Achieving ‘editorial polish’ in the era of real-time information

bw-logoLast week in a post titled Copyediting 2.0 I asked the question: “What’s the best way to get clean copy? Are layers of copy editors really the solution?”

In a post today, Stephen Baker, a senior writer specializing in technology with Business Week magazine asks a similar question – but extends it “far beyond cleaning up copy.”

The question the next (or current) owner of BusinessWeek is going to have to grapple with is whether such attention to detail is worth it, or, alternatively, whether there’s another way to achieve the same goal.

Baker is focusing on editors’ efforts to polish the story into exactly what “the reader” wants. He argues that the final editorial effort in refining a story is labour intensive and ultimately may not be that productive. He terms it “the last 5%” of the editing process:

It involves a large team of professionals engaged in tweaking, polishing, compressing and dressing articles–hopefully giving them the gleam, smarts and clarity of a top-rate product.

Baker’s comments follow a published report earlier this week that Business Week owner McGraw-Hill Cos Inc. wants to sell the publication. He acknowledges that management’s immediate need is to cut costs and make the publication profitable. But he suggests further that the publication needs to refashion itself for “the age of near ubiquitous and real-time information,” including opening itself up to its community of readers.

I know many editors and have immense respect for what they do. I believe the role of the editor is likely to get stronger in the future. But it’s going to change. Perfecting content may no longer be one of the most needed skills.

News is evolving from what Jeff Jarvis and Terry Heaton term the move from product journalism to process journalism.

There is no “reader” out there anymore, if there ever was. There are many readers, with different interests, who want to be involved. Harnessing that energy for this new era is going to be a highly sought-after skill.

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