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Editor's Page
Content Is King
Dan O'Connor
Publish Date: May 13, 2008

I was a bit player on my bad Division III college basketball team. I was also the sports editor of my college newspaper. I had a better handle on words than on the basketball, so I spent considerably more time typing than dribbling. Like what you do and do what you like, right?

I spent two forgettable seasons on the team, leaving the Neumann College Knights after my sophomore season. The following season, six players the coach had sweet-talked onto the team were declared academically ineligible. At a tiny, Catholic, liberal arts commuter college that started a men's basketball program only five years before and didn't even have a gym, that was pretty big news.

We ran the story in the school paper, naming the players and their GPAs and quoting school officials who called the coach's judgment into question. Any friends I had on the team were no longer. The coach, a self-possessed sort who resigned the next year, was furious with me. He banned me from doing the play-by-play of the team's games, something I very much enjoyed. "You're not welcome anymore," he told me. Ouch, that stung.

What a lonely feeling, to be out there on your own. And what a valuable lesson to learn early on in my editorial career: Without the courage to report the stories that will upset some folks and the conviction to lead readers and not be led by them, why bother? We could just as easily run recipes, fitness tips and puzzles. Or publish softball Q&As with advertisers. Or let advertisers write articles (in exchange for an ad, of course!). But we wouldn't be better off and certainly neither would you.

For thoughtful, engaged readers willing to take in information, who make judgments on the basis of that info and don't settle for a steady diet of fluff, we believe there's a real advantage in being in an editorially credible environment. "Really great publications must do more than merely give people what they want," an ex-editor once said. "There has to be room for the unexpected, for stories the reader has no idea it wants until it sees them."

I bring this up because some of the stories we bring to you upset some folks. Some pretty important industry folks who wield considerable influence in their circles. For a magazine that subsists almost solely on ad dollars, that's not something we take lightly. Last month's story on ASC lawyer Scott Becker (see "Should Lawyers Invest in Their Clients?" on page 10) comes to mind. So does our coverage of the Florida teen who died from malignant hyperthermia during cosmetic surgery in an office suite: Some readers feared it could give ammo to those who argue that it's not safe for patients to undergo procedures outside of hospitals. We respectfully reply: Just doing our jobs and fulfilling our mission.