MARK JUDGE: When Editors Were Necessary.
What do editors do to earn their paychecks? These days, not much. In the blog and digital age, most editors sit around reading copy that’s provided for them by writers. They might change a word here or there, or bitch about a couple typos, but that’s it. For this they get paid a lot more than the writers who produce the pieces that drive the traffic that pays their salaries.
Before the digital revolution, being an editor could be sweaty work. The film Genius, based on A. Scott Berg’s book, dramatizes the legendary editor Maxwell Perkins as he helped to craft masterpieces by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. Perkins traversed the ocean of paper and ink hoisted onto his desk, spending months and years honing and perfecting. As Berg once told Vanity Fair, “Before Perkins, book editors had largely mechanical jobs: signing the book and preparing the manuscript for the printer. This one person changed the course of great American literature by working closely with authors to shape their manuscripts.”
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Editors like Kate Boo began to disappear with the rise of digital media and the financial collapse of journalism. The job of editor became more simple: gather copy from the horses who were driving traffic, pop it into the slots, collect a check, go home. A lot of these editors are only marginally competent and pathetically risk-averse, making sure their Buzzfeed-chasing hacks stick to short and easy copy. Unlike predecessors mentioned above, they weren’t daring.
And when they do go big, the lack of experience, guts, and wisdom can bring about a disaster. On November 19, 2014, I clicked open the webpage to Rolling Stone. Prominently posted at the top was the story “A Rape on Campus,” about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia. I knew by the third paragraph that the story was fake. It was something that any of my editors in the 1990s would’ve caught instantly. The girl was raped and tossed through a glass table? Are the markings on her back? Did you see the markings? Did you talk to the accused?
Read the whole thing.