Most of us would agree that good writing matters. But what about good editing? This week on Getty Voices, editor Linda Theung takes on the big questions about high-quality text in a museum context. Where do words fit in the museum experience? In the age of social media, are editorial standards a fussy thing of the past?
Art museums are primarily about looking. So where does text fit in? In the age of the Web, are editorial standards still important, for museums and other cultural organizations? As museums evolve from gatekeepers of authority to facilitators of experience, where does accuracy fit in—not to mention correct punctuation?
My name is Linda Theung, and I’m an editor at the Getty Museum. You know those Today at the Getty Center and the Today at the Getty Villa sheets you get once you come on-site? Those come from my desktop. Same thing goes for all brochures and ephemera (editor-speak for print objects that aren’t books), including the Map and Guides you might pick up at the Getty Center or the Getty Villa. I’m also the core editor for materials from education and public programs—so if you’ve ever considered attending a lecture or read a theater program, we’ve been silently talking to one another. And if you’ve ever joined in the dialogue on the Museum’s Facebook page, I’m there, too.
Traditionally, editors have devoted their professional lives to text: making it interesting, accurate, readable, even humorous and (if we’re lucky) catchy. We are your advocates, making sure that what we publish for your eyes is understandable, enjoyable, and, at the absolute minimum, free of errors. But as the sheer volume of text in our lives increases thanks to the publishing revolution and social media, is the importance of editing actually ebbing? Are people like me who still painstakingly consult The Chicago Manual of Style just cranky fusspots? Really, does anyone actually notice if an em-dash is written as two hyphens in a Facebook status update? Do you even know what I’m talking about right now? Do you care?
Anyone who creates or edits for the Web faces a reality of short deadlines and fast turnarounds. Gone, or nearly so, are the multi-year schedules of pre-digital book publishing. Many of us who create and review content—a word editors tend to hate, but more on that later this week—are under intense pressure to produce as quickly as possible. In my own work, I’m forced to be increasingly nimble, both in terms of time and in what I’m willing to concede in a debate, something editors are not wont to do.
At the Getty we strive to uphold quality and accurateness in all we publish, while encouraging engagement and promoting learning. But can we do all those things while also working at Internet speed?
This week I’ll be Facebooking and tweeting about matters art & editorial. I look forward to peeling back the lid on my editorial work at the Getty to share with you how I scrutinize texts to make sure they’re good enough for you to read. Even more, I’d like to hear from you about the role of words in the museum experience. Should museums concern themselves as much with editing as they ever have? Or maybe even more? What makes for particularly engaging text, and why? When you look at art, do you want words?