Technology has certainly changed some of the ways editors do their work and the types of documents they edit, but not the reason for editing. An editor’s goal is still the same: to improve communication.
Depending on the industry and media, there are different kinds of editors, specifically technical editors, book editors, web content editors, academic editors, and medical and scientific editors. This is about those editors who refine the written word, rather than those who work with film, video, or sound.
Editors used to be just as important as writers. Without them, paragraphs didn’t make sense and sentences had errors in them. If you doubted an editor’s work, you could ask to see the text marked up with red revision marks and comments.
Today, editors are often invisible—working silently on the sidelines. They’re not always responsible for awkward phrases or misspellings. Instead, those in an editorial role use specific tools and systems to publish content and make sure it moves along a particular course. They can also be responsible for making sure it is repurposed correctly for different platforms and devices. Some editors get involved in project management, usability testing, and the compilation of style guides.
The role of technical editor has changed with the advent of new tools for single-source publishing. They might master authoring tools for topic-based writing, incorporate specific structured authoring techniques, or use metadata tags to prioritize content and configure it on different devices. They are also more involved in developing mobile and desktop interfaces, and often provide online media, interactive multimedia, and collaborative social media.
Book editors are often irrelevant due to eBooks and self-publishing options. Any author can publish their work whether or not it is edited (not always a good idea).
Web editors are often responsible for setting the tone of a website and writing content that fits in with the organization’s goals and brand. They can use a content management system to publish the content.
So who actually owns content—the writer or the editor? It’s hard to say these days, because often one person does the job of both, due in part to budgetary constraints. The advances in technology are causing changes in the publishing and communications industries, and editorial budgets are being slashed. Fewer and fewer clients are willing to pay for multiple phases of editing, and many schedules don’t allow for it.
However, some editors are still seen as an integral part of an organization. They are still responsible for polishing and refining content, and cutting out what doesn’t belong and enhancing what does. They determine whether or not the content is appropriate for the publication.
So, while some editors may no longer manipulate words and phrases, paragraphs and scenes, they do need to know how. They need to be able to write. They need to be able to help other writers write. Writers and managers still depend on editors, and most editors still have jobs.
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