Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Friday, 25 September 2009

The editorial mangle

Journalism is fun when you’re learning something new, especially if the interviewee is reluctant. But more time is spent re-writing than digging out news.

As a professional gesture to the local community I create a quarterly newsletter extracted from council minutes. This involves two imperatives: to make the minutes more zippy and to reduce the raw material into a presentation printed on two sides of A4. Briefly, I shrink 6000 words down to 1000.

At school it was called a précis and there were rules to be learned. Faced with such a task most people would thrash around a bit whereas it took me 2½ hours. And so it should. I’ve done it for 44 years. Fifteen years ago it would have taken me longer because I’d have had to keep re-adjusting the wordage to fit the magazine space available. This morning my output went straight into a template I’d already created and I was re-adjusting as I was writing. All hail the benefits of DTP.

Because after those 2½ hours I not only had the finished text but it was shaped, coloured and headlined in a file suitable for emailing to the company who will print the 1700 copies for distribution.

Publishing, as much as any industrial activity, has profited enormously from the computer. Much drudgery has disappeared, leaving the writer to concentrate on writing. Of course computers have also removed some of the hidey-holes that bad writers used to conceal their incompetences. OK for a hard-nosed editor, less so for the shy debutante who’s just joined the ship. But then I enjoyed being a hard-nosed editor too.


Julia said...

The world of print and publishing has changed so much even in my career. Working with printers here and in the US, I sometimes feel as if I can hear them gasping at the rate of change we are constantly racing to keep up with.

That said, I love the computer and publishing. I remember when I was both the production manager and a writer for a magazine in the States. As production manager, I'd take the magazine to the printers to oversee their prepress work. As a writer, that gave me the chance to edit my articles up until the film was burned. I plead youth as the cause of my folly, but luckily my editor was quite forgiving about these things.

marja-leena said...

Yes, computers have certainly made many jobs easier for printing, as well caused job losses such as those highly skilled typesetters. The latter now make hand made books. Utility has turned into an art form

Spadoman said...

You must stop in and look at this article on the blog of my friend who calls himself Coffee Messiah. It is a short YouTube of a man that still uses a linotype printer:


I read the newsletter, and I say Okay with the lot.


Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: A forgiving editor! Well, perhaps on high days and holidays. But it doesn't sound as if I'd have needed to be cruel to you. It's clear you were (are?) a real journalist, cleaving as always to the last few seconds of the deadline.

M-L: Sad about the lost skills; I lost some best mates. But once I knew what DTP was I couldn't wait to get my hands on it.

Spadoman: All that clicking and tinkling; it took me back to 1951 when I was a tea-boy on the "Telegraph and Argus" in Bradford, Yorks, GB, and looked in wonder at the fleet of Linotypes and smelt the smell of molten type metal. Just to look at such machines evoked a variant of that reaction to the bumble-bee - "It can't possibly work." I did my own bit of nostalgia on the Linotype some type ago - see below.


The Crow said...

To distill 6K words down to 1K and still have a readable, newsworthy product in the end is quite a skill; impressive and awe-inspiring to those of us who do not possess it.


Rouchswalwe said...

In high school, I was on the newspaper staff. We would type our articles on pieces of paper which were puzzled over, cut at a certain line, glued on to large sheets of heavy paper with rubber cement and sent off to the printer. In a week or so, a bundle of finished newspapers to hawk to our fellow students would magically appear.

Plutarch said...

I read with interest item 1 in the left hand column of the newletter. Weed spraying is a bit of an obsession in this parish. There are some whom the weeds upset so much that they venture out with scraping tools and hack away at them themselves. The TW Borough Council doesn't seem to care too much, and sometimes forgets its resposnibilites. Me, I tend to find weeds interesting, though I agree that too many weeds on our unusual brick pavements, can give the impression of a derelect town after some kind of catastrophy.

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: It sounds clever but practice simplifies it. What I left out was my glee in reducing some cumbersome minutes-ish para down to a ten-word sentence. Somewhere in that activity lies the essence of journalism.

RW (zS): And another scent wafts up over the decades. The rubber cement we used for make-up was called Cow Gum. Inevitably it transferred itself to surfaces other than the backs of the cut-up galleys, and especially onto one's finger-tips. As an aid to contemplation one rubbed the dried areas until they became small balls, then bigger balls. Now when I need to consider the next stage of a make-up I simply stare at the screen. It's not the same - no, DAMNIT it's much more efficient. Nice to hear about your journalistic roots, zS. Some day all the journos among us must recall the first time we saw something we'd written transformed into print.

Plutarch: As I mentioned, the newletter is created from an existing template (actually a saved version of the previous newsletter with the old contents removed). But I could probably convert the stories themselves into templates. Weed-spraying is an ever-recurrent concern. Along with evidence that youths have been foregathering on the estate and drinking lager bought from Tesco.

Sir Hugh said...

I note your post relates specifically to journalism. Once the art of précis (which I also have fond memories of) is mastered one turns to literature where verbosity is questionably referred to as "style"

Avus said...

I, similarly, produce a periodical for the society of which I am secretary. I use Quark, but the printer, these days, seems to prefer it delivered as Adobe pdf's.
Any comments on good DTP programmes? What do you use?

Barrett Bonden said...

Avus: Quark, what else? Despite the hideous expense it is the best and (once learnt) is the most user-friendly. Mind you, my early experience occurred soon after Quark made the transition from Mac to PC. Technically it appeared in Windows but was not of Windows. Right-click on objects and you got the helpful signal "What's this?". Later versions take full advantage of Windows and the software has made a significant step forwards.

Your printer (ie, printing company)requires PDFs because, I suspect, he doesn't have Quark at his end. In fact the companies that do the printing are steering away from Quark towards software whose name escapes me. PageStream? Julia will know. I tried Serif's PagePlus, available at a rock-bottom £100, but it proved more suitable for leaflets than the 36-page community magazine I was producing until abruptly I dropped it and created a website instead.