A Future as an Editor?

I no longer work in a news room, but I still follow the news industry and remain a news junkie. Last year, the American Society of Newspaper Editors reported that jobs at newsrooms fell by 2.4 percent in 2001. A report in Business Week had similar findings and provided the graphs below.  The point of the matter is that aspiring editors are gradually losing a once sizable market where they could take their talents.

journalism_13168_image001.gif

Fortunately, I am learning to be a technical editor. Half of my current job is administrative while the other half involves technical writing.  I feel fortunate to have found a foothold as a technical writer and editor and hope that classes at NJIT’s MSPTC program will bolster that foundation. The foundation though, despite a few months of intensive editing, remains flaky and editing. So it behooves me to keep abreast of the journalism, editing and writing industries.

On the other hand, I worry about if a solid footing will even help.

Take my my best friend, for example. Joe and I started our careers in journalism together at about the same time. He still works in the field, as an editor for NJBIZ. The only job Joe ever took after college was as an editor. He is resigned to the notion that continuing with a career as an editor in journalism is not in his future. The pay remains stagnant, the hours continue to be long, and he is disillusioned by the industry in general. He is a great editor, in fact, he was my editor at a certain point. When I imagine what good editing should be, I have a great role model. Yet Joe feels his foundation is crumbling.

I keep trying to convince to look into other opportunities – technical writing, law school. My last suggestion was the foreign services.

Department of State Seal

When Joe looks at this career prospects after journalism, he imagines it shaky, weak. However, I see the opposite. Someone who has a keen eye for detail, manages people with stark, poignant, constructive criticism and without alienating them, sees the bigger picture, and always sees a way to improve soiled work, can find a job anywhere. These are the ingredients that I think make the cement for the a solid foundation as an editor. They are the values that I aspired to when I started taking Editing classes.

So, to Joe and to anyone else who feels their future as an editor is bleak, there are plenty of opportunities out there that could use your expertise.

Because I could not … change the tense


My first semester of graduate school courses has been full of highs and lows. The lows relate to the workload being overwhelming, though now that I know what to expect, subsequent semesters (if I make it that far) should be more manageable.

The highs are plenty. I have never worked on a group assignment before and doing so (for an editing-related podcast) has so far been a thrill. The thrill should continue when we finally start recording our material. We will use Camtasia Relay  – a software that I have never used – to record our podcast. I will be one of two presenters in this podcast.

To practice, I thought I would add a podcast to this blog post. However, something went really wrong. I saved this folly for the blooper reel. That link is not worth clicking (I need to buy a microphone because the internal microphone on my laptop is broken).

The point of the podcast was to describe another high of this semester: looking at the subtle verb tense shifts in “I Have Dreamed,” from the musical The King and I. That assignment was something I delayed but it became very engrossing. It was a pleasure researching this assignment because I got the opportunity to listen to dozens of other versions of the song. While most of the cover versions used the same lyrics, I felt a dramatic change in tone when I listened to the Jazz singer’s Jimmy Scott’s version.

Hearing the shift gave me goosebumps. It was haunting and I read Scott’s Wikipedia page. He suffered from Kallmann syndrome – a genetic disorder that “results in the failure to commence or the non-completion of puberty”  that left him with an androgynous, haunting voice. Listening to Scott voice, and reading about his personal history, made his version of the song even more heartbreaking.

I wanted to see if I could find something else as shaking. I looked for cover songs on YouTube, but nothing gave me the same sense of melancholy that Jimmy Scott’s rendition of “I Have Dreamed.” But I found the mood somewhere else – in the Emily Dickinson poem “Because I Could Not Wait for Death.”

No one on the Internet was sacrilegious I was though to change the verb tense in a classic poem, but I did anyway. While I did not achieve the same effect as Jimmy Scott, changing the tense from the past and conditional tense to present tense, it makes it sound like I am riding in a cab with Death. I guess, in a way, we all are from the moment we’re born. In any case, here are the two version of the poem:

Because I Could Not Stop For DeathBy Emily DickinsonBecause I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,

And I had put away

My labor, and my leisure too,

For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,

Their lessons scarcely done;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed

A swelling of the ground;

The roof was scarcely visible.

The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries but each

Feels shorter than the day

I first surmised the horses’ heads

Were toward eternity.

 

Because I Do Not Stop For DeathBastardized by Navid IqbalBecause I do not stop for Death,

He kindly stops for me;

The carriage holds but just ourselves

And Immortality.

We slowly drive, he knows no haste,

And I put away

My labor, and my leisure too,

For his civility.

We pass the school where children play,

Their lessons scarcely done;

We pass the fields of gazing grain,

We pass the setting sun.

We pause before a house that seems

A swelling of the ground;

The roof is scarcely visible.

The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries but each

Feels shorter than the day

I first surmise the horses’ heads

Are toward eternity.

Plain speak vs. Incspeak

I recently attended a virtual Plain Language Seminar at the NYC Chapter for the Society of Technical Communication. As a graduate student in technical communication, I found myself with a group that I hope to learn from as I continue my studies. The workshop was organized, efficient, straightforward, fun, funny, and while I did not get a chance to enjoy the free food, I am sure it was delicious.

The Plain Language Seminar takeaway was to get rid of jargon in speech. With well over 20 years of experience as an educator and a plain language expert, Dr. Deborah Bosley is an enigmatic, smart, witty, and engaging speaker. Her presentation was informative. I was particularly surprised when Dr. Bosley shared a story about being called as an expert witness during a hearing.

One example from her presentation demonstrated the power of plain language.

Provision in fee agreement: BEFORE Provision in fee agreement: AFTER
The client understands that any estimates provided by the Firm of the magnitude of the expenses that will be required at certain stages of any litigation asserting a cause of action are not precise, and that the kinds and amounts of expenses required are ultimately a function of many conditions over which the Firm has little or no control, particularly the extent to which the opposition files pretrial motions and engages in its own discovery requests, whether in the nature of interrogatories, depositions, requests for production, or requests for admission, or any other type of discovery allowed by the rules of procedures in the forum in which the dispute is th grade pending. A firm’s estimate are just that: estimates. Conditions outside the firm’s control, especially the other side’s pretrial motions and discovery requests, may raise or lower expenses.

I don’t envy the writers who have to read corporatespeak and translate it for us normal laypeople. As English is not my first language, I have a good understanding of what it feels like to look at a block of text and not have any idea what it means. I remember feeling perplexed by words when I started grade school. I would hate to present someone else with a big block of undecipherable text, which is why I hope I will get my writing as plain as possible.

So much to learn

Come on, be honest. Did anyone know really know what an auxiliary verb was prior to reading the Chicago Manual of Style? If I can be so forthcoming, then I would have to admit that the only other time I heard the phrase, “Oxford comma,” was in the Vampire Weekend song.

PTC624 has opened a door to a world I feel like I should have already explored.I can even swear that this world – the World of Words – sounds like a text book that I covered with a brown paper bag in grade school. Capture

Fortunately, I have a great role models and resources.

2013-02-27 09.29.05Resources. I’ve never been so engaged with textbooks as I have been lately. As well, it has been quite some time since I worked on homework or any assignment without a computer in front of me. So much to learn, and I don’t even think I did the assignment correctly.

Role models. The recorded lectures are more interesting than anything I could watch on TV (maybe, except for the Walking Dead, or Dexter, or … okay but those shows have excellent writing and there is a direct relationship to great editing). Even more important are my peers, who write so well and polish their work better than the best shoeshiners.

More than a month after starting this course, I have a lot to learn before my work is as polished.

How not Being a Better Editor Nearly Got Me Fired

This is has to be an irony. In the 3rd week of my graduate education in Professional and Technical Communications, I felt like I almost lost my job as a technical communicator. Though my job security was never called into question, not even implied, I certainly took a major hit to my confidence.

I recently edited two 200-page training manuals for public training courses that my chemistry-related software company runs once a year in the Netherlands and in the United Kingdom. This year, we also a private training at a third location for a company in the UK. We sell a niche software suite that has a solid reputation in simulating  electrolyte thermodynamic simulation. We’re not talking about Gatorade here; this is the chemistry involved in nuclear power plant maintenance, water treatment and distillation, environmental cleanup, getting fossil fuels out of deep water or shale rock, making plastics, and so forth (before you ask for further explanation about the technology, keep in my mind that my previous job was as a crime reporter for a newspaper).  The software has a wide-range of applications and the people who attend our courses come from a wide-range of disciplines. The one thing they all have in common, they can spot glaring typos.

The first course was in the Netherlands. I wasn’t there, of course, but the feedback I got from the instructor (my boss), was that the course was excellent. The software, a new launch, worked better than expected and the training manual was impeccable.Besides editing the training manuals, my job also involves coordinating the training sessions. I have to arrange a facility, food, register delegates, set up their software, and ship material (including the training manuals) to arrive on time for the sessions. Between the course in the Netherlands and the next course in Aberdeen, UK, the only thing I was worried about was to make sure there were enough Scottish pastries for the 9 people attending the Aberdeen training.

The UK is about five hours ahead of NJ. So by the time I got to the office, the UK course was half way through. When I logged into my computer, the instructor had an instant message waiting for me: “Navid, there were some errors in the manual.”

That was the beginning. What followed were paragraphs upon paragraphs of changes that had to be made to the manual before the third training session. The first thing I had to do was to notify the company in the UK that the first few chapters (that’s 9 of 16) had to be fixed. Since this was a private training, I did not have to ship anything them. Instead, that company had printed the manuals themselves. Now, all those pages had to be tossed (this blog post could also be called “How Poor Editing Killed so Many Trees”).

That was a long Thursday. I worked until 2 a.m. to correct the errors. The specific manual teaches clients how to use the software by building on a case that starts in an earlier chapter. There was a significant error in Chapter 2. It carried over to Chapter 9. Although I worked on this manual for weeks beforehand, and reworked it to match with another product build, the results that I captures in the training manual were still wrong.

It has been about a week since this happened and I feel shaken. Making sure the manuals are a up-to-date is roughly 50% of my job. Training people to use my company’s software is an integral part of our business development. Clients entering our training courses have an idea of our company’s reputation but the training manual is sometimes their first exposure to the company. That’s the way I look at it. So, when I see any error, I take it personally. And when I see more than one error – I feel like the world is falling apart. The course was bad, and reflected poorly on me.

According to the feedback we received from clients who attended the training, there was a lot to improve. Two out of the nine people who attended the course said the quality of writing was merely fair:

Capture

On the other hand, there is a silver lining (I think that movie with that phrase going to win Oscars), which was also evident in the survey. Most of the people who took the survey said the examples were clear to very clear:

Capture

The Aberdeen course had other problems. The software itself was not working optimally, despite it going through rigorous testing. The software crashed and did not produce the desired results.  I do not have the chemical or engineering experience to look at certain plots or data – the output of our software calculations – and tell if it is incorrect based on which way the curves go (they all look like bell curves to me). What I could control, however, is the process so that the experts (preferably not our clients) can see the errors before all those trees are wasted.

My First Professional Blog

My journey in the blogosphere has resumed. I ventured here before, frequenting places like the Busblog.org, Alternet and the Drudgereport.com. I even put down stakes with my own blog called “Navid’s First Time.” The innuendo was intentional. It was meant to be a column for a newspaper. For the last seven years, in which I’ve periodically updated my blog, it has not amounted a following beyond spambots that occasionally leave a comment advertising free Canadian pharmaceuticals.

Early blogs

It certainly wasn’t a professional blog.

Professional blog. That term seems ironic. I previously assumed blogs were just the handwritten notes in the margins. At leas that is how I treated, and will likely continue to treat, my other venture which is probably antiquated at this point (I still use Blogspot, for instance).

This class, one of my first graduate courses at NJIT, offers guidelines on blogs that would immediately disqualify “Navid’s First Times.” Said characteristics of successful blogs are that they are “useful, interesting, original, engaging and inspiring.”

My first times were none of those things. What I blogged about previously was rarely useful, except as an exercises in banality. Now new, better suited forums exist for such uninspiring triviality. Mercifully, these forums have character limits.

The infinite word limit of blogs may better suited for deeper conversations. I hope I can contribute  at least one such sentence to the discussion.