As the Internet has risen to prominence in society so has the creation of content.
Content. The words, images, videos and all of these other cultural objects that serve to transmit ideas from one human brain to another. The digital systems for distributing content have become so efficient that entire industries have been brought to their knees — running to Congress for special protections or simply slowly fading away.
Twenty years ago the idea that every employee of an organization might be capable of creating and distributing ideas to thousands of customers in the course of a day seemed crazy. Some might argue that today, when it is possible for any employee to distribute ideas to thousands of customers at the touch of a nonexistent button on a touch-screen phone, it is indeed crazy.
Today, everyone is a publisher. We publish for friends. We publish for the public. We publish for our industries.
While publishers in the past primarily focused on publishing for profit (poetry journals aside), today there are a wide variety of reasons people publish, and profit probably motivates the smallest percentage of content that gets distributed. People publish to get famous. People publish to be thought of as smart or funny or ironic or cool. People publish because they can’t imagine not publishing; their ideas consume them and they absolutely must spread the word.
In a world of individuals publishing, there is a function that is often sorely missed. That function is the "editor."
A good editor does a lot more than clean up bad spelling or poor grammar. A talented editor is going to clean up poor logic or winnow out bad ideas in conjunction with an author. A talented editor, while a force for trimming and cleaning, is incredibly effective in the creative process of getting content made and distributed.
Real estate publishing is no different. In fact, all publishing regardless of industry is no different. A good editor would improve the content. Whether it’s a simple blog post about a some interesting aspect of your community or (especially!) the description of a house being added to the MLS, having a second set of critical eyes on the content will make the result better.
The dreadful efficiency of Internet distribution — placing ideas into heads with incredible speed — doesn’t force the end of editorial viability. But as the world focuses more and more on speed it certainly changes the nature of the discipline. And the expanding ranks of content creators have quickly overwhelmed the relatively few numbers of people who can credibly edit anything.
The ratio of content creators to content editors has become entirely out of whack. This is why so much miserable content gums up the tubes of the Internet. And all of us who continue to blissfully make more content to shove in the Internet hole are not always helping.
When was the last time you asked someone you trusted to review what you’re about to publish? Take the "remarks field" that MLSs provide for agents to describe their listings. We’ve all seen obvious problems in these descriptions: all caps; no punctuation; arcane abbreviations; misspellings; terrible grammar. I see them all the time because I’ve had to find ways to shovel that data into websites and other digital services.
But it goes deeper than this. In the one field of an MLS database that allows for narrative context, how many of those remarks tell any kind of story at all? If a potential buyer of a house were blind and couldn’t see any of the images posted along with the listing, how well would that little bit of writing convey the meaning of the house?
I suppose when it comes to having an editor, a trusted person to review and sharpen your work, the challenge is justifying the expense. Just as we’ve come to accept that "publish" is just a button on a website, we may mistakenly think that "edit" is merely a cursor and some bold or italic buttons along the top of a piece of software.
The old way of publishing is dying. The old publishers are deep in the weeds. I don’t feel especially sorry for them because they were adequately warned by many and failed to grasp what the Internet would do to their culture. They didn’t observe and they didn’t adapt. They were replaced by a button. The old publishers fell asleep at the wheel and thought their role was simply to spread ink in pretty patterns across smashed-up dead trees. They did this with dreadful efficiency.
I do, however, think the world will miss out if editors should go the same way. And since we’re all creating content, every time we don’t run it past an editor we’re contributing to the end of a discipline. Editors are more lively than publishers and perhaps they will learn to adapt their profession into something relevant. This shouldn’t be hard, as we face an onslaught of mediocre content bombarding us through a myriad of screens and objects.
But we, as people who make content, have a part to play as well. If our process continues to sidestep any sort of editorial contribution with excuses about expense, or timeliness, or lack of faith, then we will miss out just as surely as the people who are forced to consume our half-baked, all-caps, poorly punctuated content.
If we are to be making the best content about our topic — whether it’s business or consulting or real estate — then we fall short if we don’t identify some way for editorial participation in our work.
Huge thanks to Glenn Roberts Jr. for editing my Inman News columns — you’ve made a difference in my writing and my topics, and I’m grateful for that.
Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt.
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