An American Editor

December 14, 2016

On Ethics: Do Ethics Matter Anymore?

I have discussed ethics on An American Editor in a number of essays (see, e.g., “On Ethics: To Out or Not to Out Clients” [Part I and Part II]; “A Question of Ethics: The Delayed Project Further Delayed”; “A Question of Ethics: If the Editing Is Running Behind Schedule…”; “The Ethics of Distaste”; “The Ethics of Editing: Padding the Bill”; “The Ethics of Editing: The Sour Job”; “Trolleyology and the Ethics of Editing”; and “Ethics in a World of Cheap”), but I am now wondering whether ethics matter.

Editors do not live in isolation, cut off from the world around us — or we shouldn’t. We need to be engaged with our surrounding world because it is our worldly experiences, along with our education and interests, that shape our editing. It would be difficult to provide a quality edit for a book on genocide if we did not know what genocide was and how it has appeared in history. We do not need to be experts in the subject matter, but we need to have some, at least rudimentary, knowledge about the subject matter. Thus we are engaged with our world.

In addition, we are engaged because we are citizens of our world and country. We cannot shut our eyes and pretend that what is happening next door, across the street, around the corner doesn’t have an impact on our own lives. And that is what makes me wonder if I have been wrong all along when I thought that ethics matter, that following an ethical path is important, that ethics is part and parcel of being a professional editor.

What I see around me is a vast change. A pebble was dropped in the ocean and the ripples it created are becoming a tsunami as the wave approaches the other side of the ocean. We have always had unethical members of the editing profession; every profession, every trade, every job type has workers who are ethical and workers who are unethical — except, we hope, for one very specific exception: president of the United States.

It is not that our presidents haven’t been ethically challenged on occasion; they are human and have human failings. It is the striving to be ethical that matters most and I cannot recall or think of a president who I would declare as wholly unethical — until now. Which is why I am concerned.

My reward for being an ethical business person, an ethical editor, is that I have work, I earn a decent wage, I have a place among my colleagues (i.e., they do not shun me for being unethical). And just as I sought to be ethical in my business, I expected others to be ethical in theirs. If they were not ethical, I expected them to not be rewarded for being unethical. Consequently, when we discuss questions of ethics, we discuss them in terms of balancing the scales of right and wrong and how, when we strike that balance, the answer affects not only ourselves but others. That is and has always been the foundation of ethics.

Until the Donald Trump run for and election to the presidency.

Now my world of ethics is being turned upside down. I get work and earn a decent living, but I am not a millionaire, let alone a billionaire, and I have not been rewarded with the power to set editing’s future direction. I am just an everyday schmoe of little influence and relevance.

In contrast, a man who appears to have no ethical boundaries, who doesn’t separate fact from fantasy, who is divisive, who steals from others and calls it business, is rewarded with election to the presidency of the United States and monetary wealth.

Sure I go to sleep at night with a clear conscience, but, I am willing to bet, so does Donald Trump.

So I ask the question: Based on the example of Donald Trump, do ethics matter? Would editors be better served to ignore questions of ethics and do whatever it takes or they can get away with? For example, instead of checking references, should the editor just style them and not care whether the cite information is correct, even though the agreement with the client is for the editor to check references for accuracy? Think of how much time and effort could be saved — time that could be spent on other, perhaps more profitable, pursuits.

When we discuss our fee and what it includes with an author, should we justify our fee by mentioning services that we will not really perform? Had you asked me on November 1, I would have said doing so was highly unethical and no, we should not only not do so but we shouldn’t even think about doing so. But today I waver.

I do not waver for myself; I know what path I will follow — the same path I always have. I waver on the question of whether or not ethics matter today. Does anyone expect ethicality? If we are willing to elect someone who wholly lacks an ethical and moral compass to lead us, why should we expect more of those who work beside us or for us?

I recognize that matters of ethics are personal. Each of us will choose our own path, just as we did on November 1. None of that is likely to change. What is changing — or, perhaps, has already changed — is the community compulsion to be ethical, however ethicality is individually defined. We are ethical because of personal traits and because of peer pressure. It is like stopping for a red light. We stop because of peer pressure and our desire to conform to community standards. (Yes, I recognize that there are laws, but laws are simply written expressions of community standards. They are written so that all community members can know them. But no law is enforceable in the absence of our personal beliefs, peer pressure, and community acceptance of the law.)

We are entering what is being called the “posttruth age,” a time when truth is whatever someone declares it to be. I think it might be better labeled the Trumpian Fantasy Age. It is an age when ethics are mutable, when ethics flow in all directions simultaneously, when ethics and honesty take a back seat to enrichment and fantasy. While the effect may be minimal on the current generation of editors, what will the effect be on future generations? Will anyone ask, will anyone care, whether a particular action is ethical? Does the future of editing lie in an ungoverned, undisciplined editing profession?

Has the political world of 2016 so upended the community’s moral compass that anarchy looks as if it is disciplined? Do ethics matter anymore?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 17, 2016

On Politics: One Billionaire on Donald Trump

Filed under: Politics — Rich Adin @ 4:01 am
Tags: , , ,

Wonder what Republican-Libertarian billionaires think about Donald Trump? I have wondered what successful business people really think of Trump’s capabilities, his business acumen, and his fitness to be president. Here is one view:

Mark Cuban Changes His Mind
An e-mail conversation about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton with the billionaire NBA owner and Shark Tank star.
by Ira Boudway

I particularly like these quotes:

He [Trump] cares about two things, how people perceive him and how much cash he has in the bank.

Trump never takes on the intellectual challenge. He doesn’t even try. He just talks about having a good brain.

This week’s Bloomberg Businessweek (September 15, 2016) is about the U.S. electorate. It makes for fascinating reading. If you are interested in the 2016 race for the presidency and wonder what motivates Americans to support/oppose a particular candidate, I highly recommend this issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. It is an in-depth analysis, including interviews and profiles, of the 2016 American electorate.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 1, 2016

On Politics: Freelancing in a Trumpian World

I’m worried. Neither U.S. presidential hopeful is my ideal choice, and no, I was not a Cruzian; nor did I feel the Bern — in my 50-plus years of voting and following politics, I can’t remember a worse lot of primary candidates to choose from. But if I set aside general policy disagreements with the nominees and instead focus on my future as a freelancer, I can’t get past the Trumpian worldview.

Freelance editing has been globalized for decades. The globalization began in the 1980s with the consolidation of publishing companies into a few international conglomerates, the laying off of in-house staff, and the increased use of freelancers to fulfill previously in-house functions. I worked with several publishers over the years who had no in-house editing staff, just production staff, and even the number of production staff was limited because much of the production work was outsourced.

Globalization, of course, rapidly grew with the rise of the Internet and ever-faster computers with more capable software. When I began my career, the dominant software program for copyediting was XyWrite. Lippincott, which was at the time an independent, major book publisher, required freelancers to travel to its New York City office to be tested on their XyWrite skills and to be “taught” how to use the Lippincott version of the program. XyWrite’s primary competitor was WordPerfect. When Windows began to take over the desktop, XyWrite struggled to create a Windows version; the ultimate product was poor. WordPerfect did much better and became the leading word processing program until it was sold to Novell, a company that had no clue about consumer-focused software. Ultimately, Microsoft Word was crowned king.

Once Word took the throne, once Windows came to dominate the desktop computer, and once the Internet became truly usable from anywhere on Earth, the freelance editing industry became a global industry. Freelancers now obtained work from all over the planet, and the packaging industry began taking over the production of books. Today, American freelance editors may receive work from India, England, Australia — any place you can name. Similarly, freelance editors in those countries can and do receive work originating in the United States.

So, what happens when globalization becomes threatened? Donald Trump speaks of retreating from globalization, making the retreat a goal of his presidency. He talks of canceling trade treaties, of demanding that foreign-sourced work now be brought back to the United States. We know he is focused on manufacturing, but to think that there will be no ripple effect is to be naïve.

According to some pundits in publishing, the book industry is in trouble. We all know reading is in decline (see, e.g., “Sharp Decline in Children Reading for Pleasure, Survey Finds” by Alison Flood [The Guardian (US Edition), January 9, 2015], “Reading Study Shows Remarkable Decline in U.S.” by Lynn Neary [All Things Considered, NPR, WNYC Radio, November 19, 2007 (Transcript of program)], “The Decline of the American Book Lover” by Jordan Weissman [The Atlantic, January 21, 2014], and “Decline in Reading in the U.S.” [EBSCO Host Connection]), and it appears that overall book sales are either stagnant or declining. To make more money, publishers are cutting costs. One way is by increasing the tasks that are outsourced and paying less to the freelancers to whom the work is outsourced. (I find it interesting that executive pay in publishing has increased since 1995 but that most publishers and packagers are offering freelance editors the same pay as was handed out in 1995. No adjustment for inflation.) Bringing those tasks back to the United States will not result in higher-paying in-house jobs for editors.

In fact, it is unlikely that the jobs will be brought back at all. More likely, books will be edited by non-American editors. I have seen the start of this trend; in recent years, I have watched projects that I wouldn’t do for the offered fee be assigned to foreign editors.

Not long ago, I was contacted by a packager from Ireland. We had no problem coming to agreement, except when it came to price. With the maximum they were willing to pay, I would have received 96 cents per page for editing technical material on a short deadline. The packager is clearly able to find editors willing to work for that price, but how many American editors can accept so little money to edit technical material?

I see a practical problem for freelance editors in the event of a Trump presidency: if the United States becomes protectionist in trade policy, should we not expect retaliation and/or reciprocation? With much of the publishing industry consolidated into non-American firms, how effective can a retreat from globalization be for us? Economists are already saying that if we want to see how well the Trump program will work, we only need to look at Walmart’s re-Americanization efforts (see “If Wal-Mart Can’t Bring Manufacturing Back to America, How Can Trump?” by Shannon Pettypiece, Bloomberg Businessweek, July 14, 2016).

So, because I’m a freelance editor who relies on business from around the world, the prospect of having Donald Trump as president alarms me. Some Trump supporters say that this is just bluster on Trump’s part, that he will not really upset the American economy, and that he will modify his stance once elected. That is a gamble I am unwilling to take.

Trump reminds me of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, the populist U.S. senator who is elected president after promising America First economic policies in Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here. If you haven’t read the novel, you should. Although written in 1935, it could be about the 2016 election. Also worth reading is “Trump’s Bigotry Revives Fears of ‘It Can’t Happen Here’” by Michael Winship (Moyers & Company, December 8, 2015).

There are, in my view, many economic reasons not to vote for Trump for president (e.g., “After 9/11, Trump Took Money Marked for Small Businesses” by Michael Warren [The Weekly Standard, February 15, 2016], “Donald Trump Sued Everyone but His Hairdresser” by Olivia Nuzzi [The Daily Beast, July 6, 2015], “How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions” by Russ Buettner and Charles V. Bagli [The New York Times, June 11, 2016], and “Donald Trump’s Deals Rely on Being Creative With the Truth” by David Barstow [The New York Times, July 16, 2016]) as well as the social and cultural downsides to him as a candidate (e.g., his view of women [see, e.g., “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private” by Michael Barbaro and Megan Twoheymay (The New York Times, May 14, 2016), “Donald Trump Hates Women: It’s the One Position He’s Never Changed” by Franklin Foer (Slate, March 24, 2016), and “Sorry, Ivanka. I’m Not Buying that Donald Trump Will Be a Champion for Women” by Vivien Labaton (CNBC, July 22, 2016)]); his denial of human involvement in climate change [see, e.g., “Trump and Pence Are a Match Made in Climate Change Denial Heaven” by Natalie Schreyer (Newsweek, July 15, 2016) and “Water World: Rising Tides Close in on Trump, the Climate Change Denier” by Suzanne Goldenberg (The Guardian [US Edition], July 6, 2016)]; his clear dislike of non–Northern European immigrants; his willingness to tear apart families; his lack of trustworthiness; his short temper; and his threat to America’s existence even four years from now. But the danger he poses to the way the freelance editing business works in the real world is sufficient reason for me to vote for Hillary Clinton. That is what I encourage all freelancers to do — vote for Hillary Clinton because Donald Trump’s world economic view is a danger to our livelihood.

(Addendum: Recently, Donald Trump asked a foreign government to intervene in the upcoming election. A petition to the White House asking for an investigation of Trump’s actions has been created at We the People, which is the government’s website for petitioning the White House. If you would like to review the petition and perhaps sign it, go to the petition at We the People. Sadly, as each day passes there are additional revelations, such as this one in The Guardian: “Donald Trump and Russia: A Web That Grows More Tangled All the Time.”)

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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