The World Outside of Publishing: Translating Skills from Ooligan to Elsewhere

Today at 1:00 p.m., I sat in Book Editing listening to a zealous defense of a comma resting innocently (or not so innocently) between two clauses. Were the clauses independent? Was the comma grammatically unnecessary but useful in improving clarity? There are moments like these in this program (even as I study to become an editor, a valiant defender of punctuation’s worthy cause) when the thought briefly passes through my mind that I might have something better to do with two hours of time than discuss the merits of a single comma. Something like catch up with the work that steadily flows into my inbox for my internship at the communications department of Ecotrust, a Portland-based environmental nonprofit.

Today at 4:30 p.m., I stood next to Lola Milholland, who oversees my internship, discussing my next assignment: to review and reconcile a copyeditor’s assessment of four papers pending publication to Ecotrust’s E3 Network website. How delightful irony can be.

On the surface, my work for Ecotrust has little to do with publishing. Though Ecotrust publishes Edible Portland, a quarterly local food magazine, it doesn’t edit books, nor does it market, design, digitize, or publish them. I applied for the internship (run through PSU’s Sustainability Internship Program) because I was fresh off my sister’s Idaho farm, searching desperately for a way to keep one foot in the soil amid the concrete and steel of the city. Working for Ecotrust does this for me. I have also found that the work of communicating ideas is not so different from one field to the other.

Last month, I found myself HTML coding a blog post for Ooligan in the same week that I was coding recipes to put on the Edible Portland website. The month before that, I spent a week condensing press releases and reports on Ecotrust’s watershed restoration initiatives into pieces for the Ecotrust project pages at around the same time that I was was writing back cover copy with the Untangling the Knot team.Early in the fall, I spent days composing and scheduling tweets and Facebook posts about the fall issue of Edible Portland right as I was diving into marketing projects for Untangling the Knot. Today, I took part in a lively debate about the function of a comma. Just a few hours later, I reconsidered all of the commas in a piece Lola and I wrote for the E3 Network, my trusty Chicago Manual of Style open at my elbow.

The completion of each of these tasks requires some version of the skills we divide into departments at Ooligan: design, marketing, editing, social media, digital content. The industry is changing at an alarming rate; who knows what the future of publishing will look like? Perhaps there will be more jobs for publishing professionals as technology shapes new types of information distribution; perhaps the Bureau of Labor Statistics is correct when they project a a slight decline in the number of working editors by 2022. Either way, understanding how information is consumed and having the know-how to effect change on that process is nothing if not a useful, marketable skill.

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