Mark Allen writes a wonderful post about editors, specifically copy editors, making a difference after leaving newspaper journalism.
He’s right: The fight to be influential, relevant and raise the quality of humanity’s communications is by no means tied to or limited by print. He also reveals a realization that all of us, in journalism, in editing, or elsewhere, should join in: We can all be editors.
We may not be wordsmiths, but in many fields, many industries and many projects, we can assist and elevate by “correcting errors and improving clarity.” In checking our work and, when prudent and not overreaching, checking the work of others, we build a community and a common purpose. Of course, if we’re doing a different type of actual editing, there’s the adjustment to diligent work even when the rewards, and the rush, don’t seem as readily apparent.
I left newspapers nearly seven months ago. I was ready to leave — worn out by living in what felt like a distant land, worn out by internal and workplace crises, by borderline pay eroded by the waves of furloughs and excessive hours, and by a desire to move on to a different, more winnable challenge.
What changed? I don’t have the direct effect on a community, much less a small one. I don’t decide, or even affect, what 40,000 people read on their front page anymore, or how that is communicated in print and visual. I don’t write editorials or columns, guide reporters on stories big or small, or work with guest opinion writers. In all those ways, I’ve given up bits of editing, of impact.
But what I do now reaches hundreds of thousands of people, even if not all of them read their e-mail newsletters (though, let’s not kid ourselves — not everyone thoroughly read the paper). I edit tightly and quickly, and it matters — our reputation is built more than many on quick, accurate and sensible news. I’m in a workplace of good, smart people, and it’s a workplace where hope and optimism still live, with actions to bolster those good intentions. And I’ve got a chance, in a new locale, with new hours and people in and out of work, to make a difference.
I still have to make something more of all this opportunity. But that’s where we are all editors. To answer the question Mark posits — “Sure, there are other jobs, but where else can I contribute so powerfully to the public good?” — I think the answer is a whole-life approach. In journalism or elsewhere, are we doing the best we can?
And, if not, where can edits be made?