Who needs edittors?

feral cat
I am editorially feral.

I got email yesterday from an editor at The Washington Post asking whether I wanted to write an opinion piece picking and debunking five myths about Google. Well, I love The Post, so sure. I was honored. I sent them five myths and left work to start work on it. Then the editor responded wanting to change my myths before I’d written anything. Change my opinion? No thanks. I said that I no longer live in the civilization of editors. I’m a blogger. I can write my opinion anywhere: here, on Medium, on Huffington Post, on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Tumblr. The editor said: “We are the Washington Post, we believe in strong editing.” This was not going to work.

Of course, I can always stand editing. You know that if you read me here. My editor for What Would Google Do? and Public Parts did wonders for me. I sought editing from many colleagues for Geeks Bearing Gifts.

But for a simple little opinion piece about Google? Why ask for my opinion if you don’t want it? Anyway, my little opinion hardly seems worth the effort. Indeed, in a time of dwindling, precious journalistic resources, I’m not sure we can afford the effort to edit — let alone write — such as that. And besides, who determined that the world needs five myths about Google made up and debunked? Who in the public asked for it?

This kind of thing comes from our content mentality: We have a section to fill. We will come up with the ideas to do that. We will find somebody to write it. We will edit it. A day’s work. Tomorrow’s another day to fill.

A service mentality in journalism would dictate a different job: We observe and listen to what the public needs. We determine what will answer that need. We will measure our success by whether that need is met.

I’m just not made for the former anymore. Neither am I made for the idea that we are primarily storytellers whose job is to engage–nay, entertain–the public. I’m not criticizing The Post or the editor who contacted me. They are doing exactly what good editors do: edit. Instead, I’m starting to try to figure out new organizations, structures, tasks, roles, outcomes, and metrics for what we used to call newspapers and newsrooms.

When I talk with places like Vox or Facebook, I see entirely new–and still forming–job descriptions built around small teams made up of product developers, project managers, designers, and developers who build services and products. They don’t edit, not so much.

Am I killing all the editors? Of course, not. I am envisioning completely new roles for them. In my social-journalism and entrepreneurial-journalism worldview, editors and journalists become links to, advocates for, and servants of the public. They see and translate needs into products and services. They support platforms, systems, and networks that bring coverage from many sources in many forms: stories, yes, but so much more because now we can do so much more.

So I don’t fit in the civilization of editors. And they don’t know what to do with a mangy beast such as me.

feral cat 2

:LATER: I’ve heard from folks at the Post who took insult at what I said here. I just want to emphasize that was not my intent. I wanted to jump off this moment to reflect on changes in our trade — its goals, roles, and organizations — and in my relationship to it. I’m the odd one here.

  • Dan Mitchell

    If I were your editor for this, I would have asked for the details of what happened with the Post editor. Because you’re just basically asking your readers to take on faith that what the editor wanted was somehow clueless. Maybe it was, and the assignment sounds like it might be dumb (depending on execution), but we have no basis for deciding.

    Actually, if I were your editor, I’d make you rewrite this whole thing, or I’d reject it, because it’s just kind of a confusing mess. You aren’t deriding editors, but then you are, and you also think they should be project managers? Or something? “They see and translate needs into products and services” doesn’t actually mean anything.

    And “they don’t know what to do with a mangy beast such as me” is simply cringeworthy.

    • You lost me after “If.”

    • Well, then, I’m glad you’re not my editor. That’s precisely why I like blogs. No editors.

    • anamax

      > Because you’re just basically asking your readers to take on faith that what the editor wanted was somehow clueless.

      The editor wasn’t clueless – (s)he just wanted Jarvis to tell the editor’s story. Jarvis wasn’t interested, or rather, has alternative ways to tell his story, so he doesn’t have to tell the editor’s story.

  • Wow, snarky posts so far.

    Will Jarvis, I for one can understand, I think, what you are looking toward. It is like a lot of other fields where employees are needing to be re-purposed. Such as in the auto industry, reeducation is in process to make a “line worker” to being a “Robot programmer and or maintenance worker.

    On the other hand you are dealing with the Publishing industry such as Newspapers, Magazines and even Books. The structure, for the new way of doing things, ( of which you and others are attempting to define), will not be easy and those in the old way, will continue to misread you and your intentions. It will be a battle to change how it is going to be done, but it is a battle that needs to happen.

    As you can read, I’m not a journalist nor a very good writer. Since 1971 when I got in the Computer Industry, I was promised a paperless society. I’m still waiting! Damn, there are those that still do Faxes. Haven’t they heard of email and SSL.

    keep up the work, it will pay off in the end….

  • Right on bro. Tell it like it is.

  • Thank you Jeff.

    I for one sorely need an editor. What I don’t need is a publisher. I hope we can find something else for the publishers to do, but please don’t disappear the editors!

  • Petr Misan

    Did you deliberately misspell ‘editors’ here to prove some point?

  • anamax

    > I am envisioning completely new roles for them.

    Not really. “Editor” has always encompassed two very different roles.
    [1] Help the author produce the author’s vision.
    [2] Provide a vision that is implemented by the author.

    Newspaper editors as story-assigners are [2]. If you’re asking Jeff Jarvis for his opinion, you should be [1]. If you’re expecting Jarvis to tell your story, you’re trying to be [2] but he may be more interested in his brand than your channel.

    Maybe we need different words for the two roles.