Is editing really dead? No, not yet.
Will editing be dead and forgotten? Maybe, maybe not. It’s more of an answer based on your belief system.
What Dr. Selvin delivered in his keynote address may not be the elixir for editing life, but is a prescription for how editing can stay fit and live longer.
As already noted, many of the process around editing and some of the tasks in editing have been already vanquished or reduced to obscurity. What remains with us editors is the core of the editing process, the core which has been difficult to vanquish or that cannot be easily sidelined.
Dr. Selvin’s prescription, outlined below, can help strengthen the core.
Learn new, related skills
It is interesting to note that as editing gets lean, shedding fat, it has also assimilated many other processes, new and old. A classic example in large organizations is generating XML documents, which has become a minor task for editors. Or assuming a single-player workflow where the editor is the single player, as most of the other processes such as document structuring, generating XML documents, and pagination have all been highly automated. That is, learning new skills has become an important requirement for editors.
Dr. Selvin deftly demonstrated this with the example of the recent phenomenon of alternative text writing (a.k.a. alt+text writing). So, what is alt+text writing all about? Dr. Nilima Vyas explained the concept very well in the conference. For starters, University of Leicester’s “Writing effective ALT text” mentions that “[t]he purpose of ALT text is to provide an alternative way of conveying the information provided by an image to website users that can’t necessarily see the image”. Dr. Selvin went on to explain how alt+text can be cleverly used to optimize pages for search engines. Interestingly, writing content optimized for search engines (called search engine optimization, or SEO) in itself has become another recent phenomenon.
Dr. Selvin unequivocally expressed his support to automation.
Automation is not such a bad word. In the past 15 years since online editing came into existence, large organizations have taken great efforts to automate processes, resulting in the removal of mundane, repetitive processes for editors and increase in the productivity for organizations. New companies, too, have emerged that focussed on automation, which meant that automation is no longer exclusive to these large organizations that can afford millions of dollars to innovate. Freelancers who cannot afford automation or lack the interest or skillset to automate can easily buy third-party tools or plugins, which has made a freelancer’s life easy.
Embracing technology will not take work away; it will help us produce more better-quality work. More about this later.
The most important part of the keynote address is, as Venkatesh put it, Dr. Selvin’s “clarion call to all the editors to unite against the practice of undercutting prices”. It was like paraphrasing history’s one of the most famous war cries to say “Editors of India, Unite.” He outlined the need to understand what quality is and deliver: there is no one single definition for editorial quality, which is defined by the expectations of the publisher one works with.
Next, most importantly, he warned the editors against undercutting. There is a clear need to understand the worth of one’s own quality, efforts put in, and expect to be rewarded appropriately. Undercutting will eventually lead to poor quality of work and loss of work. Thus, it is significant to respect our work and get paid accordingly.
The keynote address was a classic example of Dr. Selvin’s experience and understanding of e-publishing in general and copyediting in specific. Overall, the keynote address turned out to be an excellent food for thought.