Why Protocols are Important
We've all heard the familiar phrase about what assuming does. This story is a perfect example of the consequences of making assumptions. Clearly, the editor assumed that because Leslie Manning had a girlfriend, Leslie Manning was a man, therefore changing the second reference of Manning from a "she" to a "he." But in reality, Leslie Manning is a woman, as the writer had it in the original story. One little letter can change so much. I can't imagine the backlash the editor or writer received from Manning. Especially these days, when so many people are openly homosexual, no one should have ever made this assumption.
This story reminds me of when I met the corrections editor at The New York Times this summer. He's probably one of the funniest people you will ever meet. Occasionally, he'll let some of his humor show in corrections. Anyway, he was telling us interns about a story in the Weddings/Celebration section one week about the marriage of two gay men. I don't remember the specific details of the scenario, but there was debate over who was the bride, who was the groom, or whether to refer to both of them as grooms. And whoever won the debate was wrong. The couple was, to put it lightly, a bit annoyed.
In terms of editing, I think this is mistake is a good lesson on why editors should always double-check with writers before making major changes. An editor should never change the facts of a story without asking the writer first. I learned that this summer. Even if I was absolutely positive that a name was spelled wrong or that the numbers in a story didn't add up, I would always check with the writer before changing any facts. Granted, sometimes the writer would be a little defensive, but usually they would respond respectfully and thank me for catching the mistake.
This is why protocols are important. If editors do not have guidelines on what they can and cannot change and what all they should review with the writers before tweaking, editors may make these mistakes all the time.