News & Views

An editorial on “editorial”

It doesn’t pay to be too precious about language. What thought leadership requires is prose that is concise and clear, and which conveys points with originality and impact.

Not too much originality, perhaps. Neologisms, unless done exceptionally well, are liable to be off-putting, even ridiculous (see “creovation”). And there’s nothing wrong with using the odd stock phrase or dead metaphor to ring the bells you want rung in the minds of your readers. (Now including “thought leadership”, a phrase that would doubtless make Orwell wince. But he never had SEO to contend with: so many potential clients are looking precisely for that term, it’s a commercial necessity to include it.)

But there are some usages that I still think miss the point completely. “Revert” to mean “respond”, “reply”, or “answer” – all perfectly fine substitutes – is one such. It’s not as if “revert”, meaning “return to an earlier state”, doesn’t have its own specialised work to do. Still, I’ve noticed that some dictionary definitions now include the new meaning and, if it becomes common enough, I’ll have no choice but to accept it.

But a misuse I’m less inclined to accept is of “editorial”.

To me (a biased source, I admit), the adjective “editorial” connotes an ability to highlight the pertinent, excise the superfluous and create narratives that inform and engage. In other words, laudable qualities that anyone should want applied to their content. In fact, I have often described New Narrative as an “editorial consultancy”, with that in mind.

However, at a recent conference I noticed a lot of people bandying “editorial” about as an uncountable noun to connote quotidian chunks of written text, as an alternative to the duller-sounding “copy”, “text” or just simply “words” – e.g. “we need a thousand words of editorial.” There was no trace of the more commendable implications of the word.

Contrast this abused adjective with another: “creative”. To a lot of people there is no higher praise, whether the word is applied as a modifier or a pseudo job title, though to my mind (even ignoring the questionable grammar of the latter) it is so approaching the limits of overuse as to be almost meaningless.

Maybe I am fighting against the tide here, but I think it’s time to ditch “creative” and resurrect “editorial” to its rightful place. There is no doubt that “editorial” qualities are precisely what many enterprises are looking for when they talk about creativity, even if they don’t use the term.

I know this because at the same conference where I heard “editorial” being tossed around so carelessly, attendees kept talking of the need to “cut through” the mountains of me-too content, zero in on relevant trends, and craft narratives to reach hard-to-impress audiences – all valuable editorial skillsets. And, crucially, applicable not just to prose but to any creative endeavour.

So I’ll continue to promote our “editorial” acumen. Unless, of course, the dictionary changes.

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