I look back with no special fondness on a publication that used to be ubiquitous in waiting rooms, Highlights for Children. I somehow acquired a stack of the things when I was not too far along in my first decade, possibly because my aunt was a dental hygienist and channeled to me the copies that had become too grubby for patients. Aside from the eldritch weirdness of The Timbertoes, the surrealism of Hidden Pictures, and the misguided didacticism of Goofus and Gallant, nothing much about the magazine thrilled me.
What did used to fascinate (and madden) me was “Your Own Pages,” where readers would have their writings and drawings reproduced. In my naive jealousy, I thought the tiny drawings were reproduced actual size, and I would try to scrawl my own work onto the actual page with them. How were these brats so favored to have their art published in Highlights? Were they suck-ups like Gallant, or did they elbow the competition out of the way like Goofus? It never occurred to my child-mind that an adult (who had better things to do) would have to take my work of genius and put it in an envelope.
From as long ago as I can remember I was always on the outside, hammering on the door to get in. I used to write in crayon on the flyleaves of books. Right after I taught myself to type, I was sending Letters to the Editor. I was determined to break into print—by force if necessary. Rather than hiding my light under a bucket, I wanted to burn my high beams directly into their retinas. And as for the weary hacks working their way through the day’s mailbag, it was not only criminal for them to ignore what I had to say—it was unconstitutional.
Now I am (at long last) grown up, and in my maturity I embody the editorial perspective. The mission of the editor is to allow into print that which best benefits the publication and its readership. It isn’t to publish every scrap of opinion that drifts in through the mail slot or the email inbox. Specifically regarding The Syncopated Times, I have to pay heed to the sensibilities of my readers, the musicians we celebrate, and the advertisers who keep the paper viable. Above all, I have to ask myself, “Is it true? Is it kind? Does it further the cause of the music we love?”
Is it good journalism to run a statement that is patently untrue as long as I provide room for “opposing viewpoints?” It might be, though I see it as stirring up needless and pointless contention. There is enough of that noise on the internet. Some of what’s said there gets pretty nasty. And yet (as some will argue) it’s “free speech.” Fine. As Voltaire never said, I may disagree with what you say, but I’m not going to burn my life’s work and the furtherance of jazz itself to the ground to give you a platform to say it.
What I’m going to say next may seem untoward, but I’m just going to put it out there: The Syncopated Times is not a democracy, it’s a benevolent dictatorship. As dictatorships go, it’s not much more than a lemonade stand. There are no Potemkin villages, no military parades, and no epaulets. I promise you there are no five-year plans.
There is this, though: I won’t give just anyone a soapbox so they can make trouble and undermine everything positive we’re trying to achieve. That’s what the internet is for—and when this essay is posted on our Facebook page (please follow us!) you may feel free to have at us at length and with Caps Lock blazing. But those digital fulminations are unlikely to make it onto the printed page.
Possibly because my personal odometer has clicked ahead in the past month, and my psychic spark plugs could use cleaning and gapping, I don’t have much patience for troublemakers. The lies told us in Highlights for Children, that we have lived by to our detriment, are revealed in their hideous glory with each newscast and every minute spent on Facebook. Goofus has prevailed; he is running the world and setting the tone for our public discourse. Gallant is his punching bag, the perpetual butt of his practical jokes.
As the (not very) Serene Ruler of Jazzmania, it is all I can do to strengthen the borders against the onslaught of thugs who aim to subject us to all the indignities we endured in the schoolyard. We allow no name calling, no atomic wedgies (or anything else), and no cruel caricatures done behind one’s back. We will brook no lies and no hurt feelings.
As part of our policy of Zero Tolerance for Intolerance, everything that is published in The Syncopated Times is subject to the discretion of the publisher, the editor, the art director, the advertising director, the compositor, the proofreader, the fact checker, and the circulation manager—who vote, with unvarying unanimity, as to its being suitable for print.
The only higher authority is the Empress of Jazzmania, who may suggest to the Serene Ruler that he remove one or two of his questionable jokes.
He generally defers.