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The death of editing is a bad, bad thing

If a blogger blogs on the internet, but no one is there to read it, did he really blog in the first place? That’s what I’m wondering as I write this post and contemplate how no one is going to read it thanks the holiday slowdown taking place everywhere online.

That said, when I started this blog back in March, I vowed to myself that I would post something every single weekday until the launch of my book, and somewhat beyond, even if it killed me. Aside from one day where I moved (and was thoroughly sick), I’ve actually managed to keep that promise. I’ve done daily blogs before so I knew what kind of a grind it can be. Ultimately, blogging is a lot like pancakes, to paraphrase the dearly departed Mitch Hedberg: at first, it’s really exciting, but after a while you get f*%$#@ sick of it!

Yet here we are, 210+ posts later. Indeed, there have been many days where I’ve wanted to bash my head into the computer rather than blog, but at the same time, it’s become pretty habitual, like going to the bathroom or sleeping (half my posts are probably a combination of the two).

Given that no one is likely reading this, I’ll take the opportunity to rant about a topic that no one besides writers likely cares about: editing.

First, the bad news. On the journalism side of things, it’s getting really bad. Good journalism – the sort of in-depth, investigative and critical stuff, like the Globe and Mail’s expose of the abuses at the Toronto Humane Society – is not simply the product of a good reporter. The reporter might get all the glory, but a good editor is always behind the scenes. A good editor guides the reporter, shapes and refines the story, asks questions, sets boundaries and exerts some authority when need be. Good journalism is thereby a product that may only have one byline, but it’s a team effort.

Editors are proving to be the biggest casualty of news’ shift to online from print. As we learned last month, the Toronto Star is outsourcing a good portion of its editing to the Canadian Press. While the stories will still get edited, the paper’s union was right in saying that the outsourcing removes much of the personal teamwork that goes into crafting news. Also, the CP editors likely already have their hands full. The increased workload means they’ll be spending even less time on each story.

I jumped into the online world a little over two years ago after a decade in newspapers. I used to have my stories read by at least three separate editors. There were many, many times when editors saved my ass beforehand, or came to my defense after the fact. Now, with a decrease in the number of editors available and an increase in the quantity of stories they each have to edit, that old regime seems like the luxury of a bygone era. Worse still, it’s sending a chill through the kind of news reporters are looking to write. Are they going to investigate “real” news when they don’t have editors backing them up? I don’t know too many reporters who are willing to stick their necks out like that. The result is an environment where misdeeds by those with power can flourish.

Needless to say, that’s bad. What’s the solution? No one is sure, but I suspect it will have to work itself out some way. Real journalism is an absolute necessity in a democratic society, so we either have to figure it out soon or we might as well start learning how to speak North Korean (I realize that’s not actually a language, but you catch my drift).

The good news is, it’s still the exact opposite in book-land. Thus far, I’ve had my book edited by my agent, two publishers’ editors, a copy editor, two colleague editors and a couple proofreaders thrown in for good measure. I can’t even count how many times the thing has been edited and I’m actually almost sick of reading the damn thing! I just finished going over the first set of printed proofs last week and will be getting galleys soon, which means I’ll have to read Sex, Bombs & Burgers yet again. By the time the thing is released, I’ll probably be ready to chuck it into the lake!

But seriously, this illustrates a fascinating difference in priority. Books (non-fiction, at least) have always been considered historical documents, which explains all the effort into making sure they’re correct. Books are permanent and pretty much unchangeable once they’re put into print. Newspapers, on the other hand, have traditionally been more impermanent. Get something wrong and you can correct it in tomorrow’s edition.

“Never wrong for long” has been the motto, which is now even more appropriate online. Clearly, that’s how news media management is looking at it, and that’s really too bad. There’s no replacement for making sure the information is correct in the first place, which makes it much easier to defend after the fact. And if you can’t or won’t defend it, then there really isn’t much point to what you’re doing in the first place, is there?

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