Writing and Editing Skills (3.80 / 5) (#66)
by roblimo on Wed Mar 07, 2001 at 01:06:53 AM EST
Actually, beyond a certain level of experience, writing and editing skills are much the same. I don't claim to be great at either one. I'm just one of few people around who can both construct coherent paragraphs quickly *and* understand enough tech-speak to translate what programmers, engineers, and scientists tell me into everyday English.
My background is not primarily in IT rags, but in "alternative" and, to a lesser degree, "mainstream" journalism. I have written hundreds of articles for the Baltimore Sun (daily) and Baltimore City Paper (alternative weekly). I have also written for trade mags - not necessarily IT - aimed at audiences ranging from doctors to mechanical engineers to hotel managers, and have done more private "white paper" reports than I care to think about because they are easy to do and pay extremely well.
I have also written dozens of Penthouse Forum letters (no, most of them are *not* real) and a bit of mystery fiction and other kinds of short stories under various names, but not since 1985, which is when I started concentrating on non-fiction.
Editing? I don't have any real credentials; I did a short stint as a copy editor on the Arizona Daily Star long enough ago that the average K5 reader wasn't born yet, and have filled in as editor for a few small publications, served as "prelaunch" editorial consultant for a local shopper paper (that js still following the policies I set and is doing very well), and recently helped start an IT industry mag that can't have my name on its masthead for conflict of interest reasons even though the people who publish it would love to have me more closely associated with them.
I don't really *like* editing; I would rather just write. I ended up as editor in chief at Andover (now OSDN,) because there was no one else everyone could agree to trust with the job. I am not entirely comfortable being responsible for a majority of the world's Linux and Open Source news. But, as was pointed out to me by a whole bunch of people when I was agonizing over whether I should accept the position, the very fact that I worry about my fitness for the work is one of my prime qualifications.
Aside from administrative crap (which I handle reasonably well but would really rather not deal with at all, given a choice), most of what I do is protect Slashdot, NewsForge and the other OSDN sites from interference by outside parties like Microsoft's legal department, the MPAA and RIAA, advertiers who want us to write glowing reviews of their products even if they suck, and all the other evil influences that keep so many IT prublications from being credible.
Slashdot authors make mistakes and are often inflammatory, but dammit, at least they make *honest* mistakes and admit them, and if they feel strongly about something and say so, it's their own hearts speaking, not words put in their mouths by PR drones or even Larry Augustine, who has been admirably "hands off" with regard to site content and who I will jam just as hard and fast as anyone else if he tries to interfere with what we write.
Bias? You bet! Tina Gasperson, who writes for NewsForge, has a bunch of kids and lives in Tampa, FL. Michael Sims is single (but has a nice girlfriend) and lives in Staten Island, NY. The two of them have totally different perspectives from which they write, and I am gald they have distinct personalities that show through in their work. My job is not to shut down those personalities, but to make sure we have a *mix* of people writing so that many different viewpoints get espoused and stories that one might not find interesting get covered by another.
Tim Lord - timothy on Slashdot - has a journalism degree and wrote PR for Dell (a job he hated) before we snatched him. Grant Gross, NewsForge managing editor and all-around cool dude, has a journalism degree and spent 10 years as a reporter and editor for small midwest dailies before he jumped online as content editor for techies.com, then came to work for us.
Linux.com's new editor, Simon Hayes, was a book editor at O'Reilly until he came to OSDN. Jamie McCarthy and Cliff Wood are both programmers who now work for us full-time -- as programmers -- and write part-time. NewsForge columnist Julie Bresnick (you should check out her cool weekly bios of Open Source developers - hot stuff!) has also written for Soap Opera Digest.
Some of our people are Republicans, some are Democrats, some are Libertarians, some like football, some like basketball, some hate sports (and politics) altogether. We have staff people and freelance contributors (literally) all over the world. Slashdot book reviewer Duncan Lawrie was posting for a while from an expedition ship in Antarctic waters. (My next geographic goal is to get someone to write for us from the International Space Station. And we'll make it happen sooner or later, believe me.)
Editing is mostly managing, and managing writers is much the same as managing programmers or artists: the best way to do it is to hire a good mix of good people, tell them what's expected from them, make sure they have the tools they need to do their jobs, and get the hell out of their way.
Now and then someone will come to me and ask if a story is going to get us sued, so would I please approve it before it runs.
I have nothing against getting sued, but, dammit, as the official receiver of DMCA complaints for OSDN, I want to make sure it's for a good reason, not over something stupid.
I also worry about budgets a lot. This is the crappiest part of my job.
I could probably make at least as much money freelancing as I do on salary with OSDN, and I sure as hell could make more if I went back to full-time limo driving (I own my own) and part-time freelancing, but I rather enjoy my coworkers -- they're a good bunch -- and our readers, even when they're at their most obnoxious (and believe me, we have many obnoxious readers and you know who you are).
Would I do this job for free? The reporting and writing part, sure. The managing and budget control part? No bleeping way!
I have no idea why I'm typing all of this and running on so long; maybe the pint of bourbon I've poured down over the last hour or two has something to do with it. But I have to go to bed now. A story will run on Slashdot around 7 a.m. EST that is going to get us lots of heat, probably including a DMCA "cease and desist" letter from the MPAA or their minions, and I need to be wide-awake and prepared to handle the flak when it starts to come in.
- Trout Fishing in America Robin
(confirmed Richard Brautigan fan)
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