Gary Kamiya tells us that
The truth is, you have to learn how to be edited just as much as you have to learn how to edit. And learning how to be edited teaches you a lot about writing, about distance and objectivity and humility, and ultimately about yourself.
Translation: Editors are needed to make sure writers don't get too big for their britches. To "learn how to be edited" means learning what it is acceptable and unacceptable to say according to establishment protocols of discourse.
"Distance and objectivity and humility" means staying in your place and not offering any insights that aren't pre-approved by your editor according to his/her understanding of what conventional wisdom can sustain. (This might include "contrarian" opinions, as long as they are recognizably contrarian--good for a momentary frisson of perverse delight but not to be taken seriously as a threat to the cw--and not actually expressions of dissent.)
Learning to be edited teaches you that writing can be dangerous in the wrong hands and that editors need to be respected as the arbiters of what can safely be committed to print. What it teaches you about yourself is that you are the sort who will trade your integrity to be a duly sworn member of the club. Perhaps one day you can be the one doing the swearing-in.
Kamiya continues: "In an odd way, the exchange between writer and editor encapsulates the process of growing up." It isn't so odd. Editors view writers as children, and "learning how to be edited" is the crucial stage in learning to respect your elders. (Even when they help plunge your country into a brutal and immoral war, they're always right.)
In the brave new world of self-publishing, editors are an endangered species. This isn't all bad. It's good that anyone who wants to publish and has access to a computer now faces no barriers. And some bloggers don't really need editors: Their prose is fluent and conversational, and readers have no expectation that the work is going to be elegant or beautifully shaped. Its main function is to communicate clearly. It isn't intended to last.
Articles in newspapers and magazines are intended to last? Until tomorrow, when they go out with the trash? Exactly what has Kamiya himself edited that will be included in some future version of the Norton Anthology of American Literature? Or that might even be studied in a journalism class at the local community college? When did newspaper and periodical editors convince themselves that what they print is superior to what can be found in blogs because it is "intended to last"? Are they this far gone in their delusions?
And speaking of delusions:
The art of editing is running against the cultural tide. We are in an age of volume; editing is about refinement. It's about getting deeper into a piece, its ideas, its structure, its language. It's a handmade art, a craft. You don't learn it overnight. Editing aims at making a piece more like a Stradivarius and less like a microchip. And as the media universe becomes larger and more filled with microchips, we need the violin makers.
The fear among editors and journalists that their comfortable positions within a "professional" elite are threatened could not be more palpable than in this inane analogy. The San Franciso Examiner (where Kamiya once worked as an editor) as Stradivarius!
Editors as skilled second-readers may survive the implosion of the American print media. Editors of the grandiose kind Kamiya describes are doomed, partly because of the goofily elevated image to which people like Gary Kamiya continue to cling.