Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pub-anomics

Most people outside the publishing industry associate titles like "editor" and "writer" with glamour. Ha bloody ha.

Sure, if you're editor in chief at a major glossy, New York-based magazine, like Real Simple, you'll be raking in the big bucks. Or if you are Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, you will be recognized and possibly even mobbed on the street. Not to mention those extremely nice, juicy royalty checks that would come your way.

Make no mistake, though, most editors and writers will remain safely anonymous and barely middle class.

Want some proof of the value most suits see in editing? Take a look at this story, which recounts how the new, shrinkwrap barely off, $123.5 million Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville apparently does not employ proofers for its signage. And it took the local paper a month to figure out a word was misspelled. Super. I'm sure someone will get fired or upbraided in some fashion for this faux pas; I'm also sure it won't be the doink who said, "why do we need to pay someone to proof everything? we can do it ourselves and save money."

It's not news that word processing software makes everyone think they are writers; nor is it news that spellcheck provides a crutch for poor spellers and convinces people they are also editors. Combined, they make bean-counters question the need for actual, gasp! editing by professionals. After all, if spellcheck and grammar check didn't flag anything, your document must be A-OK. Right--at least, until there's an embarrassing glitch.

Of course, once you've had a good copyeditor or proofer catch some glaring mistake in a headline that five other people on your staff (including you) did not see, you understand just how valuable they are. Yet many, many pubs do not have positions devoted to such a valuable function. The dailies do, because there are so many writers and tight deadlines they cannot afford the error rate. But smaller publications, particularly b2b shops, have axed that job in the name of efficiency. They just pile it on someone else's duties, oblivious to the fact that not everyone is good at copyediting or proofing. They are real specialties. I am not anyone's gift to either, I can assure you. I will never ever be even a lowly sergeant in the Style Police Unit.

The same trend holds true for writers. Suits seems to think that any reporter can write stories about anything. In some small way, they are right: a good reporter should be able to cover just about any topic. BUT. That does not mean that a good reporter wants to do so, or that they can perform the miracle of tough, insightful interviews on any subject after taking up said subject two days before. It takes time to learn the nuances of any beat, and a couple years to have a really good rolodex of contacts. Robots do not good reporters makes. So of course, the Tribune Co. has decided to squash the publisher that stood up for these fine sentiments and principles, and will most likely fire lots of good reporters in the name of the bottom line. It seems that a profit margin of 20 percent just isn't enough. Note to Tribune suits: Maybe you could do more with less salary of your own? Trade your inflated $150,000+ salary for, say, four or five really solid, experienced reporters that actually produce the stuff (stories) you sell? Or can you Tribune suits can go out on the street and sell your spreadsheets? Didn't think so.

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