The Audience is Dumb

Many years ago, I worked for a professional services firm. The firm had bought the right to write a series of articles in a noted industry journal. When the partner responsible for these articles was injured, I was brought in to work on them. I worked with a former News Ltd journalist to try to turn the words of various consulting, audit and tax professionals into usable articles.

However there was a problem. The experts wanted only to write for other experts. And the audience for this publication were generalists. So the ex-journo & I would sit down with several hundred words of expert stuff and say “why would anyone want to read this?”
We would then try to massage the words into something that someone other than the author would want to read. This would enrage the authors, who were very clever, and being very clever, viewed our cosmetic surgery of their vowels and consonants as an assault on their cleverness. We would have to ask them questions to try to draw out the useful stuff buried in their layers of expertise. This could be a painful process.
Eventually the article would arrive at a readable state and it would be published. The names of the experts would appear but not ours. Which was fine, because that’s the nature of being an editor.
Editors are midwives (with all the yelling & screaming we had to have been), easing ideas into the light.
And editors are also stand-ins. Representatives of the potential reader, there to keep the authors focused on what was important – and ensuring that their writing leaves a mark on the world.

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