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The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Green goodbye

Green goodbye

1 The fiddle-leaf fig – that large, tree-like house plant that appears in just about every interiors shoot – is the stroppy teenager of the vegetation world. It complains if you give it too much water, its leaves losing their lustre and developing unbecoming blotches. It rebels if you underwater it, throwing its fraught foliage on the floor. We have had one for about three years and there was a point when I eyed it while holding a pair of secateurs, wondering how quickly I could dismember its barren branches and dispatch it to an early bin-bag grave. But now, suddenly, it has decided to do its thing and is busily sprouting new leaves. There has been a stay of execution. The rubber plant, meanwhile, has never faltered and just grows and grows, and now requires rehousing.Every now and then you have to go back to the beginning. When people ask me what I do for work I usually just say, “I’m a journalist.” But the truth is that when you become an editor your focus usually shifts from writing – well, apart from whimsical columns – to sending off talented writers to do the work. When a story needs telling your mental Rolodex spins as you think who would be best for the task: will it need someone with a nose for politics, a sense of humour, a driving licence, fluency in Italian, the ability to file at speed or all of the above? But, occasionally, you need to dispatch yourself to ensure that your writing muscles don’t develop bingo wings.A few weeks ago, I headed to Bratislava to spend some time in the city for a report that will be in our July/August Quality of Life special (and, as the title of the issue makes clear, this was hardly going to be anything akin to front-line reporting). There was a story that we had wanted to do for ages and I had the contacts, so why not?When you are editing copy, there are problems that arise again and again. One of the most common is a consequence of “over-reporting”. A writer becomes so caught up in a story that they end up interviewing far more people than can ever be slotted into a pithy 1,500-word dispatch. That’s not a problem until they try to do just that. Sometimes copy lands with me that features more voices than a Greek chorus. Every paragraph introduces a new name, a different perspective. Usually, at this point, you will have a quick call with the writer and remind them that sometimes fewer voices are what’s needed; that our duty here is to the reader.Then you find yourself sitting at home one Saturday morning, listening to all the interviews that you did for a story in Bratislava and facing the brutal task of deciding what should make it onto the page and how to find a narrative line that’s accurate, fair and easy to follow. And what details need to be lost.

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