Homage to a great edi­tor

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN PARKER kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

Be­hind ev­ery great col­umn is a great edi­tor — a tru­ism never more so than when Alan Shearer puts high­lighter (not red pen) to copy.

Shearer, who has run The Wash­ing­ton Post’s syn­di­ca­tion op­er­a­tion the past 26 years, has man­aged to ig­nore the wail­ing, weep­ing and lamen­ta­tions of his de­voted cadre of colum­nists and car­toon­ists and re­tires this week.

To the dust­bin of his­tory goes not Alan, as his well-spelled words, his hy­phen­ated ad­jec­tives and hy­per­bole-re­sis­tant at­ten­tion to per­fect­ing prose will per­sist through thou­sands upon thou­sands of pub­lished col­umns bear­ing some­one else’s name. It is time you knew his. Alan is edi­tor to a sta­ble of 20 writ­ers, many of whom are des­ti­na­tion colum­nists, in­clud­ing Ge­orge F. Will, Charles Krautham­mer, Fa­reed Zakaria, Eu­gene Robin­son, Ruth Mar­cus and Dana Mil­bank, among oth­ers, as well as this hum­ble cor­re­spon­dent. At a farewell party Thurs­day, writ­ers took turns prais­ing Alan, who stood sto­ically to the rear be­tray­ing noth­ing and tol­er­at­ing what he termed an ex­cess of hy­per­bole.

That’s Alan: dead­pan, re­served, mod­est, gen­er­ous, tough, tol­er­ant and thought­ful. It would never oc­cur to him to take credit or even al­low men­tion of his role in a writer’s suc­cess, though he de­serves a great deal of it. That so many have re­ceived Pulitzer Prizes un­der his watch is no co­in­ci­dence.

Based on Thurs­day’s tes­ti­mo­ni­als, I think it’s safe to say that we don’t only ad­mire Alan; we love him. Some even said so. He isn’t only a great edi­tor but also a great leader with an eye for qual­ity. He will leave be­hind an­other great edi­tor, whom we also love, Richard Al­da­cush­ion, as well as edi­to­rial pro­duc­tion man­ager So­phie Yar­bor­ough and op­er­a­tions man­ager Karen Greene, who keeps the ship afloat.

We have all been hand­picked by Alan. (I pause here to won­der whether “hand­picked” is hy­phen­ated, know­ing that Alan’s team will put it right. Alan’s epi­taph, he once told me, would read: “The un-hy­phen­ated life isn’t worth living.”)

Part of our af­fec­tion for Alan stems from his ded­i­ca­tion to our craft — for mak­ing us the best we can be — but also for his gen­eros­ity in be­ing in­vis­i­ble. The hand of a good edi­tor should never be seen. When you, gen­tle reader, pe­ruse the op-ed page and read a Kath­leen Parker col­umn, you will not know that some­one else may have sug­gested a bet­ter word, or found that a fact was ei­ther lack­ing or in­cor­rect (and cor­rected), or re­minded me for the 100th time that there is no comma pre­ced­ing “but” when the in­tro­duc­tory clause be­gins “not only,” or that I keep writ­ing Medi­care when I mean Med­i­caid, dadgum­mit.

But, never is a comma changed with­out the writer’s ap­proval. This, too, is a credit to Alan, whose re­spect for and def­er­ence to writ­ers is never in ques­tion. Ed­its at the Writ­ers Group syn­di­cate are al­ways of­fered as sug­ges­tions for the writer’s fi­nal say. Most times, too, Alan will write a note of ap­pre­ci­a­tion be­fore the blood­let­ting be­gins with a “nice job” or “good stuff here.” On those rare oc­ca­sions when he jots “bril­liant” or “fan­tas­tic,” my feet don’t touch the ground un­til the next day.

You see, there’s noth­ing quite like know­ing you’ve writ­ten some­thing not bad at all. It is a joy that should be shared by at least two peo­ple, be­gin­ning with Alan, if only one of us gets the pub­lic credit. Such is the ul­ti­mate gift of the edi­tor to the writer, for which we fi­nally thanked him.

Will be­gan his com­ments by spell­ing a word — m-i-n-u-s-c-u-l-e.

“There,” he said, “I’ve fi­nally mas­tered it.”

Ap­par­ently, even the long­est-writ­ing colum­nist among us is im­per­fect. I can’t ac­count for how happy this makes me. Mar­cus said she was sur­prised to learn that Alan all along had been edit­ing so many other writ­ers as well as her. Like the rest of us, she had thought she was the only one. This is be­cause Alan makes each writer feel that he or she is the most im­por­tant, the most gifted, the most adored. How dear of you not to tell us oth­er­wise.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing the finest edi­tor any of us have ever worked with, Alan is a thor­oughly de­cent hu­man be­ing and a con­sum­mate gen­tle­man. He is also kind. When I suf­fered a con­cus­sion and had to stop writ­ing for a while, he held my place and my hand, re­mind­ing me of how rare he is in a me­dia world that has be­come heart­less and self-im­por­tant.

So, for now, farewell, fine sir — and thanks for bring­ing me to the party.

[Edi­tor’s Note: Alan Shearer re­cused him­self from read­ing this col­umn.]

Alan Shearer makes each writer feel that he or she is the most im­por­tant, the most gifted, the most adored.

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