The editor, the writer and the exclusivity

Do all editors share that excoriating sensation that carves through one’s gut when one sees one’s writer writing for another publication?

Of course, “one’s writer” is unjust phrasing because writers don’t belong to editors and are free to write for whoever they please.

However, this isotropic sea of writer-editor relationships is more suitable for the writer than it is for the editor.

Editors build publications – that means responsibilities that don’t look all that beautiful under the light of day.

One such responsibility is to build exclusivity, which is the notion that in order to read writer W, you must read publication P.

If the writer is good, then the editor is implicitly required to encourage the writer to write more, to help them become better, without encouraging diversification.

For writers, however, it is more desirable to diversify, to write for more outlets so that their name is accessible to the public memory through a variety of sources.

Depending on the writer’s choice of outlets, it also means diverse audiences to speak to and diverse opportunities to access.

Most good writers share healthy relationships with the editors they regularly work with, which often leads to long-lasting friendships.

So a friendly editor might encourage a writer to diversify if he has the liberty to think beyond the needs of his publication.

I don’t know how often this is or isn’t the case, but when it is, TFW you see a writer belonging to your vision of exclusivity writing for a competitor is pure pain.

To an outsider, the exclusivity drive may seem like an unfair, even unnecessary, ideal because it acts against the interests of the writer.

Eminently, exclusivity seems opposed to nurturing a community of good writers capable of weathering risk as well as to the democratisation of journalism.

The latter is in that all people have access to all stories because all journalists write for all publications.

In fact, this would be the most efficient way, in all senses of the term, to conduct journalism as a business – as an open, social enterprise.

However, this worldview conveniently forgets that competition exists and extant journalism organisations are founded on market forces, not social good.

Exclusivity exists because competition exists: it is the conservation law born when the competition orders the system along a new symmetry.

There are two forms of exclusivity: of stories and of writers; but where one exists, the other will too, which exposes the distinction for its pedantry.

The point is you, the editor, need both forms in order to orient your organisation towards profitability; without exclusivity, you have no edge.

And of course, competition is as competition does, putting editors at odds with their writers in a proxy battle for the organisation’s conquest for new edges.

The question now is whether writers should be expected to understand all of this and act in a way that protects the editor’s interests to the extent possible.

This is because, if exclusivity is on the table, editors are also likelier to give the writers more leeway in terms of what to write and how.

One might argue that a good editor will always be able to wrangle a good story out of a writer.

However, it is not possible to understate the importance of a long-standing editor-writer relationship and what that can produce.

Perhaps journalism would be more benefited by an arrangement where all editor-writer pairs can work for all publications, instead of just writers.

This is in effect a framing of the ‘story’ as the nuclear unit of journalism instead of the storyteller, an identity that excludes the editor.

Such an arrangement would protect the interests of the editor as well as the writer, and ensure that publications can also produce better stories as a result.

Of course, this would mean more work for the editor but it could also conceivably mean more business.

Featured image credit: Rafaela Biazi/Unsplash.