WRITING TOO HONEST FOR GUN MAGAZINES
I sold my first article to a nationally published gun magazine in 1989 while I was still in the Army. Since 1992 when I exited the Army I have made my living writing articles for gun magazines, supplemented by brief stints as an armed security guard or cab driver. But mostly I have been a full-time, freelance gunwriter. Recently I passed the 1,000 magazine articles written-and-sold mark, and have had three books published.
One of the most irritating things if you’re a professional gunwriter is the commentary from people who just “know” that all gunwriters are whores who sold out their integrity for free goodies, and that gun magazines are just flacks for their advertisers. The people saying this, of course, all have one thing in common: they’ve never actually been a gunwriter, thus to really know what the hell they’re talking about. Speaking as someone who actually has been a nationally published gunwriter since 1989, I can tell you there is, sadly, a certain amount of truth to that statement, less in the “gunwriters are all whores” arena but more in the “gun magazines’ content is driven by advertising” part.
This is the Number One thing I have never liked about writing for gun magazines.
Well, maybe not Number One. The Number One thing I don’t like is when an editor takes the truth I have told about a particular gun, and either cuts out anything I’ve said that’s well-balanced (i.e. anything that could be considered at all negative) or not only cuts out the “bad” stuff, they replace it with lies.
It is, in fact, possible to be a full-time gunwriter and retain your integrity. But you’ll pay a price for it. I am now up to two gun companies that will probably never send me another gun for test and eval after the truth I told about their product in an article. I am currently up to three gun magazines/publishing companies for whom I will never work again after they changed the content of an article of mine. Or at least I’ll never work for them again until the current editor leaves.
One of the things I really want from the Self-Defense-Handguns.com website is the ability to get the truth I have to tell out to readers without having an editor blocking me. I’ll give you an example. Not terribly long ago one of my editors, Jan Libourel, retired. I was bummed. Obviously it had to happen eventually, he was 68 when he retired, but Jan was one of the all-time great gun magazine editors. He bought my first article back in 1989, and I sold to him for the next 22 years, without a single problem. Jan would let me tell the truth. He might warn me, “If this article goes out the way it’s written, you’ll never get another sample gun from X Gun Company,” but he’d run the article anyway. If I said anything in an article with which he personally disagreed, he’d insert a little italicized editorial comment into the text explaining why he felt that way, but he’d let me say it.
My first article for Jan’s replacement (and I use the term loosely) was a review of the Heckler & Koch 45 Compact autopistol. A seriously neat gun, in my opinion. Understand, for me “honest” is not a synonym for “be unreasonably vicious just to prove how cool you are.” But there were a few things about this gun I thought any potential buyers needed to know. (1) The glow-in-the-dark paint that supposedly gave it a night sight capability would completely fade out within a few minutes of being removed from a bright light source and placed in darkness, (2) as stated by Larry Vickers when I interviewed him, trigger pulls on HK auto pistols tend to be really variable from gun-to-gun. Some are nice, some not-so-much. This was something I already knew from experience testing other HKs over the years, but certainly I thought Larry’s voice on the matter deserved to be heard, so I quoted him in the article.
When the article was published, I was shocked. Not only did the editor remove the Vickers quote on trigger pulls, not only did he remove the warning about the poor light-holding qualities of the sight paint, he replaced the latter with a photo caption stating this was “the same glow-in-the-dark paint used in top quality diving watches” – which was an obvious lie. Any diving watch that totally fades out that fast after going into darkness would be worse than useless. God, that article was such a waste of absolutely stunning Ichiro Nagata photography.
I sent him a – I thought – politely worded email expressing my concern over this state of affairs. What I got back was an extremely long, extremely nasty reply. Just stunningly unprofessional. I have only ever had one other experience like this in 30-plus years of gunwriting. So I decided to no longer write for that magazine, despite my years-long history with it. When I showed his email to Mark Pixler, my editor at Dillon’s Blue Press, his comment was, “As Jesus said, shake the dust from your sandals when you leave that town.”
This is the difference between a great gun magazine editor and a lousy one: 22 years of a very cordial working relationship and a sense of loss when the man finally retired versus one month and “I’ll never work with him again.”
You might ask, based on the fact I’ve been doing this for around a third of a century, and have written for just about every gun magazine out there, are there any magazines’ content you can trust, any editors who simply let their writers tell the truth, advertisers be damned? Two occur to me right off the bat: Denny Hansen at S.W.A.T. (which recently went out of business, a real tragedy for those who like their gun articles of the un-driven-by-advertising variety) and Mark Pixler at Dillon’s Blue Press.
Speaking of Mark Pixler, one of things I have done for this site was ask him to take my original verbiage for the HK 45 C review and put it into article form. You’ll find the result as in article in the Articles section on this site (along with the published version so you can contrast and compare). This is what the original, totally honest version of this article had to say. You’ll note I’m not going out of my way to trash the gun. I thought, and continue to think, this is one seriously impressive handgun. But I’m not going out of my way to lie to you either.
And that is a promise I make to you on Self-Defense-Handguns.com: I will never lie to you. In the future I will be putting together more articles to post to this site. I can’t promise they’ll all be hard-hitting exposés. Some will be matter-of-fact, some will just be intended as fun to read. But they will all be honest.
Duane Thomas, Gunwriter