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A Day in the Life of a Web Editor

A Web editor develops the content or editorial plan of a Web site, working with a team that may include a creative director, a writer, a designer, and an information architect. Web editors at different types of companies have varying responsibilities. Someone at iVillage.com, for instance, deals with major amounts of content and updates it on a daily basis. An editor at an online magazine could be brought in to match the site’s particular style or to provide an original voice. But if you work for a Web developer that produces original content for different companies, your work will be more project-oriented. You will develop material for a range of clients, as well as ensure that the information is accurate and conveys the true voice and tone for the site. The editor’s work encompasses a broad spectrum of writing and can run the gamut from writing a short article or product description copy to creating a script. Copyediting and proofreading may also be part of an editor’s job. An editor in the Web world has a very different job than one in a traditional print position. The online world is one of interactivity, which may involve creating single-loop feedbacks, such as real-time polls, or developing community-oriented content-information that is taken from people responding to a site. While print media is geared toward the masses, interactive content relies on an understanding of the one-to-one nature of the Web. “In most traditional media, once you’ve written a piece, it’s done,” notes writer Amy Gahran. However, many online writing projects are never really finished, especially when it comes to Website content. “Expect to update, revise, expand, or tweak existing written materials not just occasionally, but continuously.” “Editing and project-management skills are helpful for any writer, but having a background as an editor or managing editor can prove especially lucrative. Many online publishing venues lack experienced editorial talent. Being an editor as well as a writer is likely to open more doors for you in online media than it would in print media,” observes Gahran.

Paying Your Dues

As an editor, it’s important to familiarize yourself with HTML and a variety of page design programs like Dreamweaverª and Cyberstudioª. An editor should have an understanding of certain back-end technologies; for instance, if you are writing copy for an e-commerce site, it’s helpful to understand the functionality of how an online store works and how it operates before you actually write material for it. Gaining some HTML knowledge will help you understand the possibilities and limitations of online media much better than someone who only writes, and you can easily teach yourself basic HTML and basic Web design from a good book. Web editors require a combination of editorial common sense and good writing skills. They must also embrace the technology. “If someone is out to write his novel and wants to pick up some interesting work on the side, this is a harder road,” cautions one Web editor. “People who really have a curiosity about the medium and are jazzed by learning about it tend to flourish more.” Junior writing and proofreading positions exist for recent college grads, who can also enter the field in a support role to gain some experience. “We’re at the point now where we’re looking for people with Web experience,” says one senior editor, “but people who have had some copywriting or print work experience and who can demonstrate a penchant for the medium can earn a junior staff writing position.” Strong original writing will open the door, along with the ability to write on a variety of topics in different styles. There is a lot of work right now for editors, and it’s not too tough to break into the field.

Present and Future

The Internet industry went through its infancy in which content was little more than online brochures. Today it’s in its adolescent phase, growing through e-commerce and moving into the teen years of broadband, which encompasses more robust content delivery. The merger of AOL and Time Warner has set the stage for cable delivery on the Internet and broadband technology will continue to play a more central role in Internet transactions. Contextual shopping will be the wave of the future. For example, a user may read a piece on Britney Spears, download her MP3, watch her video, load a slide show of a storyboard, click on an outfit she’s wearing, and purchase it directly from the site. Editors are the glue that will allow this to happen, conceptualizing the interactive flow and setting up the copy that contextualizes this chain of information. In the future, writers and editors will have to be much more multifaceted. “Rather than having an original voice, I look for someone who is more chameleon-like, who can write in a different tone for a particular client,” says one Web editor. “I also look for people who can adapt quickly; we’re still in beginning stages of this medium. It’s like its 1953 and we’re working with a new technology called television.”

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

A junior editorial position involves copyediting and proofreading, and perhaps some original writing. Learning the basics of interactive writing comes from experience in the medium. Entry-level writers and editors need to familiarize themselves with the nonsequential nature of online media and learn how to “write in chunks.”

FIVE YEARS OUT

Five years of experience is considered senior in the field today, and at this level editors need to be conceptualizers. There is a lot more collaborative, team-oriented work, and editors are often helping writers to set up the interactive experience. The editor may have a variety of copy duties, from acting as a copywriter or scriptwriter, to generating copy for a short, interactive movie. At this stage, Web editors can expect their salaries to vary, depending on the nature and responsibility of the job.

TEN YEARS OUT

The Internet as we know it today is going to be a much different animal in ten years as entertainment, information, television, and the computer all converge. Programming, commerce, research, and news gathering will discover new ways to feature content, as users may be able to buy a pizza and a sweater directly from the sitcom they’re watching. Multiple delivery platforms will be an important copy issue as the need arises for different ways to deliver the same content in various formats. Information on a Web site will need to be accessible from a Palm Pilot, which has very few characters. Audio and video will also become much more prevalent, and an editor will have to think about more than simplify how words will appear on a page.