Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Edited Out

Editors of large city newspapers often serve their readers for years, at least they did commonly during the days when newspapers were so much more popular than they seem in some areas today. The late J. Leonard Gorman, executive editor of The Post-Standard (Syracuse), experienced such longevity, and he had been around long enough to know about my UFO interest via many letters to the editor. When informed about my first article for the national magazine Official UFO, he sent a very nice letter and kindly assigned a reporter to write a story.

On the other hand, speaking of Official UFO, there were publications where editors barely had time to unpack before making a hasty exit. Countrywide Publications of NY, NY published Official UFO and several other titles in the seventies and eighties. Official's first editor, Bernard O'Connor, was a dream for any UFO researcher intent upon writing a serious article. His dedication to printing the best UFO literature available impressed all of the major UFO organizations and his early issues seemed promising with an eventual circulation of 250,000.

He included my article (expanded from the 1971 A.P.R.O. Bulletin piece) on UFOs and ultrasound in the May, 1976 issue and by the time of its publication I was already working with him on the large article I hoped to write about the 1956 United Artists documentary movie, "U.F.O."

But suddenly all plans were on hold. Contributing writers in May of 1976 received letters from O'Connor informing us of his resignation from Official UFO. He thanked all of us profusely, yet gave no reason for leaving -- though word was already on the street about friction in the office.

Before long, a new editor stepped in, Russ Rueger, and he, too, sent out letters, essentially saying hi to the writers and laying out his plans for the magazine, Unfortunately, barely three months later we writers received another letter (widely circulated) from him, this time telling us of his own resignation, and he didn't spare the details. Rueger stated that the publisher endorsed an attitude that readers are mostly "true believers" who "desperately need to believe that UFOs are extraterrestrial beings who will someday come to earth to bring salvation." Further, stated Rueger, the publisher demonstrated a preference for "trumped up, sensationalized" unsubstantiated sightings and one or few-witness accounts written with a "true confession" slant. "We're an entertainment magazine," Rueger claimed the publisher would say, "so ethics are irrelevant." Clearly aware that Official UFO would exploit, rather than assist, UFO research, Rueger, simultaneously involved in a separate situation with the publisher which led to everything else that transpired, left the magazine, replaced by respected UFO researcher Dennis Hauck, who was assured by the publisher that all would be well. Thus, just in 1976, Official UFO was directed by three editors. I don't know the circumstances, but it wasn't too long before the magazine and its likewise absurd companion, Ancient Astronauts, perished. Whatever Hauck was able to offer during his tenure there, I'm sure his standards reflected the best of everything.

During the turmoil, I was advised to contact a Saga Magazine editor who might be interested in my planned article on the 1956 United Artists movie, but he decided -- unwisely - that nobody reading Saga publications would care about my rehashing the details of an old movie about UFOs. Eventually, completed at last, the article went back to Official UFO under Hauck's guidance and was printed in the February, 1977 issue with some portions excluded because of length. The piece, " 'UFO' Revisited," proved very popular with readers, and in later years became available on the NICAP Web site with pictures (see the NICAP link and look up my name in the NICAP search engine for access) and is also currently featured on the Web site in both English and French versions.

However, as the February cover displayed here clearly shows, Official UFO was indeed wrestling with its identity, spotlighting in one title a sober interview with Dr. Hynek, while way above headlining the frightening UFO abduction of a woman's daughter -- a false story, by the way, contrived purely to sell magazines to the gullible, compliments of the publisher.

For me, abandoning Official UFO as a writer was an eye-opener, causing me to trust the publishing world a little less, more aware that the bottom line was almost always the bottom line. Integrity didn't matter nearly as much as the money to some publishers, and the proof was usually right before our eyes on the newsstands in the seventies and eighties, the largest assortment of UFO-related garbage in print that one can imagine.

Placing a few articles with competitors, such as Argosy Magazine's Argosy UFO and True Magazine's True Flying Saucers and UFOs Quarterly, where editorial policies enjoyed more stability, worked out well, but my unpleasant encounters with Countrywide Publications weren't over yet. A few years later, on some city newsstand I spotted a hopelessly inferior-looking magazine about UFOs, and though I can't remember its title at the moment, I instantly noticed the cheap pulp on which it was printed and the print quality inside was just hideous. In addition, I did a double-take while thumbing through the pages of this Countrywide abomination when I stumbled upon a reprint of my own article on UFOs and ultrasound from 1976 -- the article I sold to Countrywide on a "first rights" basis, meaning all rights reverted back to me after initial publication. I don't even recall if my name remained with the title, though the graphics were the same. Other writers recognized their previously sold work also, but I don't believe any of us attempted legal action because the expense and uncertainty for, frankly, so little economically would have been enormous and just too much trouble. I guess I know too well now what a cautionary tale is.

The lesson? If you write and something goes awry, by all means check with the editorial staff -- but don't automatically exclude the publishers as the root of all things dreadful. After all, they run the show.