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Editors Talk about Editing

Insights for Readers, Writers and Publishers


Susan L. Greenberg

The work of «editing» is by and large something that happens behind the scenes, noticed only when it is done badly, or not done at all. There is not much information about what editors do. The result is that editing is not often talked about in its own right – not even by the people who do it. This collection of interviews attempts to fill some of the gaps. The author, a former editor herself, interviews practitioners at the top of their game – from newspapers, magazines, broadcast news, book publishing, scholarly editing, academic publishing and digital curation. The interviewees think out loud about creativity and human judgment; what they have in common and what makes them different; how editing skills and culture can be shared; why editing continues to fascinate; and why any of this might matter.
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Chapter 12: Phoebe Ayers, Wikimedia Foundation


← 156 | 157 → Chapter 12


Member, Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees,reference librarian at theUniversity of California at DavisInterview: Thursday, September 20, 2012via Skype

Phoebe Ayers, a professional librarian, began editing Wikipedia in 2003 when still a student. She is co-author of a user’s manual (Ayers et al. 2008), with chapters ranging from ‘The Life Cycle of an Article’ to ‘Becoming a Wikipedian’. At the time of writing, she is a member of the Wikimedia Foundation’s board of trustees, elected by the community of users.

A recurring theme of this book is an exploration of how editing, like other practices, tacitly or explicitly develops a culture that helps to sustain it over time. The importance of social practice to Wikipedia is acknowledged by co-founder Jimmy Wales, who says about the guidelines: ‘This is as much “a social technique for getting people to work together” as it is an editorial policy’ (Waldman 2004).

What is perhaps unusual about Wikipedia is the way it acts as the focus of contradictory expectations. It is open to all, but most edits are carried out by a fraction of the millions of registered users. After years of concerted effort, the proportion of women editors remains small.1 It has a structure to overcome disputes, but decisions remain contentious.2 The hierarchy itself—in which some editors are elected to have different levels of access and privileges—is under constant fire and, as in all...

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