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I wrote an article for a university newspaper that summarizes incidents involving racism on campus. After edits, the sentence structure became uniformly long instead of varied, straightforward vocabulary was placed with ten-dollar words, and two sentences in a row now begin with the same clause ("In response,...").

Worst of all, the article now ends by telling the reader how to think. The original draft (which I still have) presents the facts and lets the reader draw his/her own conclusions. Now it ends by stating that the events describe will make it clear that racist individuals will receive consequences.

In brief, the article makes me look preachy and bad at writing. It also disrespects the smarts of the reader, by essentially repetitively stating "...and this event is racist", rather than letting the reader think for himself/herself. The editor is confident that the new version is superior to the previous.

The article's going to show up if people Google my name. I'm unsettled and unhappy about this. Is there anything I can do to distance myself from the article?

  • What kind of a contract did you sign? Did you not get to approve or reject edits before they went public? – Jason Bassford May 19 '18 at 21:01
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If the article is published, you're trying to shut the door after the horse has bolted. As @JasonBassford says you needed to have had an agreement in place that enabled you to approve edits before publication.

You could ask for the article itself to be removed, or request that your name be removed from it, but even then, cached versions will remain on the internet.

Removing it may be easier if there's anything defamatory in the article. Can you go above the editor's head and complain?

If it or your name cannot be removed, is it possible to have a response to the article published?

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I was the editor of my university paper back in the day. Chris Sunami's answer is right; university newspapers are produced by amateurs, people learning the trade (who might not even be taking journalism-related coursework), and they sometimes err. In addition to following the very good advice from Chris, you can ask for a retraction in the next edition. A conventional wording would be something like this:

The article (title) published in the (date) edition was incorrectly attributed to (author). (Publication name) regrets the error.

Normally there would be a sentence after the first one like "the article was actually written by X"; if you'd be more comfortable having the person who edited it (or the editorial team) take full responsibility, even though you wrote the first draft, you could ask for that. Without some attribution some readers will wonder, but newspapers have other "unsigned" content too, like editorials (usually). It sounds like your article was an opinion or analysis piece, and sometimes those are group efforts, so while leaving the attribution "hanging" like this might raise a few eyebrows, it won't be that unusual.

For online content they can also attach this to the page itself -- update the author credit at the top, and at the bottom include a note like "An earlier version of this article was published with incorrect attribution".

  • 1
    For online content, it also doesn't really seem unreasonable for such an amendment (or even edit) to be made directly on the article page. That should alleviate most of OP's concerns. – a CVn May 21 '18 at 15:20
  • @MichaelKjörling good point (and I've seen that). I'll update. – Monica Cellio May 21 '18 at 15:23
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This is probably a not uncommon problem for less professional publications, where editorial norms may not be as well-understood. That's not to say that ALL college publications are less professional, but some of them certainly are. I'm sure the editor thinks he/she was doing you a big favor.

I would start by having a conversation with the publication, but try not to be overly confrontational. Just state that the edits changed your work so much that you no longer wish to be credited with it, and ask if they would be willing to replace the digital version of the article with a less heavily edited version, or at least remove your name from it. Don't assume they'll be hostile --they might be very responsive to your concerns. If they won't do either (or even if they do, if you're concerned about the print edition), send them a letter and ask them to publish it in the letters to the editor section, summarizing, again in very neutral language, your problems with the published version, and the reasons you wish not to be associated with it.

Before you do any of that, however, please reread the edited article. Is it possible the edits are for the better, or at least, not as harmful/intrusive as you think? We're all protective of our own writing, and it can be hard to accept even positive changes at first. Once you've given the rewritten version a fair shake, ask yourself which is worse, to let the published version stand as your work, or to go public with your displeasure.

3

I've faced this situation myself. For every edit EXCEPT the added paragraph that tells the reader what to think, that's something that can and does happen, and you should accept it. An editor's job isn't to add content most of the time, it's to make sure the writing is correct and has clarity.

I once did an article on a particular art collection, and my editor sent it to the art collectors themselves, to ensure accuracy. It was accurate, but they didn't like the focus I put on the collector that I had interviewed--they completely re-wrote it, and sent it back to my editor. That's what he ran. I didn't get emotional or anything, I just asked that my name be taken off because basically, it wasn't my work any more. I still got paid, because I had put in the work, but I did make it clear that it wasn't a standard of editing I would ever put my name on. Not a bad piece, really, but it wasn't mine anymore.

Editors are used to whiny, delicate flower writers who balk at any suggestion that their writing could be improved. Mostly, I accept edits, even when they are broader than I'd like. I still have a good relationship with this publication and this editor because I don't generally get my knickers in a twist about editing unless the edit adds inaccuracies (which can sometimes happen, grammatically and factually). But once a work is nearly unrecognizable as my own or the driving premise of it has been changed by the editor, that's where I draw the line.

So--my advice to you is this--don't nitpick about all the edits. Mention generally that your voice in the article was changed, but that the concluding paragraph, which you did not write at all, changes the intent of the article drastically enough that you would like your name removed. That you intended for the reader to draw their own conclusions rather than telling them what to think.

Offer to give them an online replacement for it that's a compromise. Be brief, above all, and leave them your phone number of they should like to speak with you about it.

There is more you can bring to bear if they don't respond the way you had hoped, but it might open a conversation.

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