Thursday, January 4, 2007

Attempt at a manifesto

Part one

The news media are changing. No surprise there, at least not to anyone who has followed it in the last -- oh -- decade.

For readers, the changes have meant access to a broader array of information, opinion and entertainment than ever before. In other words, the changes have been a good thing. And don't tell me it means readers need more time to sort through websites than to go through a paper. That's poppycock. It takes awhile to find favorites, true, but once you have the addresses bookmarked, web browsing zips along.

For folks who create the news media, these changes have caused problems. Notably, the economic infrastructure that kept newspapers in the black (quite far in the black in many cases) has crumbled as ad dollars migrate to the web. The same problem, to varying degrees, has hit magazines and television. Meanwhile, news websites have made money, but not as much money as their print brethren.

The web has also made reporters of everyone. Websites, blogs, video journals, etc. have sprayed from the populace like water from a geyser. Everyone has a little printing press sitting on his or her desk, and in most cases that printing press is steaming away.

Whither the news media?

Well, jobs have gone. Newspapers have cut costs to look more economically viable. As the amount of information online has swelled, many news outlets offer less. The physical paper, in many cases, has shrunk. And newsrooms still react to the web cautiously, as though it is a threat and not the future.

So here we are. I've written six paragraphs and have yet to mention copy editing. My first job out of college was copy editing. That's what I trained to do. That's what this blog -- originally named Copy Massage -- was meant to cover. What do all of these changes have to do with our corner of the newsroom?

Like the media as a whole, copy editing is changing. Some of us may still be able to spend eight hours a day wrangling commas and debating the finer points of usage. But most of us, I expect, now do far more. Some of us design pages. Some of us post stories to the paper's website. Some of us provide first reads to late-breaking stories. Some of us write occasional stories.

In a broader sense, many copy editors have already been absorbed in the new world. Some of us read blogs. Some of us write them. Some of us post on message boards. Some of us, doubtless, film our own goofy videos and post them on Youtube.

In other words, for most of us, "copy editor" covers only a sliver of what we do and who we are. We are, instead, simply editors. We take content and assemble it for public view.

Our job in no way requires physical paper. Our job, in fact, is uniquely suited to deal with the changing media world. Editors have a range of knowledge and experience that allows us to quickly sort through content, saving the good and axing the bad. Information is -- and has always been -- our business.

(In part two, perhaps I'll reach some conclusion about what this all means.)