Editing is smarter when it’s collective, collaborative

This is a post about current events, but the idea is really timeless: Sharing what we know to maximize its utility.

Oil, as it always does, is a key player in any discussion of world affairs, this time because of the unrest in Egypt and, now, Libya.

Predictably, the futures contracts have moved upward. This is a financial issue, as crude-oil instability could affect industries that use oil-based feedstocks (from old-school manufacturing to modern plastics) and industries that rely on petroleum-based transportation of goods. It’s a renewable fuels issue, from ethanol’s crowing of its corn-based superiority to other sources trying to fill the potential gap. It’s one more angle for students and teachers examining the global goings-on.

The economic recovery of nations and regions could be in jeopardy, on a broad, simplistic level, because of the price of a barrel of oil.

The point is, oil will be discussed, often in sectors and by news outlets not used to the terminology or how to write about it. My work is a flash point for this, as we cover dozens of sectors reflecting the interests of even more dozens of associations.

Now, I have some knowledge of the terminology, and the necessary information that’s needed in even a brief report of crude-oil contracts (which exchange and which contract month, to name two key areas not always obvious to the outsider). There are lots of editors and reporters out there who have this knowledge, and much more, on numerous topics involving Libya, Middle East diplomacy, world energy markets and other ancillary issues. That’s great.

But are we sharing that knowledge internally? Are we contacting our colleagues, saying, hey, here’s a primer? Are we offering ourselves for any questions? In short, are we internally directing the social-media impulse toward collaboration and the knowledge hive? Or are we letting our fellow journalists look like ignorant jackasses?

It’s well and good to collaborate outwardly, such as on social networks. And paying attention to the little things comes naturally to many writers and editors — who else will, right? But what improves copy and content over the long haul is regularly exchanging our bits information with colleagues in a spirit of education and giving. We’re not talking disclosing trade secrets, just the gradual, collective building of an authoritative, audience-attracting voice.

If we are not communicating with our co-workers, seeking to bolster our publications through print, Web, mobile and visual components of all of them, then we’re just writing an autobiography of institutional knowledge in a language that nobody can understand. That’ll look great on your website bio or on LinkedIn, but its effects will be distant and disappointing — and important only in your mind.