Editor Job Description, Education, Training Requirements, Career, Salary, Employment

Job Description: Editors review, rewrite and edit the work of writers. They may also do original writing. An editor’s responsibilities vary with the employer and type and level of editorial position held. Editorial duties may include planning the content of books, technical journals, trade magazines and other general interest publications. Editors also decide what material will appeal to readers, review and edit drafts of books and articles, offer comments to improve the work and suggest possible titles. In addition, they may oversee the production of the publications. In the book publishing industry, an editor’s primary responsibility is to review proposals for books and decide whether to buy the publication rights from the author.

Training and Educational Qualifications: A college degree generally is required for a position as a writer or editor. Although some employers look for a broad liberal arts background, most prefer to hire people with degrees in communications, journalism or English. For those who specialize in a particular area, such as fashion, business, or law, additional background in the chosen field is expected.

Job Outlook: Employment of salaried writers and editors for newspapers, periodicals, book publishers and non profit organizations is expected to grow 10 percent, or as fast as the average for all occupations. Magazines and other periodicals are developing market niches that appeal to readers with special interests. Businesses and organizations have newsletters and Web sites, and more companies are experimenting with publishing materials directly on the Internet. Online publications and services are growing in number and sophistication, spurring the demand for writers and editors, especially those with web experience. Advertising and public relations agencies, which also are growing, should be another source of new jobs.

Salary: Median annual earnings for salaried editors are $46,990. The middle 50 percent earn between $35,250 and $64,140. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $27,340, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $87,400. The median annual earnings of those working for newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers are $45,970.

Significant Facts:

•    Most jobs in this occupation require a college degree in communications, journalism or English, although a degree in a technical subject may be useful for technical writing positions.

•    The outlook for most writing and editing jobs is expected to be competitive because many people are attracted to the occupation.

•    Online publications and services are growing in number and sophistication, spurring the demand for writers and editors, especially those with web experience.

Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?

I was an intern on the copy desk of the Phoenix Gazette the summer after my sophomore year of college. I returned as a reporting intern the summer after my junior year.

Do you know of which companies have the best internships in this field that are known to help launch a successful career?

My employer, the Washington Post, has an excellent internship program and is probably the most aggressive among the major papers when it comes to hiring its interns full time after their internships. Just about all decent size newspapers have summer interns; the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund has an excellent program that places copy editing interns at papers large and not so large.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

Newspapers are everywhere, of course, but I would say New York and Washington are the best cities for copy editors because, in addition to the multiple newspapers, there are so many other, non-newspaper editing jobs in both cities.

What is your typical day like?

I arrive at work around 4:00 p.m. every weekday to start work on the next day’s edition of the Washington Post. My first order of business is to log on to the computer system and put my people to work by assigning to them whatever stories are ready to be copy edited. Then either my deputy or I start to put together the corrections that will appear on Page A2. The rest of the evening is spent mainly assigning stories to copy editors as the stories arrive and then reviewing the stories as well as the headlines and photo captions that the copy editors have written for them. Stories for the first edition have to be finished by 10 p.m. or so. Toward that deadline, I assign every story one more time for proofreading. Each story gets looked at once again, on a photocopy of the actual page, by a different editor from the one who handled it the first time.

The editors go into the stories on the computer and make any corrections they decide are necessary and I again review the stories and release them for typesetting. All this is finished by 11:30 p.m. or so for the second edition, and unless there’s a major breaking story, I head home at 11:30 or midnight and leave the desk in the hands of a designated late editor.

What are your job responsibilities?

As a copy chief I do the final read on stories that have already been edited by an assignment editor (the reporter’s direct supervisor) and by one of the copy editors who report to me. I am responsible for every word that goes on the national news pages of the Post, including the national stories that make Al. I am also the manager of eight full time and several part time copy editors.

What is your favorite part of your job?

It’s gratifying to improve writers’ work and prevent their mistakes from seeing print, and to craft entertaining and informative headlines and photo captions.

What do you dislike about your job?

The deadline pressure makes the task less creative and more of an assembly line sometimes. To compound that frustration, I have to take responsibility for work that I had almost no time to do it’s easy to look stupid to people who don’t understand that reality. I’m also not fond of managerial chores such as performance reviews.

Have you had any turning-point or “light bulb” moments in your career that have helped you get to where you are today?

The move from the Washington Times to the Washington Post was a big one. I had been in DC for close to eight years and had had only sporadic success at getting the Post to even return my calls, but I decided to make a fresh try after an unpleasant experience one day at the Times. This time I was fortunate enough to find a sympathetic ear at the Post; and before long, there I was on the Post’s business desk.

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

On my first job application in this industry applying at the school newspaper as a college freshman I wrote that I would be obsessive compulsively editing the paper along with the cereal box every morning, so I might as well get paid for it. Still, I ended up where I am through a series of accidents, like most people, I suppose.

How did you get into this industry and how did you get your most recent job?

I majored in journalism in the hope of becoming a tennis writer, following Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors around. This was at the

University of Arizona, and I actually got a job as a copy editor before I even started my journalism classes. Toward the end of my first semester I saw that the school paper, the Daily Wildcat, was advertising for help. They wanted a “copy editor” and “copyreaders,” and I think I applied for both. I had never heard of copy editing; I figured it was a proofreading job, and I knew I could do that. It turned out that “copy editor” meant “copy chief,” and “copyreader” meant “copy editor.” I got called in to take the test, and they handed me this little powder-blue book. That was the first time I had seen an AP Stylehook, and I guess I used it well enough to get hired. I spent the rest of my college days working at the Wildcat making a little money and getting an education well beyond what they could offer in the classroom.

I had been copy editing for a couple of semesters before I learned that the job actually existed at “real” papers. I had no idea that reporters and city editors didn’t just get things right in the first place! Eventually I became the Wildcat copy chief and news editor learning layout and one semester I was both news editor and tennis writer. The tennis thing never panned out as a career choice, though it’s tough when you don’t want to be a “sportswriter” and other things kept coming along.

I had two summer internships at the Phoenix Gazette, an afternoon paper that no longer exists. The first summer I sat on the copy desk and did a little reporting; the next summer I was a reporting intern. The city editor liked me enough to hire me as a reporter right out of college, and for nine months or so I did the night police beat. I wasn’t the greatest reporter in the world, but they liked my writing and I got a lot of front page play. Then there was an illness on the suburban desk and they needed a copy editor. They knew I had the background, and I was drafted. It was a huge career change, but at the time I didn’t give it a lot of thought. That’s how I became an editor.

I took a detour a few years later when the Gazette separated the editing and layout functions. We were going to be a pioneer in electronic layout, designing the pages on a computer screen rather than with pencil and paper, and I wanted to be a part of that. That lasted a couple of years before I decided to accompany my then girlfriend to Washington, DC because she thought she had landed a job there. It turned out that she hadn’t; but I did, at the Washington Times. The Times was still doing layout the old fashioned way and its needs were on the word side, so I became a copy chief there and eventually the copy chief. That went on for eight years before I finally got the Post’s attention.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

My greatest accomplishment was really outside my day to day job: writing two books and getting them published. Lapsing Into a Comma (2000) and The Elephants of Style (2004) have made me well known within my tiny field.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

I’ve been a reporter and a page designer, and I could certainly see myself doing those things again. I’d love to just write books full time, but that would require a significant big break financially.

To what professional associations do you belong?

I belong to the American Copy Editors Society, and I speak at their annual conferences. I’ve maintained my Society for News Design membership even though I haven’t done layout for a while.

What professional Web sites do you read?

I read a bunch of Web sites about copy editing and language in addition to maintaining a couple of them myself.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

I try not to be too much of a cheerleader for copy editing. It’s a great fit for a certain type of personality, but a lot of the jobs are low paying and a real grind. Even the well-paying ones are largely thankless and anonymous. For newspapers in particular, the current climate is full of uncertainty. There will always be editors, but the newspaper appears to be in decline, and so I don’t think I’d recommend a career trajectory similar to mine. This might be a better time to start out as a well rounded word brat, doing some reporting and writing and web technology. Once the journalism world figures out how to make money off web versions of newspapers, there should be plenty of copy editing jobs at those I just hope the straight to blog phenomenon doesn’t make well-edited writing a thing of the past.

If you still decide you want to be a copy editor, I recommend that you read, read, read and write, write, write. You need to be a pretty darn good writer to be a so so editor. Learn your style manual backward and forward, but be aware that there is life beyond the stylebook. You need to have a certain amount of empathy and flexibility, and you should never forget that somebody else’s name is going on the writing that you’re editing.

Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job? If so, please describe it.

I interned with a literary agency during college and with a British television news channel after graduation from college. Neither experience yielded subsequent employment, but each acquainted me with seasoned professionals so that I was more comfortable when I finally did obtain a job. (I was easily intimidated by authority in my early twenties luckily this wore off as I gained confidence in my own abilities!)

Do you know of which companies have the best internships in this field that are known to help launch a successful career?

I’m not familiar with the internship opportunities at specific media companies. There is, however, a clear advantage to interning with a small organization: greater exposure and greater responsibility. It’s easier to stand out in a small place (though real talent stands out anywhere). I’ve hired exceptional former interns as editors and retained others as freelance writers.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

New York City.

What is your typical day like?

I work an average of 10 hours per day, closely working with writers and editors on stories for the current issue, as well as researching topics and soliciting writers for future issues.

What are your job responsibilities?

I have creative and managerial oversight of the magazine.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love taking the germ of an idea a research finding or just a sentence in passing and spinning it into a story.

What do you dislike about your job?

I don’t always enjoy managing a staff of seven (plus freelancers).

Have you had any turning-point or “light bulb” moments in your career that have helped you get to where you are today?

I realized very quickly that you can never be afraid to ask for what you want, whether a job opportunity, creative leeway once you’re in the job, or financial remuneration. I believe that assertiveness engenders respect from all but one type of person those who are frustrated by their own lack of assertiveness. My requests (and occasional) demands have been met with derision and scolding over the years, but I always knew that I was ultimately better off having pleaded my case.

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

I’ve always been drawn to the printed word. I was omnivorous in my taste for fiction and non fiction as child and teen, but by college I realized I was a better non fiction writer than writer of fiction. So I came to journalism through a process of elimination. I never set out to become a journalist, and it was only after college that I seriously considered it.

Describe how you got into this industry and how you got your most recent job.

I obtained my first paying job by cold-calling the Associated Press in Washington. They happened to have an office assistant position available (this was at the time the lowest position on the totem pole).

I obtained my job at Psychology Today by cold calling the then editor and sending him my work. I continued to sporadically check back with the magazine over the course of a year and a half until an opening was available. It turned out that he’d remembered me and was going to ask me to apply for the position. However, I beat him to it, which surely signaled my interest in the job and therefore put me at an advantage. I became editor in chief one and a half years later, at the invitation of the publisher.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

I revitalized and greatly improved Psychology Today, making it arguably a more alluring magazine than it’s been in its 30-year history while still showcasing contemporary psychology. And it continues to evolve.

Of course, I do not take sole credit for improving PT. I work with an excellent editorial and art team. So in terms of individual accomplishments, I am gratified that the last article I wrote for Psychology Today before becoming editor was selected for inclusion in the “Best American Science Writing 2004″ volume.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

I’ve always been interested in clinical psychology, which drew me to the magazine in the first place. I’ve toyed with the idea of becoming a

licensed professional over the years. I’m also drawn to private investigative work. Journalism involves intellectual and character sleuthing, but detective work raises the stakes on daily foraging for information.

To what professional associations do you belong and what professional?

I do not belong to any guild associations. I read widely though I don’t read “trade” magazines about journalism.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

Figure out where your writing and reporting talents lie (i.e., are you better suited to hard-charging reportage, in which case you might flourish at newspapers or newsweeklies, or are you drawn to ruminative pieces). Then be assertive even aggressive in soliciting meetings or jobs from people in your target sphere. Don’t take rejection personally especially when you’re starting out. Many people are simply too busy to respond to your inquiries. But it’s a numbers game and if you cast a wide enough net and demonstrate aptitude, someone will remember his or her own start and take the time to counsel you.

Force yourself to freelance if your job permits; it will be help you make connections at other companies.

Do you know of which companies have the best internships in this field that are known to help launch a successful career?

Many media companies, including National Public Radio, have strong internship programs. Doing an unpaid internship is definitely worthwhile if you can’t find a paying one. It’s also important to write, write, write for your college newspaper, magazine or Web site.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

The usual list: New York, Washington, DC, Boston, Los Angeles.

What is your typical day like?

Meetings, cooking up project ideas, editing stories.

What are your job responsibilities?

Conceiving and carrying out editorial projects.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Writing and editing. It’s always challenging, and it’s very gratifying when you’re done.

What do you dislike about your job?

Too many meetings!

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

I always liked writing and reporting. It gave me a chance to explore many different subjects. And I like the challenge of writing.

How did you get into this industry?

I started writing freelance stories for a pittance and eventually I got hired! I made the leap to online journalism gradually doing some work at U.S. News. I switched over when I learned of an editing job at NPR, where the goal is to start creating more original content for the Web site. In an era when print is in flux, it seems like digital media is a good place to be. I like the challenge of bringing some of the print sensibilities to electronic media, and using the interactivity and immediacy of the web to expand the kinds of projects I work on.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

Writing my book, Breast Cancer Husband.

What professional Web sites do you read?

Poynter.org.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

You have to really love reporting and writing.