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Rosemary Shipton

Editing in the Time of Covid

Illustration of three people at a meeting wearing medical masks. Two people are sitting in office chairs at a table: one has a laptop and one has a pen and paper. One person is standing on the opposite side of the table facing them.
Illustration of three people at a meeting wearing medical masks. Two people are sitting in office chairs at a table: one has a laptop and one has a pen and paper. One person is standing on the opposite side of the table facing them.
Copyright: apinan

As we enter 2022, it’s time to ask how editors have fared during the pandemic and what lies ahead. When the world as we knew it suddenly shut down in March 2020, we feared for our health and our livelihoods, uncertain what might transpire. How have we done?

For most editors, it seems, work continued as before, though two changes in particular have affected us: where we work and the drive for inclusiveness. In-house editors have experienced the biggest change in their workplace, with many moving from their employer’s office to a home office and mimicking the freelance lifestyle — dressing as they please and brewing their own coffee. Simultaneously, Zoom and other virtual communication platforms replaced face-to-face meetings, chats and instruction.

Some people complained that the downtown cores of our cities were dead, the streets deserted, the office towers empty. But the reverse was true in residential areas, where our homes were occupied day and night, parks were full of people walking dogs or riding bikes, and renovations sprouted everywhere — often to create home offices. Because publishing and communications — the areas in which most editors work — can generally be done at a distance, many professionals now don’t want to return to the “office grind” of daily commutes and inflexible hours, so it’s likely a hybrid system will evolve. Three or four days a week, the in-house staff will work from home, and they’ll return to the office as needed.

The pandemic coincided with powerful grassroots movements for inclusion — Black and Indigenous Lives Matter as well as demands for greater representation of Black, Indigenous and people of colour, the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and other marginalized groups in all professions and industries. The response has been immediate and positive in most publishing and communications companies, arts organizations, and government departments. Penguin Random House Canada, for example, implemented an inclusivity policy in both acquisitions and staffing. The Art Canada Institute, an art-book publisher, announced five annual Redefining Canadian Art History Fellowships for research on overlooked groups. Recent literary prizes have been remarkable for the diversity of authors on their shortlists, and booksellers report increased sales of anti-racism titles and books by Indigenous writers.

With greater leisure time for some during the pandemic, Canadians read more books than in previous years, patronizing local bookstores and libraries or ordering online. Aspiring authors also had more time to write, and many chose the indie publishing route, providing ample work for editors, designers and hybrid publishers. Given the huge increase in e-business, it’s clear that professionals with online writing, editing, visual and technical skills will be in high demand.

It’s no surprise, then, that the number of students enrolled in publishing and communications programs in universities and colleges has spiked over the last year. Careers in these areas have long attracted intelligent, creative and well-trained individuals, but job opportunities have not always been available for all. Now it seems that advances in technology and changes in the way our society works have combined to make editing a good career choice. When we emerge from the tragedy of COVID-19, let’s hope this trend continues into the future.

What has your experience been as an editor over the last two years? Please share your stories so we can get the full picture.

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Previous post from Rosemary Shipton: The Editor’s Letter

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8 Comments on “Editing in the Time of Covid”

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    «Like.»

    WordPress says, «Comment is too short.»

  • Gael Spivak

    says:

    One of the changes for me is that I’m finding it a lot harder to do this kind of thing: read something online and engage in a discussion about it.

    It’s likely because I am online ALL the time now. I used to be able to go talk to my colleagues at work if I had a question or if we needed to work on something together. Doing everything over email or video is just exhausting (even for an introvert like me). I never thought I’d say it but I am so tired of writing!

    I am often able to motivate myself to respond if I think about the effort that went into something (like this blog post). People who do this kind of thing deserve a thoughtful reaction. But even this is getting harder to do, as the pandemic goes on.

    A great piece, Rosemary. Thank you!

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      I agree, Gael – for writers, especially volunteers, a word of appreciation makes their efforts seem worthwhile. I’ve always thought the Editors’ Weekly one of EC’s best outreaches, and I hope it will continue to receive interesting or provocative posts from many contributors.

  • Rosemary Shipton

    says:

    If your comment is too short, Anita, pity the contributors to this blog as they try to tackle sometimes complicated topics in 500 words. All they can do is focus on two or three key points and hope that readers will respond with the missing pieces. In the scenario above, although publishing and editors have fared relatively well during the pandemic, many individuals in the industry have experienced tragedy and paralyzing frustrations – serious illness for them or their loved ones, the loss of important clients, the strain of homeschooling their children while they try to meet deadlines, isolation and loneliness.

  • Kate Merriman

    says:

    Freelance editing has provided me with a much needed activity and goal during these strange times. I’m often not even sure what day it is.

    I have one minor quibble: proofreading and proof handling are now online. While I’ve adjusted to copy editing online, I know I’m more accurate when proofreading hard copy.

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      All through the Covid pause, I’ve appreciated having projects to give some structure to my life. With the sudden absence of all our leisure activities – for me, concerts, plays, operas, visits and lunches with friends, get-togethers indoors with family – I agree that, without professional work, one day could easily blend into the next. Let’s hope this dreadful pandemic will end soon …

  • Well, Rosemary, your report from the new frontlines of editing has cheered me right up! What a great way to begin the year. Reading, writing, and editing are on the rise.

    Just as things might open up a bit, I am reminded of all the advantages that online connections have offered over the past two years. Having made the shift reluctantly, now I would much rather meet a client by face-phone than book a flight or even a taxi. I’m looking forward to keeping the new advantages and reclaiming the old.

    As for weekends, most freelancers lose the feeling and then find it again with a little effort. My «weekend» is marked by the arrival of weekly digests from various newsletters, including the always relevant Editors’ Weekly. Read and enjoy on Sunday, comment on Monday.

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      If we keep a positive attitude in life, we can usually find something we like in almost all situations. I agree that Zoom calls or their equivalent offer many new opportunities, so long as you don’t have to spend hours each day engaged in them. Many people I know thought they would hate working from home, but now they welcome the opportunity to split their time between their employer’s office and their home office.

      And Virginia, you cheered me up just reading your comment and seeing your smiling face again.

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