Another gray damp day in Sydney. It's hard to break gray moods when the day is gray.
This short post is dedicated to Christian Knight, editor of the Armidale Express and to all the sub-editors around the world.
Just completed this week's newspaper column. Christian selected Seagulls from fish and chip wrap become part of the story as headline. I had to laugh. The whole point of a headline is to make the reader go to the first para, and I think that will do it.
There is, it seems to me, a real conflict between headers designed to encourage people to read once they have brought the paper and those designed for search engine usage. If someone were to come to my column after searching on seagulls or fish and chips they would be gravely disappointed!
I do admire the skills of sub-editors. Those skills have been crafted over generations in newsrooms across the world. Even today when their entire sub-craft is under threat of extinction, they continue to generate headlines that attract and interest.
I was thinking how best to describe the change that has taken place in the broader field of editing over the last twenty years.
Twenty years ago, editing focused on words. Today, so much editing focuses on appearance.
Twenty years ago, those concerned with proofing and editing addressed questions such as spelling, grammar, clarity and reader interest. A good sub-editor would try to capture a thought, a message, in just a few words. A good literary editor would agonise over suggested changes to a sentence that might best capture the writer's intent. A good proof reader would take pride in the avoidance of a single error.
Today we worry about visual appearance. The words are less important. Readers are no longer expected to be able to read, rather the document must look pretty. If it's not pretty, then readers won't read. If it's too long, readers won't read. If it's too complicated, readers won't read.
Today the time that was once spent on content is now spent on packaging. The result is documents and especially official documents that are, quite frankly, dreadful. They all have that dreadful pastel appearance full of photos that actually add nothing to the text. They take twice as long to say the same thing and then say it badly, They also take twice as long to read.
Think of all the consumables involved. Twice as much paper is involved, and then there is all the ink. Think of the extra printing time.
Of course, we all now live in a paperless world. The paperless office is here. None of this should matter. And yet, most of us actually do download and print important documents. Why? Because it's just easier.
I must sound crabby and I am. However, and for so long as they may continue to exist, I will praise sub-editors and all those concerned with editing in general. I admire their skills. Once they are gone, once we have fully retreated into the Orwellian world of packaged message pap, I will mourn and commemorate them.