I was fortunate enough to attend the first day of the 2017 Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd) biannual conference, which was held in Brisbane. Working in the digital marketing field, I chose to go to all of the presentations in the technology stream to learn about how advances in technology are affecting digital publishing and the editorial profession.
What I walked away from this conference with was a better understanding of some of the trends and challenges currently facing the editing profession and editors, as well as those we will need to be prepared to face in future.
Technology and the changing role of editors
In his keynote speech, Professor Roly Sussex explained that we are currently experiencing a generation besotted with writing. This is largely due to advances in technology that make it easy for anyone to publish their own content via blogs, websites, SMS and social media. As a result, we are surrounded by language. A large portion of this content is not edited, but is badly in need of editing.
As technology and digital publication formats evolve, so does the role of editors and the types of work they do. In his session on How will editors adapt to an evolving digital future? Stephen White suggested the role of editors will be to focus on enhancing the user experience. Listening to Bobby Graham’s presentation, there is scope for editors to do this by:
- getting involved in the production of image and video captions to enhance accessibility and discoverability
- looking at how to embed audio and video into content
- providing editorial advice for, and essentially ‘shaping’ digital and social media content.
In their session on Editing for education in a digital world: a view from the publisher perspective, Kylie Challenor and Lian Flick talked about a number of new, interactive ways of presenting content, such as choose your own adventure type scenarios and branching animations. In this style of publication, which utilises graphics, video and animation to supplement text content, some of the tasks editors perform include:
- looking at whether correct pronunciation is used in the voiceover
- thinking about where rich text should go
- editing pop ups
- checking functionality
- reviewing content within the context of the entire publication.
Challenges facing editors in light of technological advances
While these new types of editing work sound exciting, the presenters also identified several challenges for editors working in a constantly evolving digital industry. Stephen White, whose work involves editing digital geological surveys, atlases, maps and virtual tours, discussed the difficulty of trying to edit a digital publication without the editing software or tools for this publication format. Another challenge experienced during working on this particular project was that editors had to be careful of what they changed, because the content existed in multiple places, and it was hard to keep track of different versions of copy.
Automation of editorial work
Digital editing tools promise to make our job as editors easier, but these too come with challenges. One of the concerns Roly Sussex raised in regards to the use of such tools was the filter bubble editors can become victim to. Similar to how websites and social media target and filter information presented to you online, you don’t know what you can’t see. For example, while Microsoft Word’s spell check functionality can help identify things like typos and repeated words, it won’t alert you to the fact that an entire sentence is repeated, and sometimes its advice is just wrong. Becoming reliant on such technology can mean errors are overlooked. Roly’s advice? Maintain a healthy level of suspicion and use such technology with caution to avoid these types of mistakes.
Technology provides scope for editors to lend their skills and experience in many new, interesting ways beyond the traditional manuscript, but with change often comes challenge. While technology makes the work of editing easier in many ways, there is still work to do to ensure editorial strategy keeps up with these advances. Technology may make aspects of editorial work easier and the role of editors may change to reflect changes, but there will definitely still be a role for editors to play in the future.
It will be interesting to see how technological advances continue to affect the digital publishing industry, and how this affects the role of editors. Watch this space!
Interested in finding out more about the 2017 IPEd conference sessions? This blog post by Jane Aylen talks about some of the digital resources she learned about at the conference that promise to improve editorial practises. Marisa Wikramanayake and CyberText Consulting have also posted several blog posts that provide some interesting insights, but I’ve summarised the 4 most-important things I think you need to know about the editing industry, based on attending this conference.