Accessibility 10: Editors & Others

Wagnerians will know about the Gesamtkunstwerk: the complete work of art. Wagner wanted his operas to fuse and meld stage and sound so that his composition was seamless and total in all human dimensions.

That went against the entire trend of society before Romanticism, which had been towards specialisation, division of labour, fragmentation, compartments and machinery. Poetry no longer had a built-in connection with song; no one remembered that the lyric was intended for the lyre.

Just because it was a trend in all society, it affected printing, too. The artisan letterpress printer is recreating — perhaps with sheets of paper they have made themselves from grasses or rags — the world of the first western printing presses: single operators who did all the press’s jobs.

From the fifteenth century, a range of specialist trades flowered from the printer’s shop-cum­-bookshop: the binders, machinists, dabbers, compositors, typesetters, readers, copyists, and printer’s devils. Since the 1980s, computing has rolled all those trades, or nearly all of them, back up into one desktop.

Therefore, the trend is back towards single works of the printing art. If contrasts vary with fonts and point size, if the choice between bold print and ‘emphasis’ code will affect readers of differing needs, if the alt text is as important as the text now that we care as much if you can’t see the pictures as we care whether you can make out the text; then: editors need an awareness of the whole landscape. Agile working may demand it.

In particular, alternative text does not always need to be an alternative to an image; it can sometimes be additional text which an editor may choose to get into the body text, to make a necessary point quite clear to anyone. Some images need alt text that would have been just far too lengthy otherwise. So do you want an endless email chain between editor, typesetter, and digital?



Proofreader, editor, writer — in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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