Writing for the Web, social media and digital skills in general are a given these days for any magazine editor. As Betty Wong, Fitness editor-in-chief, noted in her reply to our invitation to contribute to this piece, “The craft of magazine-making comprises just a fraction of my day.” Indeed, an editor is as much of a new product developer and marketer as he or she is a wordsmith. Here, we present insight from Wong and Dan Shannon, publisher of Durham Magazine and Chapel Hill Magazine, on what it takes to break into and succeed as a magazine editor today.
Versatility: I want editors who are as excited about creating content for the digital properties at Fitness as they are about getting a byline in the magazine. It takes a broader way of thinking to be able to package content not only for print but to also translate and rethink it for the website, Facebook, or the tablet experience.
Passion: Even if you don’t land a job at your dream magazine, you’re not your publication’s target audience or you end up covering a subject that bores you, you’ve got to find some way to tap an aspect of the content that you can identify with and that ignites some passion in you. The best editors adapt and change and take on the mission of their magazine much like a method actor might live and breathe a role. Being lukewarm about the content will only result in mediocre work.
Ingenuity: It takes plenty of roll-up-your-sleeves pluck and persistence to be an editor today. Due to limited staff and resources, editors are often the ones leading the charge in developing and overseeing new products and events that extend their magazine brand. Your goal is always to give your consumer access to your content and brand wherever and whenever he or she wants it. But because editors know their readers better than any developer or HTML coder ever could, they have to be the ones calling the shots when it comes to user experience and interface of any digital or mobile product. And sweat the small stuff—it makes you better than you have to be.
President, Shannon Media, Inc., Chapel Hill Magazine, Durham Magazine and The WEEKLY
When we interview editorial candidates for our regional magazines and newspaper, we get to meet a wide range of really smart people with usually off-beat and oftentimes downright odd points-of-view; you never know. But how do we know which of these distinctive characters will fit in our idiosyncratic company?
One type that doesn’t get past the first interview: Editors that are clearly going to do things only their way, and that’s almost always the old way. Our publications are collaborative—I insist that editors, salespeople and operations staff interact constantly. They share ideas, critique story choices and layouts and have a cup of coffee together. When we bump into a virtual or metaphorical wall in our company, we try to tear it down. We have to work together or we don’t work here, and we do that while maintaining editorial integrity and independence.
Editorial skill sets are, of course, crucial. But we try to hire editors that understand, or can learn to understand, readers’ new habits and rhythms. No longer are we competing against other media, we’re fighting for their time, attention and loyalty. And the Internet has taught us to honor brevity and tone.