Let's Hear it for Editors

Let's Hear it for Editors

Is editing set to make a comeback? Let’s hope so. From the Atlantic: “The Internet can feel like a jungle, and journalists are in the business of providing paths through the territory. Writers might blaze the trails, but editors maintain the roads.”

Alexis Madrigal makes the case that editing could follow much the same path as desktop publishing has since the mid-1980s. When desktop publishing tools first came out, everyone thought they were designers. But in recent years consumers have come to realize the importance of good design. Design (good design) is best left to the professionals. And now hopefully the same can be said of editors. In recent years, editors have been undervalued. They were deemed expendable and as a result they have been disappearing. “Text goes online with less editing than it did at magazines or newspapers. More and more of us writers are working without regular editors. More and more people are writing without ever having been edited. Maybe now people will realize what editors did: their presence will be felt in their absence.”

Madrigal quotes writer Paul Ford on what I believe to be a very good description of what editors do. “Editors are really valuable, and, the way things are going, undervalued. These are people who are good at process. They think about calendars, schedules, checklists, and get freaked out when schedules slip. Their jobs are to aggregate information, parse it, restructure it, and make sure it meets standards. They are basically QA for language and meaning.” Here here.

The photo shows the editing made by a well-known editor to one of his recent speeches: President Barack Obama. Another example of editing here.

For more on the topic, check out this interview with Mary Norris, a copy editor who has worked at the New Yorker for 31 years. “I have been on both sides of the process, as a writer and as a query proofreader. Being edited sometimes felt like having my bones reset on a torture rack. I don’t ever want to do that to a writer, but I probably have from time to time. “What is this, the adverb police?” a writer who shall remain nameless once said in my earshot. “You betcha,” I wanted to say. I don’t remove every word ending in “ly,” but I like economy and concision.”