No time to edit? Editors, save yourselves

Part 1 was here, albeit too many days ago.

Editing is too slow, too costly and, maybe, too unnoticed in online media. Perhaps. My example-of-the-moment was the Los Angeles Times breaking-news blog, L.A. Now.

Here are the three major obstacles to news editors, copy and otherwise, regaining their former prominence, as I see it:

  1. Breaking news is a major traffic driver, and being first counts. It’s the way, especially for newspapers clinging to life, to show your site, print or not, is on top of things. Even regular readers, I believe, will have lower standards for editing and style on breaking news items, and maybe even the whole site. Hence, less editing time, more writing, posting, etc.
  2. A lot of traffic, even if its value is often dubious, is fly-by traffic. Those people are less likely to recognize a particular publication’s standards and local jargon, much less take issue with them. And if they do get mad? Their already minimal value to advertisers (in most cases) will make the loss easier to take. Thus, a narrowing of the audience, and less need for copy to not just be clean, but look clean.
  3. Unless the error is a “Dewey defeats Truman,” it doesn’t resonate. Readers and websites seem less inclined to demand or post a correction. That bit of news is over, after all. At best, an update is often preferred, conveying new information while masking the goof-up, even if it’s often less than full disclosure. Therefore, editing is devalued even when it is absent.

What can editors do? In a sentence, it’s this: Broaden the field of editing, learn where else it can be applied, and sell yourself as an expert. Here’s what I mean:

  • We are all editors. When we make judgment calls, we’re editing. When we assess what we want to do, what we can do in the time allotted, or even make decisions about what to keep and what to throw away, we’re editing. It goes on and on. This doesn’t negate the importance of editors, but magnifies it — we should be ones who realize the variety and frequency of human editing, and we should live, think and breathe the larger concept of editing as making informed choices.
  • We must love editing, but also love what we choose as our focus. Don’t automatically edit because you practice good grammar, or because you don’t like reporting or because you’ve always been an editor. Do it because you like the work, and the sense of adding your imprint to products in a way that better the content and the intent of the creator.
  • Dive into the subject matter. There’s nothing wrong with being a jack-of-all-trades editor. In fact, there is great value in our harried age for something who can be that line of defense. But to be more than just a human who naturally edits, you need expertise.
    If there’s anything that will still have editing value, it will be information that is specific, technical, hard to get and difficult to verify by individuals. If you’ve been an editor for long, though, there lies the capacity become such an expert– the knowledge is either in your mind already or accessible through a little research and study. To quote magazine founder Rick Poyner:

    Editors concerned with content will need to be unusually well informed about their field and they will require a capacity for analytical thinking with language. … Being an editor is not simply about choosing some things you happen to like and throwing them together to see what happens. It should be about a deep engagement with content and the construction of meaning.

  • Evangelize — bring editing to content. It’s not just about spelling and punctuation anymore. Actually, it never was, but certainly, some establishments put the shackles on copy editors, and some placed such demands that time was not left for much else. Presentation, word choice, word order, the use of hyperlinks and the finding of sources and contacts are all opportunities for an informed editor to show, hey, that person is knowledgeable (and a team player).

    Maybe the breaking news needs to happen, with editing being brief or after the fact. But sometimes, everyone is going to have relatively the same information within a short span. An editor will know where the other angles are, what the background story is, what other links, archives or content would complete the package and trump the competition. That’s of value to all departments at a company — and it’s big-picture editing that most people don’t quite have.

    In the realm of social media, Twitter, especially, as well as Facebook, are places of brevity hold vast outpourings of information. Cutting through the clutter requires a careful hand, sharp mind and tight editing. Why can’t that be you?

  • Talk yourself up. Don’t be an ass, obviously, but sitting back is going to get you sitting on your couch. This is the time to be that quality-control expert, the person who knows the material but knows how to craft it. Then, note that you may not be the star — there are plenty of those — but you’re the quiet calm that the Web, social media and the like need amid a 60/60/24/7/365 cycle.