“An editor’s role will never be what it was just five years ago.”
That’s a line from a June 2009 FOLIO: story on publishers developing the edit staff that will define the company’s future. The point still holds true today. From video, to Webinars, to mobile applications, and now the explosion of tablets and e-readers, the business of delivering content is evolving at a lightning-fast pace and, in step, so are the requirements publishers have of their editors.
Here, we spoke with three top editors from different markets about what they’re looking for in new hires.
editor-in-chief • Field & Stream
It used to be that we were just looking for editors who could tell a good print story but the job has really evolved and these days we’re looking for the Jack-of-all-trades type of editor. It’s really important to have a staff that is comfortable handling all aspects of the job, from packaging a complicated service story to editing a long narrative to conceiving a multimedia edit program that includes print, online and video. While the basic skills remain the same we need editors to think broader and help us conceptualize and actualize great content on multiple platforms at once.
Much of the content we now produce is built around a specific franchise or idea that lives not only in print but also reaches readers through online, video and events. These franchises are fun because they really bring your editorial content to life, but they are also a lot of work. An annual story that used to require maybe six weeks of an editor’s attention now often requires six months of work.
We certainly have gotten terrific talent from some places you’d expect—universities with good journalism programs and internship programs at top magazines—but we’ve also gotten some duds from those places, too. This may sound a little cutthroat, but the best way to find talent is to find work that you admire at a rival and then poach the person responsible for it.
editor-in-chief • American Lawyer
We’re looking for people who are smart, hardworking and deft at conceiving and editing stories across all platforms. Editors need the basics—good judgment, a writerly sensibility and high reporting standards. I need people who really sweat the copy and make sure that every word is accurate and precise.
But they also need to know what works for the Web versus print, some familiarity with video, podcasts, apps, etc. Nowadays you have to be platform agnostic as an editor. Even if a lot of what you do all day is in print you have to be able to think in all languages.
The best example is that we do a lot of surveys here. One is a survey of law firm associates and we publish much of that data in print, but also have an online element. We ask open-ended questions and haven’t been able to do a lot with the responses in print but can use the most interesting ones online. It’s a print editor’s job to go through that data and to work with our developers to determine where is the best place to use those quotations online.
editor-in-chief • Scientific American
I work in a specialized industry, so the first thing I’m looking for is someone who is comfortable with the material. They don’t need a science degree. I don’t have one. Perhaps the most critical quality of an editor is sheer enthusiasm.
We always want that senior-level editor—a person with five to 10 years of experience, who can take a car wreck of an article and can figure out the narrative line. We also want someone who is comfortable with expressing themselves in visual terms. Part of our magazine’s special forte is to deliver information not just in words but in informational graphics and illustrations that help explain the science.
After that, it’s gravy if they have had other types of experience that can supplement their visual or science skills. For instance, a past editor here had background as a TV reporter, so they were very accustomed to telling a story visually. An editor here will, at the outset of a story, talk to the writer and come up with the kinds of images they need to see.
I wouldn’t expect all editors to know how to execute in video, audio, and/or apps, (we have a small team that helps up put up slideshow, edit video, etc.) but I would expect them to at least think about stories in those terms.