Category Archives: editor

the future of the times

Here’s a great item from last week that slipped through the cracks… A rare peek into the mind of New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, which grew out of a casual conversation with Haaretz‘s Eytan Avriel at the World Economic Forum in Davos. A couple of choice sections follow…
On moving beyond print:

Given the constant erosion of the printed press, do you see the New York Times still being printed in five years?
“I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care either,” he says…..”The Internet is a wonderful place to be, and we’re leading there,” he points out.
The Times, in fact, has doubled its online readership to 1.5 million a day to go along with its 1.1 million subscribers for the print edition.
Sulzberger says the New York Times is on a journey that will conclude the day the company decides to stop printing the paper. That will mark the end of the transition. It’s a long journey, and there will be bumps on the road, says the man at the driving wheel, but he doesn’t see a black void ahead.

On the persistent need for editors — Sulzberger talks about newspapers reinventing themselves as “curators of news”:

In the age of bloggers, what is the future of online newspapers and the profession in general? There are millions of bloggers out there, and if the Times forgets who and what they are, it will lose the war, and rightly so, according to Sulzberger. “We are curators, curators of news. People don’t click onto the New York Times to read blogs. They want reliable news that they can trust,” he says.
“We aren’t ignoring what’s happening. We understand that the newspaper is not the focal point of city life as it was 10 years ago.
“Once upon a time, people had to read the paper to find out what was going on in theater. Today there are hundreds of forums and sites with that information,” he says. “But the paper can integrate material from bloggers and external writers. We need to be part of that community and to have dialogue with the online world.”

do editors dream of electrifying networks?

Lindsay Waters, executive editor for the humanities at Harvard University Press, mentions the Gamer Theory “experiment” in an interview at The Book Depository:

BD: What are the principal challenges/opportunities you see at the moment in the business of publishing books?
LW: The principal challenge is that the book market is changing drastically. The whole plate techtonics is in motion. One chief challenge is not to get unnerved, not to believe Chicken Little as he runs up and down Main Street screaming “the sky is falling.” Books are not going to disappear. We have to experiment with the book which is what we are doing when, for example, we publish McKenzie Wark’s Hacker Manifesto and his forthcoming Gamer Theory.
Gamer Theory is a book that is already available on the web in electronic form, but we believe there is enough of a market for the print version of the book to justify our publishing the book in hardcover. This is an experiment.

One hopes the experimentation doesn’t end here. Last week, we had some very interesting discussions here on the evolution of authorship, which, while never going explicitly into the realm of editing, are nonetheless highly relevant in that regard. In one particularly excellent a comment, Sol Gaitan laid out the challenge for a new generation of writers, which I think could go just as well for a nascent class of digital editors:

…the immediacy that the Internet provides facilitates collaboration in a way no meeting of minds in a cafe or railroad apartment ever had. This facilitates a communality that approaches that of the oral tradition, now we have a system that allows for true universality. To make this work requires action, organization, clarity of purpose, and yes, a new rhetoric. New ways of collaboration entail a novel approach.

Someone is almost certainly going to be needed to moderate the discussions that come out of these complex processes, especially considering that the discussions themselves may consitute the bulk of the work. This task will in part be taken up by the author, and by the communities themselves (that’s largely how things have developed so far) but when you begin to imagine numerous clusters of projects overlapping and cross-pollinating, it seems obvious that a special kind of talent will be required to see the big picture. Call it curating the collective — redacting the remix. Organizing networks will become its own kind of art.
Later on in the interview, Waters says: “I am most proud of the way so many of my books constellate. I see these links in my books in literature, philosophy, and also in economics…” Editors have always been in the business of networks — the business of interlinking. More are now waking up to the idea that web and print can work productively, and even profitably, together. But this is at best a transitional stage. Unless editors reckon with the fact that the internet presents not just a new way of distributing texts but a new way of making them, plate techtonics will continue to destabilize the publishing industry until it breaks apart and slides into the sea.