In the writing world, there is a hierarchy. The writers are on the
bottom. Above them are editors, who tell the writers what to
change. This is backwards. […]
Good editors are valuable. They are also rare. If we simply kept
the good ones and dismissed the bad ones, the ranks of editors
would immediately shrink to saner levels. Editors are an important
part of writing — a subordinate part. Their role in the industry
should be equally subordinate. It is absurd that most writers must
choose between a career spent writing and a career that offers
raises and promotions. The “new” online media, happily, tends to
be less editor-heavy than the big legacy media outlets that have
sprouted entire ecosystems of editors and sub-editors over the
course of decades. This is partly because the stark economics of
online journalism make clear just how wasteful all those extra
editors are. To hire a new editor instead of a new writer is to
give up actual stories in favor of… some marginal improvements,
somewhere, or perhaps nothing at all.
My experience of writing for magazines suggests an explanation.
Editors. They control the topics you can write about, and they can
generally rewrite whatever you produce. The result is to damp
extremes. Editing yields 95th percentile writing — 95% of
articles are improved by it, but 5% are dragged down. 5% of the
time you get “throngs of geeks.”
On the web, people can publish whatever they want. Nearly all of
it falls short of the editor-damped writing in print publications.
But the pool of writers is very, very large. If it’s large enough,
the lack of damping means the best writing online should surpass
the best in print. And now that the web has evolved mechanisms for
selecting good stuff, the web wins net. Selection beats damping,
for the same reason market economies beat centrally planned ones.