The Value of Good Editing in Content Creation with Alysha Love
Alysha Love, Executive Editor and Co-Founder of Payette Media House, joins Corey on Screaming in the Cloud to discuss her career journey going from journalism to editing and how she works with Corey on his content. Alysha describes why she feels it’s so important to capture the voice of the person you’re editing, and why editing your content makes a difference to those reading it. Corey and Alysha also explore the differences in editing for something that will be read silently versus something that will be read out loud, as well as the different styles of editing.
Alysha Love is executive editor and co-founder of Payette Media House, an editorial agency serving startups and tech companies. Alysha is the treasurer of ACES: The Society for Editing, the nation's largest editing organization, and trains editors and writers in digital best practices.
She was an editor at CNN and POLITICO during the Obama and Trump administrations. Alysha has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Missouri and a master's in leadership and organizational development from the University of Texas. She's a big fan of the humble ampersand.
- Company website: https://payettemediahouse.com
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud, I’m Corey Quinn. And one of the, I guess, illusions about what I do is that I sit down at a keyboard periodically, and I just start typing and then, you know, brilliance emerges, and then my work is done. It turns out that this is rarely true, not to deflate my own image overly much. And a big part of how that works comes down to my guest today. Alysha Love is the executive editor at Payette Media House and has been my editor for just about three years now. Alysha, thank you for tolerating me.
Corey: So, I want to start by dispensing with a few illusions that I’m not saying other people have, I’m saying that I have, where I was fortunate enough—or unfortunate as the case may be—to grow up with an English teacher for a mother and understanding how to put together a grammatically correct sentence was not exactly optional in my house, so what possible value could an editor present to me? And one of the things I learned along the way is that there are multiple kinds of editors, as it turns out. What are they and which are you?
Alysha: So yeah, not only is editing a thing, we can look at your sentences, your story, and make it all better and clearer so that it really shines. But there are different types of editors who can do different specific functions. So, at the maybe most nitpicky level, you have proofreaders who are looking at what would be a final page, usually in something like a book, where it needs to look exactly right the way that it’s going up, it needs to be sure that every last little detail is in place. At the next level up, you have copy editors. They’re looking for things like spelling, grammar, punctuation, style, factual accuracy. That’s sort of what you think of usually when you think of somebody who might peer-review a piece for you, or who you might ask to edit something. And then at the next level, you have people who are able to do the copy editing, but in addition to that, they look at the overarching arc of the story or the blog piece, and they’re able to help look for some of those gaps and organize it into something that is clearer and easier to understand.
Corey: Something I’ve always been curious about is that you, previously in another life, were an editor at CNN and then Politico during the Obama and then Trump administrations. Is editing what I do significantly different than editing, you know, journalists?
Alysha: Yes, in a few key ways. One is that when we’re writing news, we always come out and say the most important thing first. It’s what we call the inverted pyramid style, so if you turn a pyramid on its nose and it’s standing on the tip, you have the biggest part of the triangle or the pyramid at the top, and that’s the most important thing that could never get cut, and you say it right out of the gate. I tease my husband a lot because he tends to bury the lede, and that’s what we’re talking about when it’s not the first thing you say.
Corey: Absolutely. And I do that, meanwhile, stylistically as a choice because, you know, don’t put the punch line in the title.
Alysha: Totally. So, that’s a big difference between editing for news and editing you. You also use significantly more voice than we would use in a CNN or Politico article. That’s also a choice. And it’s actually something I have a ton of fun with is emulating your voice as I make edits.
Corey: I found that as we’ve worked together, our comfort with one another has grown significantly over the past few years. At this point, just for folks who are wondering, anytime you have an edit that’s just a reordering or something that clarifies something slightly or is basically low-level stylistic, you don’t track those changes; you just go ahead and apply them because otherwise, I’ll wind up, “Oh, here are 600 changes to make.” It’s like, the article is 2000 words. Exactly how much was done? And so, much of it is white spaces and comma placement and the rest and just strange little things that frankly, are not that important to me past a certain point.
The exception, of course, was always great. First, if you’re making a change, tell me why. I have political opinions about the use of the Oxford comma, for example. I find it lends clarity to things. Fortunately, you and I aligned on that, so it’s a non-issue. But I am curious as far as what do you see that I tend to do the most that I guess either annoys you or you disagree with stylistically or, honestly, is flat-out wrong.
Alysha: So, there’s not much you do that’s flat-out wrong. I will say, like, the instances that I do see something… you’ve told me before that your mom was an English teacher and that these are things that you really pride yourself on being able to do well, so I don’t know how you feel about it, but I’ll usually leave a comment telling you about the change and linking you [laugh] to something that can explain it a little better. Maybe that annoys the shit out of you, or—sorry, can we cuss?
Corey: No, no—oh, you absolutely can, and—
Corey: Because it’s—I was taught by a teacher, I want to say in third grade, that you leave two spaces at the end of every sentence before you begin the next sentence, and I only found out about six or seven years ago that’s not really a thing. It took me a year to break myself of that habit, but I would rather go through that effort than, “Well, I’ve been wrong this long. I may as well double down on it now.” Just seems like that’s not helping anyone.
Alysha: [laugh]. Right. And we all have those things that there was some English teacher somewhere along the way who taught us things that were just wrong. So, my favorite thing about my magazine editing class, when I was in school at the University of Missouri, was that she started from the very, very basics because she said everyone has learned things that are wrong about how we write and how we edit and so we’re just going to learn it all from scratch. And it was really brilliant. It was the best way to learn it all the right way.
Corey: I’m usually gratified when I am trying to figure out what is the proper tense of this particular verb in this particular phrase. And my wife and I will wind up in debates on this constantly because she’s an attorney and also writes a lot for a living. Who knew? And invariably whenever we finally get to an impasse and look it up—because, you know, we do have the sum total of human knowledge in the supercomputer that lives in our pockets—the answer is more often than not, it’s a matter of choice. And both are considered accepted because English is, of course, a language defined by its usage, or one way is British and one is American, or some other aspect where it’s not about wrong; it’s about which is preferred in certain contexts. So, I’ll take it.
Alysha: That’s—yeah, that’s totally accurate. And those are the kinds of choices that I feel like, if I were to change all of those things in your writing, you would not appreciate it because they’re preferences. So, those are the things that even if there’s a style that’s