The ‘pull’ on an editor…


I had to decline publishing an article this week due to the author making unsupported and unverifiable claims.  This is the first time in my short tenure of Editor of Oasis magazine that I’ve had to take such action, but I suppose it was probably just a matter of time.

Care to take a guess what that article was about?

The article discussed a one-day ‘re-set’ diet for readers in the event they eat poorly and experience bloating during the upcoming holiday season.  It was submitted by a Holistic Nutritionist and provided recipes for “cleansing” smoothies, mentioned how you need to “alkalize” your gut environment and even included a recommendation to drink a “Lemon Elixir”, which consists of the notoriously hokey combination of water, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and honey/sugar.  Like all good diet scams there was some legitimate advice thrown in (the menu focused mostly on fruits & vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats), but make no mistake, the claims behind this diet were full-on psuedoscience.

Want to know the crazy thing?  As a magazine editor, I felt the pull to publish it anyways.

I knew that as a dietitian I could never seriously consider publishing an article like this nor would I want to given my position on cleanses and the spreading of nutritional misinformation, but purely as an editor I’ll admit that I was tempted for several reasons:

  1. It would probably be well-received by our readers.  In my experience upper to middle class women with tend to be the keenest audience for these types of dietary regimens.  This group happens to make up the bulk of our readership.
  2. It was well-written.  Despite the fact that several of the claims made in the article weren’t justifiable, the grammar was pretty much perfect.  While I very much appreciate all of those individuals who take the time to write for the magazine, the truth is that many of the articles I get have numerous errors (grammar and otherwise) that must be corrected, which is quite time consuming.  It’s a breath of fresh air when I get an article that I have to do almost nothing with during the editing process.
  3. If I declined, I’d have to find alternative content.  If I didn’t accept this article I’d have to find another way to fill 2 pages on short notice.  Not always the easiest thing to do given all of our contributors are unpaid volunteers.
  4. Avoiding confrontation with the author.  I’m the type of person who generally avoids anything that could lead to a confrontation.  Other than her obvious lack of knowledge of biology and the nutritional sciences, the author seems like a nice person.  It’s never a pleasant thing having to tell someone, let alone an unpaid volunteer, that their work isn’t good and/or accurate, particularly when they strongly believe it to be so.

The entire episode has given me a better understanding in the decision-making process that editors are continuously going through. That not make excuses.  It still needs to be any editors job to do their best to ensure the information they’re publishing is true and accurate, regardless of the publication (at least that’s the opinion of someone with admittedly no journalism training).  I just now have a better appreciation for the pressures that editors are under.

As a follow up, I ultimately ended up emailing the author and tried to do my best to explain that I couldn’t publish her piece because it was misleading and inaccurate.  She seemed cordial enough in her reply, but not surprisingly didn’t understand my rational.  She believed that the public should be able to read her work and make their own choice as to whether her approach was a legitimate one.  This actually sounds reasonable until you realize that she has zero scientific basis for the claims she was making.  When you think of it that way providing her a venue to spread her ideas under the guise of being an expert doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.



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