[UPDATE: I’m pleased to say that my editor has contacted me and asked me to continue to write for CiF. He had not read my e mail and did not know I had withdrawn from writing for the Guardian. This is an outcome that pleases me. So you’ll be seeing that Friedman piece in print in the near future plus coverage of the J Street conference at CiF.]
I’m probably going to violate a sacred rule of journalism: that is, that one shouldn’t write about the nitty gritty that goes on behind the scenes between writer and editor–something like Toto pulling the curtains aside to reveal the blustering fellow pretending to be the Great and Powerful Oz. Also, it may not be the best idea to write about publishing relationships that don’t end up working out for one party or the other. But I’m going to do it anyway to get a few things off my chest.
I had a good run at Comment is Free. I began writing for them just after the Lebanon war during the time of their extraordinary coverage of that war, under the rubric of Independent Jewish Voices, through blog posts from every conceivable angle on the conflict. This in turn led to my writing a chapter for A Time to Speak Out, a collection of essays originally published in CiF. After the Guardian opened a U.S. bureau in Washington, I began writing for CIF America. When they first launched, my new editor told me he saw me publishing once a week or more in CIF. Though that never happened, I did publish every two weeks or so and developed a good working relationship with my editor.
But writing freelance can be very frustrating and the relationship between writer and editor is often tenuous and unstable. I had an awkward situation in which I couldn’t write about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unless it was accepted by a different editor based in London. This editor hardly ever accepted any of my queries, so my writing had to be confined to issues involving Israel and U.S. policy. Still, I managed to follow the protocol and find subjects to write about.
Then I began to notice that pieces I wrote which had been accepted wouldn’t run for long periods. When I asked I was told the editor was waiting for a suitable opening to run it. Since my earlier pieces were always published promptly, I found this puzzling.
A few months ago Tom Friedman wrote what I considered an especially condescending NY Times column about the wonders of Salaam Fayyad and the West Bank economic miracle. My editor, who also shared a distaste for Friedman, liked the idea of a critique and I wrote one. He responded that he liked it. All well and good. Except that the piece never ran. A few weeks later, I finally called my editor and asked if there was anything in particular holding up publication. He replied that the piece was too long. So I edited it and cut it almost by half. He said he liked it once again. And I thought finally the piece would be published. But it wasn’t. I waited weeks longer and e-mailed several times. The answer was always “we’re waiting for an opening to publish it.”
Finally, after working this over in my mind many months, I decided to pull the piece and let my editor know I wouldn’t be writing for CIF anymore. It’s damn hard to get a freelance gig and some may say I was foolish in what I did. But I just didn’t see any other way. I didn’t feel my work was receiving the respect I felt it deserved. Perhaps if I were a professional journalist and had other publication venues, I might have approached this differently since falling out of favor with one publisher could be compensated by building relationship with new ones. But I didn’t have that luxury.
To prove my point about the the regard in which I was held, neither my editor nor Georgia Henry, CIF general editor, replied to my e mail announcing my decision. You’d think it might deserve just a few words in reply if just for old times’ sake.
There are writers still writing for CiF who I respect and they tell me their relationships remain strong with it and their editors. So I don’t precisely to know what to attribute this. But certainly despite my ending my run, it remains an important venue for progressive writing about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
At any rate, CIF’s loss if your gain. The next post I publish here will be the original story I wrote for CIF. It’s a tad out of date, but savaging Tom Friedman can never be out of date because he so richly deserves it.