Revenge of Editorials?

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If people ask me what I do for a living, I still generally say that I'm an editor. That can mean a lot of things -- from choosing what articles should run in a particular publication to making sure those articles are professionally written, from the micro level (spelling, punctuation) to the macro level (logic, adherence to libel law). If you've been paying attention for the past ten years, you'll know that one of the main things the Internet has thrown into question is whether editors are necessary: we are tarred as "gatekeepers," people standing in the way a total free-form sharing of information. Certainly the companies that employ editors have been employing significantly fewer of them.

At the "Revenge of the Editorials," Tim Meaney from Arc90 offered a look at what content on the Web looks like: it's shorter, briefer, unedited. The critique he offered was not unlike Michael Pollan's of modern industrial food: The quality is low, the quantity is high. Demand Media's eHow -- which churns out quickly-written articles in response to Google searches -- was held up as example.

Richard Ziade also from Arc90 took up some more hopeful signs. He showcased some great instances of what he calls "curating" -- people who take care to collect interesting information, and make it look good when presented. Composition -- putting things together -- is something rare on the Web, though. He showed the difference between an article on the Esquire Web site and the same article in print -- the difference in design quality was pretty shocking. And he proposed that, just as there's a movement to make food more natural, so too should Web content be better composed.

Ziade thinks that social networks -- friends and communities -- serve as the new editors. He said that communities form around people, not content, and pointed out that people collect links on their blogs often generate more discussion on their sites than the original content sources themselves. He pointed out something that has always nagged me about the iPad-will-save-journalism -- that people will just be diddling around with animated magazines, which don't provide the connections that the Web already does.

But the craftsman metaphor has the same problem as real-life craftsmen: craftsmanship is expensive. Esquire can charge much more per "pageview" in print than it can online. People are willing to pay little or nothing for pretty good even when great is available. The real undertone seemed to be that Apple and Adobe are trying lure content away from the Web with "improved experiences" that more can be charged for, and that the Web can also offer improved experiences. But the idea that Apple and Adobe can make money doing this is also unproven.

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