Will AI make sub-editing redundant?

May 4, 2017Content Writing
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Simon Jones, Chief Sub-Editor

With automation expected to eliminate thousands of jobs in the coming years, there’s no doubt artificial intelligence (AI) will eventually impact content marketing – if it hasn’t already started. This raises an important question: will automation make jobs like sub-editing redundant?

In early April, News Corp sacked most of its sub-editors. While the paper giant’s official reason had more to do with cost-cutting than AI, it’s clear that new technology – particularly automation technology – is heavily impacting traditional industries.

Newspapers slashing their quality assurance staff may not appear directly linked to content marketing – and how this will affect quality is something I’ve previously written about – but such massive cuts should ring warning bells around our halls. Automation is not a passing fad. It is here to stay, and we need to grow with it to stay competitive.

Automation can improve the content cycle – but not every element

Automation has revolutionised various industries. Robots can speed up the printing process and eliminate mundane and repetitive tasks in the farming and clothing industries. However, many white-collar jobs rely on emotional intelligence. As content marketers, we deal directly with clients, we strategise according to their changing needs and we sculpt the content they crave.

Simply put, this is not something automation can replace.

Despite dreams of a future filled with AI at every turn, we’re not yet living in an age of true AI – at least not in the sense of the type you see in sci-fi films. This is particularly true in the media game. While algorithmic technology is constantly evolving, tools like Grammarly are only useful on a surface level – indeed, a Grammarly spokesperson even stated that their product “is not designed to replace editors or proofreaders”, but is simply another pair of eyes.

This is the point where the significance of the sub-editing service in content marketing – and a sub-editor’s duties – must be clarified. We are not glorified spellcheckers. If that were the case, proofreaders, copy-editors and sub-editors would no longer exist. A simple online tool would suffice for every media outlet, big or small. But sub-editing goes so much deeper into the guts of the content. It’s not just about fact-checking, inserting correct grammar and ensuring hyperlinks are active and relevant – although those are typical duties as well. It’s about improving the content’s ‘feel’. It’s about understanding what the client wants, adhering to their brief and intricate style requests, and then moulding the words on the page so they are exciting and drive the reader to action.

And, of course, it’s about catching missing punctuation so our clients don’t lose millions.

Emotional intelligence trumps automation

In our line of business, there’s always an overlap between sales and entertainment. The client has a product or service they want to sell, and content marketing allows them to bypass traditional advertising with compelling content that encourages brand engagement and ultimately leads to sales.

Content marketing therefore requires a level of emotional intelligence that is absent from AI. Automated editing tools are handy for the average Joe, but not when the content requires anything more than a generic skim. Every content creator has their own subtle nuances, and a generic line of code or complex algorithm can’t distinguish between multiple author ‘voices’. If the media industry suddenly upped and automated all its editorial processes, the content would soon mesh into one very dull, very repetitive type of copy. Soon after, the entire content marketing world would crumble.

The whole point of content marketing is to create a strong voice for our clients. To do that, there must be a wealth of different voices – writers, artists, designers, editors – who work together and sculpt a strategy that is true to the client yet captivating for their target audience. Automated tools might pick up a few typos and fix a run-on sentence, but they can’t use their ‘intelligence’ to make the content sing.

Brains not code

There’s no doubt AI – and, to a greater extent, automation – is a wonderful thing, and I absolutely welcome it. I look forward to an age of driverless transport, on-demand clothing and 3D-printed homes. Technological disruption of this magnitude is not only exciting but necessary to flourish as a society.

There are some roles, however, that it simply cannot replace. For jobs where emotional intelligence is key – whether it’s psychiatry, politics or the humble role of sub-editor – AI can’t compete with a beating heart.