Let’s Talk About AI and the Future of Editing
For writers, the future of AI has its pros and cons. For editors, AI is already a nightmare.
You’ve likely heard both sides of the AI-generated content debate by now. Either it’s coming for our writing jobs or it isn’t — at least, not yet.
We often discuss AI as if it’s still a far-off game-changer. But it’s already here.
In journalism, AI has already become a part of day-to-day operations in the workplace. I started using Otter.ai last year to transcribe my interviews, which saved me hours of transcribing time and left space for other vital tasks.
In that regard, AI is a lifesaver. An imperfect but beneficial tool that makes my job a little more efficient.
But that’s just one tool. When we start looking at apps that appear to be designed to replace the human element of writing, that’s when things get weird.
For some, tools like ChatGPT could enhance the writing experience. From idea generation to basic fact-checking assistance, AI — if writers use it as a supplement to their work — could yield plenty of benefits.
But for many, the future of AI and writing looks disastrous for creatives. Could AI get so good at mimicking classic content creation that the need to produce original work will just … vanish?
Different experts will give you different answers. Most agree, however, that if it were to happen, it wouldn’t happen anytime soon. (Whatever that means.)
What about the editing side of content creation, though? Even if AI one day becomes good enough to replace writers (to be clear, I’m in the “I really hope this never happens” camp on this one), there’s a good chance companies will still need to hire editors to take an almost-flawless product and make it perfect.
Here’s why that’s bad.
Not all editors are proofreaders.
With the quality AI can produce written content at the moment, as companies start relying on AI to generate even a small portion of their content, editing teams will still play a role in making AI-generated pages and articles publishable.
For now, this will still extend beyond basic proofreading. There will still be style guide errors to correct and most definitely formatting changes to implement. There will be structural work though, too. Entire sentences will need to be rewritten for clarity and accuracy. Edtiros will still need to have a vast knowledge of a wide range of topics in order to take an AI-created piece and turn it into something usable.
As AI becomes a better writer, there’s a chance the role of an editor will eventually shrink down to the role of a proofreader. AI will get most things right, but it might still misspell words or format things incorrectly.
Not everyone who becomes an editor wants to be a proofreader. Not every editor is a skilled proofreader, either. Some people have a true calling to spot the smallest errors and are equally blessed with the patience to obsessively fix them.
But some of us would rather generate original ideas, manage schedules and teams, and work more with people than with content. Editors do so much more than make words sound good.
Some editors enter the field to teach.
Many editors are also mentors. I spend a significant portion of my workday working one-on-one with writers — helping them generate ideas, giving them feedback on their work, and helping them set and achieve short- and long-term goals. “Editor” is in my job title. But I do so much more than correct grammar and spelling mistakes.
For me, most of the thrill of editing comes from watching people learn and grow. Content creation is all about making mistakes, learning from them, and leaving a project with more refined skills than when you started it. We make content for other people, but we grow significantly as creatives in the process.
I live and work to help good writers become excellent storytellers, artists, and communicators. That is why I do what I do. AI might be able to do cool things, but you can’t tell a robot it’s doing a great job and send it home with a confidence boost.
Take the mentorship element of content creation away, and you’ve lost what so many of us stay in the field for. As editors, we don’t just work with words. We change people’s lives.
The lighter the editorial workload, the thinner the paycheck.
Anything you outsource will generally cost less to produce. If we start outsourcing the heavy lifting of content creation to AI, perhaps the day-to-day work of an editor could become more manageable. It could also become less financially sustainable.
The average Senior Editor in the United States makes $71,000 annually. This role generally combines copyediting with idea generation, team management, mentorship, and sometimes writing and updating. That salary becomes unjustifiable if the only work left for an editor to do is remove comma splices.
Copy editors are paid much less — about $48,000 on average. There’s no reason companies can’t — and won’t — justify paying every editor less because AI eliminates the majority of their day-to-day tasks.
And why stop there? Why hire full-time copy editors at all when you can save money hiring copy editors on freelance instead?
I don’t foresee the worst happening in the next five years. Even then, I can’t imagine — or I try not to — AI would completely eliminate every writer and editor’s job overnight.
Part of the magic of conducting an interview, for example, is the human interaction element of it. AI can generate and even ask questions. But it takes a naturally flowing conversation between two people to get some of the best insights and revelations recorded for others to appreciate and enjoy.
And no matter how expertly written an article from an AI tool may be, there’s no soul embedded within it. AI does not draw from memories or personal experience. It does not extract universal truths from tragedy. It does not write with heart. It does not create with the intent of connecting with another soul.
When I read an article written by AI, the words are there, and much more often now than before, they make sense. But I don’t find myself wondering about the person behind those words. What led them to tell this story. What they felt when they punctuated that final line.
Editors are so many things beyond what we’re perceived to be. I think about the day I may have to stop feeling as I read, and something inside me aches.
I was never in this for the words. I’m in it for the reasons behind the words, and the people at the heart of it all.
Remove that from the equation, and the whole point crumbles.