Master Manufacturer: The Death of an Editor?
For publishers, the problem stems from an overdose of giving the customer what he wants. Just as 6-year-olds would devise diets of ice cream and hamburgers, our magazine customers have pretty much said they don’t care for broccoli. But the publisher as parent can only scold or beg so much. After enticing readers with shorter and shorter pieces, punchier and punchier graphics, what’s a mother to do? If we’re saying farewell to rigorous journalism and thoughtful readers, we’re also agreeing that intelligence is uncool, elitist and shameful. Could the Achilles’ heel of technology be that we’ve come so far by making things easier that we avoid every effort, even the ones that are good for us?
The decision to read a magazine is like attending college. You’ll be prodded into a few required courses, have your share of electives, and encounter a range of teachers. You’ll draw conclusions and form opinions, but only after hearing some other points of view and being nudged toward unfamiliar ground. And you only come out with an education if you risked, at least once or twice, letting a teacher do the steering.
If mediation is potentially propaganda, it’s also the only chance we have to expand our horizons. We can’t interview Vladimir Putin, or sit in the bleachers for every no-hitter. We have to trust someone else to take us there. Trust feels risky in a world where the default posture is cynicism. But if a magazine editor is good enough to earn your trust, the rewards are enormous.
The death of professional editing is a much more serious problem than the death of printed objects. We need mediators to sift, authenticate, question, structure and examine the world for us. We can’t do it alone. We will always need focal points for identity, like the memberships that the best magazines offer.