Smokescreen

Years ago I worked with a copy editor who had very strong opinions about what was permissible. One of his pet peeves was the use of brand names.

He loathed mentioning any product by name, claiming that it provided free advertising. No amount of discussion by those of us who took a less rigid stance ever persuaded him otherwise.

Matters came to a head over a Sunday feature about a youth gang. The reporter had spent weeks hanging out with these kids, and had produced a package of stories that did justice to the complexity of the issue.

Enter our intrepid editor, who took issue with the description of a young man with a pack of Marlboros tucked into the sleeve of his rolled-up T-shirt. The generic “pack of cigarettes” did not have the same flavor. “Marlboros” went back in.

It hardly seemed like an advertisement for the brand, but that didn’t stop the copy editor from complaining loudly and suggesting the rest of us were sell-outs.

I remember him as a reason to keep my editing touch light.

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