September 24, 2003

The Gatekeepers' Thin Skin:...

The Gatekeepers' Thin Skin: I posted a twee bit on some silly Sac Bee responses to Weintraub-related criticism over at Hit & Run.

Another brief gatekeepery thing worth mentioning: Mark Glaser has a new OJR column about the the whole deal. Check out this wonderfully revealing quote from Mark Paul, deputy editor of the editorial pages:

Paul ... says everybody could use an editor. "That's the difference between a professional writer and an amateur," he said. "The professional knows he needs an editor, and the amateur thinks he doesn't need editing."
What credentialist, arrogant hogwash. You know they're getting twitchy when they resort to the old, I'm-a-professional-and-you're-not gambit, something that I first began writing about soon after I came back to this country, because I honestly couldn't believe my eyes. Yes, good editors are wonderful things (I thank Buddha every week for letting me work with Nick Gillespie, Paul Wilson and Henry Copeland), but some editors are little more than rubber-stampers with an AP Style Guide. Others are cheerful nincompoops who treat carefully crafted language with the same arbitrary hand as they use on just-outta-J-school newsprose. Some (including me), have a bad habit of imposing their own language idiosyncrasies onto writers who don't share them. Others have political agendas you'd better not cross, and etc. If you become a freelancer, and/or work in newsrooms smaller than 100 people, and/or blog for long enough, you soon learn that you are the final editor, responsible for all the spelling, libel concerns, wacked-out assertions and other industry hazards. I would even hazard a guess that, in some cases, people forced by circumstance to be their own editors, as opposed to leaning on elaborate fact-checking departments and copy desks, actually become better and more responsible writers as a result.

What you see in Paul's little statement is the notion that there is one right way to do this stuff, and the people who don't understand this aren't professionals. Just because monopolist newspapers have been doing something one particular way for 40 years of unprecedented contraction and consolidation (not to mention profit), that doesn't make it most suitable for all other media concerns. Let alone newspapers.

Posted by at September 24, 2003 01:47 AM

"Let alone newspapers."

Amen to that.

The movie moguls are legendary but when editors start gettinginto your fiction is when they reall fuck with your head.

Posted by: Roger L. Simon at September 24, 2003 02:37 AM

gettinginto --> getting into
reall --> really
legendary --> legendary,

See there? You need me.

Posted by: ed at September 24, 2003 08:28 AM

I sure am glad that what I do for a living and my own internal defense of it has been called credentialist bullshit. It's simply wrong to expect a professional news organization not to edit its copy. You can say "well, TV news is done live" but that ignores the fact that producers in the background are running themselves ragged to feed credible information to the TV talking heads ... it doesn't always work but even "live" TV is not spontaneous. And what on earth is so goddamn important to a bloging newsman that he can't wait a few minutes to have his copy backstopped. Sure, maybe I'm just trying to justify why I have a job but I cannot believe that the advent of blogs has made my work irrelevant.

Posted by: tom at September 24, 2003 09:26 AM

If I read a newspaper, for which I have paid money and which appears but once a day, I expect it to be edited. No writer is so good as to not benefit from good editing. But it's equally true that, as you note, bad editors can leech the life from good prose.

And part of the point of reading blogs is the knowledge that the product is unfiltered, unedited and often limited in its sourcing. As long as that's clear up front, what's the harm?

Posted by: Crank at September 24, 2003 10:09 AM

Tom -- You misread me. The only thing that's credentialist "hogwash," in my view, is making a blanket declaration of what is and is not "professional." I think what you & other newspaper editors do is perfectly professional (you'll note my specific praise of good editors); all I ask is that, if you insist on drawing a line between professional and amateur, that you consider the possibility that those who do it a different way can be "professionals" as well.

I don't happen to think that editing Weintraub is such a horrid thing; you won't see me wailing on about "censorship" or whatever the hell. But I think the way it's been handled leaves much to be desired.

Posted by: Matt Welch at September 24, 2003 10:22 AM

Ed... note the time of the posting. 2:37AM.

Posted by: Roger L. Simon at September 24, 2003 10:23 AM

Who was it who said: "Most editors are second rate writers -- but then, so are most writers."

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at September 24, 2003 10:24 AM

Blogs compete for credibility too... a decent blog can make a lot of money for its owner indirectly. Once this becomes more apparent to the non-bloggers, expect to see much more stringent controls entering into the equation.

Posted by: hugh macleod at September 24, 2003 10:24 AM

I can't find Ed's errors ... am I crazy? Where did I put my bad spelling? Editor-help, please!

Posted by: Matt Welch at September 24, 2003 10:28 AM

Oh -- it was for Roger, not me. Look, I can testify that the man mixes some powerful cocktails...

Posted by: Matt Welch at September 24, 2003 10:31 AM

I'm still getting my head around how the lack of editing hurts the reputation of blogdom -- if perhaps the unexpurgated thrill of it that we admire so much is also what drives so many people away from Blogs. I don't know if this is true or just a reflection of professional self-justification.

Posted by: tom at September 24, 2003 10:57 AM

Tom -- Generally, despite my boosterish nature about it all, I think it's best to shy away from blanket statements one way or another about blogs, beyond the fact that they will continue to increase, and represent an exciting new development. There are thousands of ways to do blogs, and within some years there'll be thousands of ways to do *newspaper* blogs, hopefully.

As for editors & copy editors, I suspect, though it's just a guess, that, like the newspapers themselves, they will continue to have value as long as they *add* noticeable value. One way they add noticeable value right now (especially vis-a-vis blogs) is by magically transforming hundreds of thousands of words every freaking day into 99.9% correctly spelled, libel-free, newspaper-worthy prose. They fact-check asses all day long, on deadline, without crowing about it.

And -- again, a guess -- I think that any downward industry pressure on the size of newspaper copy desks will be more than made up by demand for similar work online.

As for badly edited blogs driving people away -- exactly! And the *best*-edited ones -- without clumsy errors, adhering to fairly rigorous publishing schedules, staying on or near topic -- are generally the ones the market rewards. As bloggers see the value of more rigor, some will take steps to be more careful about such things.

Somewhere today there's news of Jason McCabe Calacanis launching a new company that hopes to eventually publishe hundreds of weblogs; one of the things he's proposing is to create -- that's right! -- a centralized copy editing desk....

Posted by: Matt Welch at September 24, 2003 11:22 AM

What's been lost in these comments is the notion that the editor has been imposed after the fact, and in response to a complaint by an "injured" constituency. This implies that there is a specific bias the paper (and its editors) are looking for; that is where the problem lies.

Posted by: Steve at September 24, 2003 11:47 AM

Steve -- There is a. I think I could benefit from that.

Posted by: Paul at September 26, 2003 06:47 PM
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ations of their own. In other words, the presenter of the information (whether it's a movie producer, rock band, or newspaper) basically loses control over how that information is consumed once it's put out there. This is relatively new (and I think very exciting), and some people have had a hard time adapting. (Note: this is not some kinda "all music must be free" point, but rather that consumers have actually become producers, which is threatening to gatekeepers in any industry.) All my ideas on this are stolen directly from Nick Gillespie, btw.

Posted by: Matt Welch at September 24, 2003 01:12 PM

In this all I've thought ... what if I had an editor for (god knows I could use one). I would love an editor, if I paid him, to fix errors, fact check, clarify, etc. What I wouldn't want is an editor who paid me. Not for a blog. That doesn't feel like a blog to me. Every added layer of filters reduces the personal touch. Even if the editor pretty much lets everything through, it's hard, still, not to write to please your editor instead of your readers.

Posted by: Howard Owens at September 24, 2003 02:15 PM

Howard makes a valid point: when I'm writing headlines or photo captions I'm deeply conscious of what the copy chief will accept because there's no point writing something your editor will reject.

Posted by: tom at September 24, 2003 05:05 PM

Howard -- How did it work with the Ventura paper's war-blog?

Posted by: Matt Welch at September 24, 2003 11:29 PM

I'm all for editors, if what you mean are people who look for spelling or grammatical errors and things of that nature. To go one further, I believe that not only should I have an editor, I should have a ghost writer as well. I think I could benefit from that.

Posted by: Paul at September 26, 2003 06:47 PM
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