Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Fewer editors in 2020? Not likely

By · Wednesday, February 1st, 2017
Image via teamsupport.com

Image via teamsupport.com

I recently read about an internal report at The New York Times that maps its plan “to accelerate the (digital) transformation while maintaining a commitment to high-quality journalism.”

Not surprisingly, the headline on its own coverage states: “New York Times Study Calls for Rapid Change in Newsroom.” Haven’t we been experiencing rapid change for some time?

Yes — in the journalism profession and with the journalism curriculum here at the Newhouse School.

But what prompts me to call attention to this report is a line that should resonate with all journalists, not just editors. And, with all readers, not just journalists. The story explains that in a note to the newsroom, Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joseph Kahn “went beyond the report,” referred to as the 2020 report, which “did not identify specific areas to be cut.”

 (Baquet and Kahn) more bluntly addressed the need for staff cuts, saying that moving away from “duplicative and often low-value line editing” would lead to reductions in the editor ranks.
“Let’s not be coy,” they wrote. “The changes will lead to fewer editors at The Times.”

And those changes could lead to scary times for us.

Why?

Editing is not a one-step operation. By nature, it is “duplicative.” That doesn’t mean plodding. Have you ever witnessed editors in action on deadline? Let’s not forget that long before this evolving digital world, The Associated Press wire service — and its competitive peers — turned out real-time and well-edited copy around the clock. Newsrooms across the country and around the world depended on speedy delivery of that copy — high-value editing at its best.

But Baquet and Kahn do have the right idea, which means the times ahead of us might not be so scary after all. While we mourn mention of fewer editors anywhere, we do embrace that all journalists — no matter title or role — must become active editors on all copy. That means more self-edits, more fact checking, more questioning, more care.

There’s a direct correlation between editing copy and publishing final versions that are free of errors and missteps of all kinds. Call them what you will, but it’s likely that more journalists, not fewer, will make up the “editor” ranks in our 2020 newsrooms.

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