Why Journalists Just Can’t Quit Microsoft WordOctober 19, 2018
Photo illustration by Slate.
Earlier this year, when setting out as a freelance writer, I found myself for the first time without the backing of a work computer with Word or a free student account.
Even if I were to convert my Google words to Word words, and my editor’s Word edits to Google edits, and download my Google response to those edits as a Word response to be sent back, too much could get lost in translation.
When I ask why local papers seem to be at the forefront of the shift to Google, Murren says, “We were ahead because we were so behind when we updated.” Part of Google Docs’ appeal was that it was free.
If a writer or freelancer submits a piece as a Word document (as most still do), they get it back with edits as a Google Doc.
That’s also the problem—with Google Docs, we really can look at the same version of a piece at the same time.
In her mediation on Google Docs —written in Google Docs—for the New Yorker, Katy Waldman writes, “I cannot be in the same Google Doc as my editor; it is a mutual violation of privacy, and the surest route in the Google cloud to an anxiety attack.” Whose document is it anyway, when you can both access the current draft?
If I pop into a Google Doc in the middle of the night to check that a random thought was covered and find my editor’s color-rimmed avatar in the corner, I will immediately, awkwardly exit—even if they are grayed-out from inactivity—as if I’ve just walked in on someone in a private moment, praying they didn’t see me.
(One editor told me about a writer responding to suggestions as she edited.)
Jason Diamond, a writer and editor who has experienced the Google Docs edit from both sides, still vacillates between Word and Google Docs in his own work.
Google Docs has a lot going for it. Like journalism, it’s fundamentally collaborative: Editors and writers can literally “back-and-forth” on the same page, almost as if sharing a computer. In fact, multiple people can work on a document at once, something essential for large pieces under tight deadlines. We can look at edit notes on our smartphones on the run. And it’s free.