Sunday 25 September 2016

Editing in a Real-Time World

Here’s a joke for you:

Q: How many editors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: The last time this question was asked, it involved a photo editor. Did you change the question for a reason? Should something else be changed? Did you ask a secondary source? This all feels inconsistent.

Those on the receiving end of an editor’s red pen get the joke. Everyone else probably hasn’t had the pleasure of his or her prose being deftly questioned by such a curmudgeonly stickler for content and the power it has for change. Communications is no place for those who can’t stand up to scrutiny.

The Oscars and the subsequent brouhaha that resulted – from the host’s controversial material to The Onion’s offensive tweet about Quvenzhane Wallis, the nine-year-old Best Actress nominee, to myriad brands activating online to take part in the burgeoning American tradition of live-snarking award ceremonies –provide some tremendous learnings for everyone: Taste is subjective; quality is not.

The advent of anything is fraught with problems, and to suggest that an awards host or consumer-packaged good company not try something new without ensuring its execution is beyond reproach is unrealistic. However, in a culture where the insistence upon “New! Now!” is no longer novel, brands – and those who steward their reputations on their behalves – are challenged now to take a step back and take yet another cue from our newsroom brethren: edit once, edit again and then edit some more.

The skillset involved in editing – whether it’s text, imagery, video or sound – is specific and not something that can be relegated to the inexperienced. Quality control as it relates to editing is not solely about moving a misplaced comma or correcting a misspelled word. Editing also requires the ability to question, challenge and play devil’s advocate.

A good editor divorces the emotional attachment creators have to their end product and thinks only about the end result and how a user will experience it. In many ways, an editor is the best champion any piece of content will ever have, and a brand’s best ambassador.

Content strategy plays a larger role in this discussion; the appropriate staffing mix is one thread of that narrative that can’t be overlooked. As brands continue to rightly dip their toes into the waters of publishing, making certain that in addition to funny writers, gifted artists and sharp analysts, employing someone or someones to ask the tough questions will be equally important.

Image credit: Caroline Treadway

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