Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Legal Snooze

Since I'm unemployed (again) I think I'll take some time to vent about the magazine I feelance for. We'll call it The Legal Snooze.

I am the "Editor." I am not at all qualified to be the sole editor of a quality magazine, let alone a legal one (I don't think getting in to law school really affords me any real legal expertise). But for this piece of crap, I am apparently more than good enough. Here's how I got the gig: I saw that the magazine's articles were terribly written and riddled with copy errors. So I wrote an email to the publisher (there was no editor on the masthead) including a list of things I would have changed in one of the articles from that issue. He called me the next day and said I could be the editor, but he couldn't afford to pay me. Fair enough.

I've since realized that there's a reason there was no editor before I came along. The publisher -- we'll call him Bill Boss -- doesn't give a damn about journalism. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with publishing something that is merely a vehicle for advertising (for instance, I enjoy reading the weekly supermarket circular, and I don't mind that the food articles and recipes are poorly written and/or thinly veiled advertisements). But if your magazine is positioned as a source for news about legal issues, you can't just be printing any old crap.

Oh, but apparently you can.

Boss insists on filling the bulk of the magazine with articles -- but there is a dearth of quality editorial because I am the only "writer" on staff (and I am no more qualified to be a writer than I am to be the editor). So Boss finds filler material. For instance, for the immigration-themed issue that we are wrapping up now, he forwarded me an "article" he wanted to run and asked me to edit it. As my printer coughed out about the thirtieth page I realized that what he had forwarded me was text from the INS website that he had copied and pasted into a Word doc. It was extremely repetitive, not at all interesting, and peppered with CLICK HERE's. I called Boss and asked if perhaps there were some actual articles from somewthere that we could re-print instead. He insisted I work with what he had given me -- he had, after all, spent all that time copying and pasting.

(Maybe I shouldn't have expected too much from a free magazine that prints on its cover not "Free" or "Take One" but "PRICELESS." I've tried several times to explain to Boss that "priceless" does not mean "free." Don't even get me started.)

Boss clearly doesn't care about the content of his magazine because he never even reads articles that are submitted before fowarding them to me for editing. For this immigration issue, he forwarded me a Word doc from an attorney named Port with only "See attached" in the text of his email. I opened the doc and it was a six-page personal biography of this guy Port, chronicling his early days as a six-year-old door-to-door coal salesman and other relevant topics. I wrote back to Boss, "What's this for?" He replied, "The immigration issue." Always the diplomat, I responded, "Did you mean to forward a different doc? This is not an immigration article -- it's a six-page personal bio of Port." He retorted, "Yes, I DID mean to send it to you, I want to include a personal profile of this attorney. I want you to edit it to highlight the immigration parts. Make sense?" Again, giving him the benefit of the doubt, I read the bio for the second time. Nope, no mention of anything vaguely related to immigration. I wrote back telling Boss as much. No response for several minutes (I assume he was actually looking at the doc at this point). Then, "Edit it to 1,000 words."

I wish there was some funny punchline to this story, but unfortunately this is just the sad state of affairs.

Ok, here's the punchline: Boss is a member of the ranks to which I will soon belong -- he's a lawyer. Groan.