The State of Writing and Editing

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My brother sent me an example of awful editing a few weeks ago: An on-line publication had used the wrong "your"—or something like that. (I should have taken a screenshot.)

On Twitter and Facebook, people regularly post ridiculous gaffes from major publications: wrong words, egregious misspellings, poorly worded headlines, unintentionally humorous photo and text juxtapositions.

To my brother, I responded that people just don't value good writing and editing anymore.

That may not be completely true. If people didn't value it, they wouldn't point it out when they catch it. And I've regularly had clients and professional contacts lament that they can’t find employees who write clearly, effectively, and with precision.

So if people do actually value good writing and editing, why is so much of what we read so poorly written and edited? A number of forces pull good writing and editing out of whack:

  • Today's news cycle is shorter than ever. Blame the Internet. You can be accurate or you can be speedy, but you can rarely be both. Journalists/writers and editors don't have the time they once did to practice their craft. As long as they get the facts right—not that they always do—we can't be too upset about errors in presentation.

  • Content consumers now crave more content than ever before. Writing and editing would be improved if enough staffers could cover the increased workload. Yet publications work with skeleton crews—staff far reduced from what they had in the slower news cycles of yore.

  • Staff up? Alas, publications don't have the financial resources required to cover the needed additional staff. Magazines and newspapers have struggled for years to fund content. Maybe they'll figure it out someday. Until then, they're going to have a hard time finding A-list talent who can work for peanuts.

Although the severity of these challenges has increased in recent years, each of these three issues has been in place for centuries. Ever seen a newspaper from, say, the 1800s? Writing and editing errors abound. Publications in the pre-Internet age may not have had to produce as much content as quickly, but their technology lacked—and made error-free editions severely challenging. (Take another look at a letterpress printer. Can you imagine printing an entire paper daily on such a thing?)

Do you value good writing and editing? Or do you just want the facts as quickly as possible—and to hell with how well they're presented?

How do you think society/publications/schools/people can improve the quality of writing and editing today?