Sunday, November 7, 2010

Important Work

I was out with two friends, R and S. R is another longtime copy editor and editor, and he and I were talking about how we'd punctuate and capitalize a sentence like this:

  • She didn't want to have the whole "are we exclusive" conversation.
  • She didn't want to have the whole "Are we exclusive?" conversation.
or even something like:
  • She didn't want to have the whole are-we-exclusive? conversation.
The conversation went back and forth for a while (there are variables not present in the examples: for instance, the writer is prickly about being edited), and eventually S broke in with a comment that sounded something like "I can't believe people debate this kind of thing! Who cares? It just doesn't seem very important."

The conversation then turned into a sort of self-conscious defense of what editors do for a living.

I should explain first that S's tone was curious and friendly, and that S is an emergency-room nurse, so he clearly bests us in the "Whose work is important?" contest. I acknowledge that, when the revolution comes and the people who survive the cataclysm return to an agrarian, "survival of the fittest" society, I might best serve the future of humanity as food for other survivors.

Is editing still important? My own career seems to say, well, "Not so much." Over the years, my editorial positions have morphed into marketing-copywriting positions, which have morphed into marketing-strategy positions. My current job title is "senior editor," but I spend very little time editing (maybe 30 percent of the time). I schedule tweets, plan PR campaigns, write marketing copy, and act as a media spokesperson. I'm officially in a marketing department, and I report to a director of marketing.

And this is all fine with me—I enjoy my job (and I'm grateful to have a job). Plus, I think this is the future of work: More of us are going to have to be generalists (which, as you may know, all good copy editors are). "Editors" will be executing social-media strategies. "Marketing managers" will be writing ad copy. And "nurses" will—well, nurses will still be saving lives and caring for sick and enfeebled people. Bless them.

As for me, I'm enrolling in an Internet-marketing certification course (I figure I might add some certification to my on-hand-learning experience)—not that this will add to my societal worth when the zombie apocalypse comes (oh, yes, I've started watching "The Walking Dead" on AMC). But in the here and now, I am having a harder time finding someone who'll pay me for my punctuation obsession.

Is editing important? Well, I have some pat answers to that: A well-trained editor corrects falsehoods and brings logic to illogical constructions, thereby improving the public discourse. He or she corrects errors of grammar and eliminates unnecessary text, helping writers express themselves more clearly (and helping readers read more easily—even if they don't and shouldn't notice our efforts). And an editor makes sure that text meets standards of not only usage but also journalism, giving publications credibility and protecting them from people who might disparage them.

That's my pat answer, but the truth is (to answer my friend S), I don't know whether people really care about this stuff anymore.

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