(Note: This is a note to my friend Michele McLellan responding to her Facebook post about newspapers outsourcing copyediting tasks.)
As you know, I’ve pretty much stayed out of the “whither journalism” lately, but I’ll add a thought or two to your well-reasoned argument based on my personal experiences of the last two years.
First, I’ve been doing a lot of work for a glossy, local lifestyle magazine here in the Bay Area. I do a lot of photography, I also write and edit. Most of the magazine comes together from people who don’t work in the same place — the editor has an office, freelancers write, I edit them, a copy editor in another place edits me, a designer in the office sends me Adobe InDesign files or PDFs for proofing. Works well. Every two weeks we meet for story planning and idea exchange.
Also, last year I wrote and photographed a book (touted all over my FB page). My partner — a chef — wrote her parts from her office, I wrote my sections from mine, the designer emailed around concepts and pages. We all rarely met. Book came out, is doing well. Of course, you and I did the same thing the year before.
Finally, to underwrite such rewarding, but hardly remunerative pursuits as magazine photography and cookbook writing, I keep a hand in editing research for financial institutions. I work with a team of a half-dozen analysts in Denver and New York whose work I edit weekly. I’ve done this for three years. Although we meet only once a year for a feedback and review session, I know their work as well as that of any of the reporters who say across the aisle from me in newsrooms for years.
Newsrooms traditionalists might argue that proximity contributes to quality. They are wrong. The prodigious amount of so-so writing and editing seen in many newspapers is testament to that. Commitment to excellence, responsibility and, most importantly these days, personal growth lead to quality – and those values are highly portable.
First the doors came off newspapers, then the walls blew out. In the next couple of years, we’ll see the floors drop away. Knowledge work – which is what journalism consists of, i.e., literary and creative skill applied to principles of public information, access and transparency – doesn’t need an address. It just needs a platform.