Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Prey (or is it pray?) for editors

I can't for the life of me remember now where I read what I took to be reassurances that Journalism 2.0 would need editors.

I had just joined the ranks of unemployed journalists, and the gist of what I read was that as more and more people migrated to blogs and Web sites for their news, the typos and grammatical errors that drive print readers to the telephone to complain will also find voice online.

Whew, I thought, I do have transferrable skills.

But now I wonder whether there will be any copy editors and line editors left to migrate to the Web.

"Can newspapers afford editors?" asks a provocative headline at Reflections of a Newsosaur, a blog written by a former newspaper columnist and editor who left journalism two decades ago to become a software and Internet entrepreneur.

In it, Alan Mutter posits that "managers eager to maximize the feet on the street at their newspapers" are shifting resources from editing to reporting when faced with edicts to economize. "With the fat (if ever there were) long since trimmed from most newsrooms, the choice for many metros now may be coming down to whether to rein in news coverage or relax their traditional standards by editing out some of the editors," he says.

Echoes Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York (who blogs at buzzmachine.com), "Do we need editors?" The headline on the piece he wrote in August for the news site guardian.co.uk wonders whether editors are "a luxury that we can do without."

Jarvis then proposes a hypothetical newsroom of 100 where the mandate is to cut by 30 percent. Who is let go? Not reporters, because "The more original journalism that is done, the higher the value of the paper and its Web service, the better the opportunity to stand out in links and search," he says.

And when those reporters blog, "the community [of readers] acts as the assignment desk, and the idea of editing every comma seems futile," he adds. "My blog readers are my editors."


In the end, though, Javis does conclude this: "Editors are a luxury we must afford" but says their jobs will change in the future as they spend more time "curating" the news -- finding Web links to add context and depth.

But I'll still be bothered by an error like this, in the opening paragraph this morning of a BBC News report: "U.S. consumer confidence fell sharply and unexpectedly in October as fears about future job prospects increasingly prayed upon Americans."

Next time I looked, it was spelled correctly as preyed, thanks, I assume, to a fleet-footed editor or eagle-eyed reader.

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