Is there a way to unwreck this friendship?
March 19, 2017 11:19 PM   Subscribe

I fell out with a friend over principles. Is there any way to make up without renouncing them?

A couple of years ago, I was contacted by the editor of a small journal devoted to a topic I have a special interest in. He'd seen some of my writing on this topic online, and wanted to get together the next time he was in my city. As a result of that meeting, I started writing for him on a regular basis - mainly reviews, but some other pieces as well. More importantly (for me), it led to a friendship that brought a lot of pleasure to my life. We saw each other whenever he came to my city, and exchanged e-mails several times a week.

However, we've had two major disagreements since we've known each other. The first came after I'd written three reviews for him. There was no payment on offer, which was (mostly) OK with me; I enjoyed the writing, and the topic was niche enough that I didn't think I could easily have got paid for writing about it elsewhere. But I was concerned that I'd had to pay for the two books and the event I'd reviewed. (I was told that review copies of the books weren't available, and I wasn't asked to review the event till after I'd attended.) I couldn't afford to keep doing this long-term, so when the editor asked me (in advance, this time) to review another event, I asked if there was any chance of getting a press ticket. He replied, "No, [the venue] only allows one free ticket per publication, and I'll be using that one." When I asked why the ticket shouldn't go to the person who was actually writing the review, he said it was important for him to attend events to maintain the publication's relationship with the venue. He also claimed it was normal for an editor to use a comp ticket and "delegate" the actual reviewing to someone else. (That hadn't been my experience when reviewing for other publications in the past - I'd always either received a press ticket / review copy / whatever, or been reimbursed for my expenses.) I told him I wouldn't be able to review for him in future unless a free ticket or a review copy was available. He agreed to this and relinquished the press ticket, but gave me the cold shoulder for a few days. Finally he said we shouldn't talk about it any more, and our friendship carried on as before.

Fast-forward to earlier this month. I'd just submitted another piece - not a review this time, but an article about an organisation that had historically had some involvement with our topic. My assignment had basically been, "Look through their old newsletters and see if there's anything interesting relating to our topic that you can write about." Well, I found some interesting things, all right, but they did not show the organisation in a good light. I wrote a long analysis of what I'd found, and while the editor said he was pleased with it, he also suggested that we show it to his contact at the organisation for "fact-checking" before it was published. I was horrified by this and said it would give the organisation a chance to object to unflattering material. I also said it was against journalistic ethics to let a subject vet a story before publication, and that doing this transformed an article into PR rather than journalism. This offended him because, as it turned out, he does it routinely.

The upshot of all this is that I won't be writing for him any more, which is unfortunate, since I enjoyed doing it. But what really makes me sad is that it seems to have meant the end of our friendship, too. He doesn't want to communicate with me and says that my "demolition" of his integrity has been too much for him to bear. I want to try to patch things up. But I can't tell him that I was wrong, because I don't think I was; and I can't apologise for standing firm in my beliefs.

What should I do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly? This guy sounds like a piece of work. Let it go, and make better friends.
posted by Tamanna at 11:37 PM on March 19 [52 favorites]

I agree, he sounds like a piece of work. I'd only consider salvaging some kind of cordial relationship if he came to me. I wouldn't contact him first and be pushed into backpedaling in some way to preserve his ego when he's clearly and repeatedly wrong and behaves ridiculously when gently confronted.
posted by quince at 12:01 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]

First of all, I love you. You are like I was before I became cynical, jaded, and experienced in douchery like this. You have all the joyful, vital, integrity of proper journalism. Thank you.

He doesn't want to be your friend anymore because you caught him treating you unethically and unprofessionally. One could ask why you want to be his friend if he thinks you should work for free and pay for the privilege. But I think I know why. Your real friendship was not with him, but with the whole shebang of engaging in your interests with someone else (him) and your audience, through the journal.

He doesn't want to communicate with me and says that my "demolition" of his integrity has been too much for him to bear. I want to try to patch things up. But I can't tell him that I was wrong, because I don't think I was; and I can't apologise for standing firm in my beliefs.

Integrity (and I am talking yours here) is more than a beliefs. It's a mental program for a mode of behaviour that includes accepting responsibility for breaches in integrity. His over the top accusation that you have demolished his integrity says a few things. It says that he sees his integrity as vulnerable, so vulnerable in fact that your mild actions toward truth ruined it. As you have clearly indicated, the only way his integrity can be repaired is by you sublimating your own. Hmmm, does that sound like someone with actual real integrity? Or does that sound like someone willing to manipulate language to achieve their own ends?

Find your friendship with your niche topic/audience elsewhere. Start your own journal. Don't trade your integrity for a so-called friendship with this wuss no matter how great the supposed benefits. They are not worth the corrosion that you will inflict on yourself.
posted by Thella at 12:02 AM on March 20 [60 favorites]

Not really because it wasn't really a friendship. He was a dick, and you were willing to put up with it because of some positive features. (Been there.... married it... it sucks.)
posted by Listener at 12:24 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

You have to make your own choice as to with whom you associate. I don't know that just because he seems to lack journalistic integrity that he lacks integrity elsewhere or everywhere. I do think blaming you for demolishing his integrity is actually him admitting he lacked integrity with respect to his journalism. If you can separate his journalism from the rest of his life and want to be friends, I suggest you write him and email that says that you can disagree with his editing and remain friends and would he want to continue the relationship and just agree to not talk about the writing part. To me, while that might solve one problem (finding a way to speak again), it is a lot of work and mental gymnastics for what does not sound like a lot of gain or benefit. You didn't ask this, but if I were you, I would focus my efforts elsewhere.
posted by AugustWest at 12:24 AM on March 20

Also, I am a journalism major. Douchecanoes like this one are EXACTLY why I left the industry, because I really couldn't see a way to align my principles with their idea of "journalism."

As a professional courtesy, the very least you are owed is reimbursement of what you spend, if not a fair fee for your work. I cannot believe this guy had the gall to act like a five-year-old deprived of his favourite toy at your totally reasonable request.

As for the second thing... I came back to make this second post because it made me so angry. This is exactly what I hate about the journalism industry in my country and why I walked away without a backward glance.

my "demolition" of his integrity has been too much for him to bear
Cue derisive laughter from me. What integrity? Dude, he's just pissed that a) you called him on his shit b) you expect some basic degree of ethics and courtesy and c) he can't get free/cheap labor out of you any more.

Do yourself a favour don't give this guy a second thought.
posted by Tamanna at 12:25 AM on March 20 [13 favorites]

OMG you're like Cordelia the good daughter in King Lear, and that turned out very badly for all concerned. I think you should DTMFA. So to speak.
posted by Coaticass at 12:27 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure I can see how it's possible for one person to "demolish" another's integrity. He did that to himself, and now, rather than deal with the fallout, he is willing to throw away your multi-year friendship instead of owning up to his own flaws. This doesn't sound like someone who values you, as a colleague or a friend.
I'm a big fan of the "are you better off with them or without them" school of thinking on relationships, and all signs seem to point to the latter.
posted by gennessee at 2:31 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

Journalism prof. here. If you're looking for reassurance that you're in the right, please set your mind at ease... you are. Sharing drafts is generally deemed unacceptable, and when the practice comes to light, the outlet is typically embarrassed. An example here.

And the use of press tickets to maintain a "relationship" with the venue? Ridiculous.

You didn't demolish this guy's ethical integrity... he did it himself.
posted by cgs06 at 4:15 AM on March 20 [16 favorites]

I want to try to patch things up

For the love of God, why?
posted by schadenfrau at 7:01 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]

What elements of this friendship do you miss? Are there ways for you to find those things with other people?
posted by spindrifter at 7:39 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

Aw, this sucks. It's hard to lose friends. It's even harder if you're made to feel as if it was something you did that offended them. But listen, you did NOTHING, NOTHING wrong and the reason this guy is done with you is specifically that he knows how gross he's been. Having to see himself through your eyes is too distasteful for him at this point.

Do you miss just hanging out with him in a non-professional way? It's possible that in the future you guys will be able to do that. But you can't be in his work sphere anymore, nor he in yours, because in that sphere he is just bad, bad news. You see him for what he is, and you won't be able to respect him, and he won't be able to pretend with you that he isn't professional garbage, because he is. Maybe with distance and time you'll be able to connect in other ways, but not that one.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:34 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

I think your position that it is a violation of journalistic ethics to let the subject of a story check a draft before publication is widely, though not universally shared. You might note that in the linked story cgs06 shared, the Washington Post reported that current policy doesn’t prohibit a reporter from sharing a story draft with a source, and while they also announced they were changing the policy, they still did not plan to introduce a prohibition of the practice but to to tighten it to ensure that such instances are rare without dispensation from a top editor.

Given that your conversation was with the editor of the journal, I think there's some justification in his experiencing your reaction to his suggestion as an attack on his integrity.

If you are interested in salvaging the friendship, I'd suggest you ask yourself if you would feel comfortable in saying that you now realize that reasonable people differ in their evaluation of your editor's suggestion that he submit the draft to his contact in the organization. You could tell him that, as your own ethical standards are different in this respect, that you're not comfortable writing for the journal any longer but that you value his friendship and hope you can preserve the personal relationship.

This probably has a better chance of success if you can include an apology for the perceived slight, which again depends on whether you can honestly provide one.
posted by layceepee at 10:37 AM on March 20

I think the best way to salvage any of this friendship is to give it a rest for a few months, then send an email to say hi, and to not write for him anymore. It seems pretty clear just from your post that he uses your friendship to get you to work for free (not even free, since you have to pay for the materials for the assignments you're writing for him!) and that he acts unethically in other regards (such as letting subjects vet articles before they're published).

I think you'll get a clearer picture of your friendship when you see how he responds to that. My speculation is that he'll ask you to write something, you'll say no, and that will be the end of it.
posted by Autumnheart at 12:38 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]

I think this person exploited you. You deserve much better treatment. Convince yourself of this, and future editors and colleagues will treat you better.
posted by theora55 at 12:53 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]

It's not clear from your post how much "friend" interaction you two have separate from the writing/editorial piece. I am going to assume that you had lots of interactions and discussion regarding your mutual interest separate from your writing and you enjoyed that. If that's not true and most of the interaction was around the pieces you were writing, then agree with those who tell you to move on. However, if there are substantial conversations, unrelated to your writing, that you are reluctant to give up on, I suggest

1. Stop thinking of him as a friend. He doesn't meet the criteria. Think of him as a "fellow fan" and don't trust him your heart, your secrets or anything that he can use against you. Just enjoy the relationship on the level that he can be counted on to relate to you.

2. In my experience, people like that hate to be wrong. Even an apology that emphasizes that you don't agree won't go over well. Similarly, don't make a big deal out of refusing to write for him again - just say "nope" every time he asks. My guess is that the best he can do is get to a place where you just don't ever talk about it. Is that OK with you? Because you need him to understand your side, it probably won't work.

3. Give it a little time and then send an email about some topic of mutual interest. Don't mention the conflict. If you asks you write something, just say "No, that doesn't work for me" and change the topic. See if that gets the relationship where you want it to be. If he responds that he is still mad at you, give him a bland apology for nothing - "Sorry you are upset. (well, you are sorry he is mad at you) I hope we can continue our friendship (knowing it isn't really a friendship but more acquaintances with a common interest). Let's get together the next time you are in town." If he wants to argue, you know there is nothing to salvage. If he doesn't reply at all, wait a month, try again and then give up.

4. Don't expect too much for him and you won't be disappointed. (This is NOT my usual outlook on life but just my read on what it would take to have an on-going non-toxic relationship with this guy)
posted by metahawk at 2:16 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]

He treated you terribly, used you, and now he wants you to pity him because you called him on it. This is a classic sociopath move. Martha Stout's book The Sociopath Next Door was the first publication that clued me in to that behavior. Please ditch him and don't look back. Don't let him start some kind of a drama which will end in you being victimized further. You need him a whole lot less than he needs you. Wishing you the best.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 3:38 PM on March 20

He doesn't want to communicate with me and says that my "demolition" of his integrity has been too much for him to bear.

What integrity?

He asked you to work for free, made you pay to write reviews, and flagrantly breached clear ethics standards. And he has the gall to be mad at you? Fuck this guy. He's an ass and you deserve better.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:12 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]

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