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 prĂ©cis 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.