  He has a huge grin on his tanned face, his toga blindingly white in the bright sun.  He raises one hand, his thumb extended up, saying that this gladiator, for now, lives.  The crowd roars to their feet, screaming with rage.  This man has not fought well; they do not think he deserves to be spared.  The senator’s grin fades, but he turns his thumb sideways to signify death.

            From the earliest Latin usage, the editor has had the final say, temporized by the public.  In the Roman Republic, the editor would have been a senator or other state official, usually the man who was throwing the games, almost always in honor of a dead relative.   During the years of the Empire, if the Emperor attended, he would be the editor.  Obviously, he was not always at the games, as various gladiatorial combats were held all over the empire, so it was still common to have a senator be the editor

            Interestingly, the Latin roots for the word “editor” may be either ēdō, which means “to bring forth” or “to bring about,” or from the word edō, which is the second-person, future-tense, passive imperative “thou shalt be eaten.” 

            I’m not sure which usage was intended for the Roman editor, but I’m pretty sure today’s editors come from the legacy of the first word.  After all, my job is to produce and distribute, not to eat anybody.  After all, I don’t bite that hard. 

            Unlike the Roman editors, however, my job isn’t primarily to please the people.  Sure, that’s important, as it is nice if someone besides my mother reads the paper, but more important to me is the right of the people to be informed; whether they like it is secondary. 

            The Horizon has received at least one letter about the story titled “Whatcomgate,” in the Nov. 29 issue of the paper.  The person who wrote the letter was clearly quite upset by the article, so I thought I’d explain the purpose of editors.

            First, we are here to run papers.  This means we make story assignments, help reporters with their jobs (informing the people), and help in the assembly of papers.  Secondly, we are here to make sure no libel or false information is printed.  Thirdly, we are here to make money (although the student paper is free, so yeah). 

            Being human, we do make mistakes, and certainly do not hold myself above this standard.  I apologize heartily for any mistakes I might make, but all reporters rely on sources, and sometimes those sources may change their minds when they realize how what they told us looks in print.  This is not a person being misquoted, this is politics.  We can only get the information people involved in an event are willing to give us, and this is occasionally the source of some errors, as people may be misinformed or intentionally misleading in the comments to a journalist. 

            I assure you that I understand the difference between what is “on” and “off” the record, and respect the wishes of persons who specifically say the words “this is off the record” or “please do not quote me on this.”  Anything prefaced by this will not be quoted.  However, saying that you do not wish to comment, and then talking, is not the same as this.  This will be quoted, especially if the reporter is writing down what you are saying as you talk to him or her. 

            As the editor, I give the Horizon a thumbs up.  This is a good paper, and the people who work on it have a good sense of ethics and moral values, the most important of which is the people’s right to know. 

            A very wise man, who I deeply respect and admire, once told me that whatever you do, somebody will love it and somebody will hate it.  That’s reality.  It’s also the reality that you will have to deal with the people who didn’t like what you did.

            Bona fortuna tecum,


One thought on “Letter From the Editor

  1. That was always one of the top most frustrating things about reporting/editing for me. If we misquote you and totally butcher what you said, that’s one thing…but if you just don’t like how you sound or how it looks on paper, I’m sorry, that’s not our fault and should not be taken out on us.

    Sorry Katy…hope this quarter is rockin’ for you!!

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