Against Editors

Hamilton Nolan, writing for Gawker:

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.

I’m reminded of a 2005 essay by Paul Graham:

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.

Monday, 18 August 2014