It’s awards season in journalism-land, a time when we honor our colleagues’ most outstanding work during the previous year. As the scores of winners are announced in one contest after another, a few people in my circle of Facebook journalist friends have wondered “aloud” why there don’t seem to be any awards recognizing the work of editors.
It’s an interesting question. Most of us who are involved in producing journalism seem to place a high premium on good editing, at least judging from the overwhelmingly positive responses in a public media journalism forum to this recent post on the value of an edit. So, why wouldn’t we honor editors as we honor reporters and hosts?
Judging Editing – No Easy Task
One answer: it’s hard to know where the reporter’s work ends and the editor’s begins … and that’s exactly how it should be. As one commenter in an online conversation on this topic correctly noted, “good editing is so transparent as to be invisible.”
A story that goes through the proper editing process is truly a joint effort by the reporter and the editor. Some news organizations reflect that fact by listing editors’ names alongside reporters’ in award entries. My old shop, Colorado Public Radio, did that, and I think it’s highly appropriate.
The Worthy Argument
The argument could be made that no more needs to be done. After all, editing happens behind the scenes. Those of us who do it know we’re not going to get much glory or public recognition, and we’re generally ok with that. Why, then, should there be a separate award for editors?
One reason is that, as another online commenter put it, “If we say that editing is important, then we should be in a position to recognize those who do it well and can be considered role models for good editors.”
That’s good enough for me. But it may not convince everyone, so I also give you …
The Cynical Argument
An editing award might just help convince station management that editors are important and worthy of investment.
During our long discussion about the merits of editing in the public media journalists’ forum, one commenter rightly pointed out that we were all just “preaching to the choir.” By and large, good journalists – whether reporters, editors, or hosts – see the value of good editing. But, by and large, they’re not the ones holding the purse strings.
The question comes up time and again – how do we convince the top managers in our news organizations to invest in hiring and training good editors? It makes sense that they’d want to invest in reporters and hosts – the people whose bylines, voices and faces they hear and see. But, while there are notable exceptions to this, many top managers aren’t aware of how the journalistic sausage is made, and people like editors are simply not front-of-mind.
Could an award or two add a little glamour to that unsung role and help editors get noticed by the folks with the money? Might the existence of those awards bring awareness of the need for editorial capacity as well as reporting capacity?
Making it Work
Whether you’re convinced by the worthy argument or the cynical argument, or both, if there is to be an editing award, there remains the problem remains of how to devise one. After all, we’d want it to be meaningful, even if part of its purpose were somewhat, well, mercenary.
How do you discern and judge an editor’s work? Do you ask news organizations to submit before-and-after versions of a story or set of stories? That could be quite interesting, but original drafts aren’t always kept, and frankly, I wonder if anyone would want to air that much dirty laundry!
One online commenter suggested a nomination-based award, with nominees evaluated by a panel of judges. I like this idea. There would have to be separate contests for different types of media – radio/audio, TV/video, print, online – and probably further breakdowns within those categories. Judges would evaluate each nominee’s body of work over a given year, talk to reporters they’ve edited with, etc. It could be a challenge to find judges willing to put in that kind of time – the key would be to make the award significant enough that people would be honored to serve on the judging panel.
I wonder if this could be done under the auspices of a respected journalism institute or university, like Poynter or Missouri or Medill or Columbia.
Regardless of the challenges, I do think it’s an idea worth pursuing.
One online commenter drew a parallel with the movie biz, noting that there’s no Oscar for producing. I suppose he was making the point that editing is similarly behind the scenes and perhaps undeserving of its own awards. Well, it’s true there’s no Oscar for producing … but when the Oscar for Best Picture is announced, who goes up to accept it? That’s right. The producers.