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Grooming a Top Editor

Posted on Thursday, July 30, 2015 at 10:44 PM

Management strategies to bring out the best in your editorial team.

By Michelle Kocay

We asked some editors what kind of person they would want if they had to hire their own replacement. What follows is a distillation of their recommendations.

In general, the qualities a candidate would definitely have to possess include:

--Knowledge or experience in the publication's subject area.

--Ability to work well with other people and give them direction.

--Strong editorial skills.

--The drive to keep learning all one can about the business, the market, the readership, and obviously the publication's focus.

Subject Knowledge

You can't expect to run a publication if you don't have enough knowledge of your subject. Can you imagine trying to write about drag racing without ever going to the track? Of course not!

The editor of a sports publication stressed to me, "You have to know the content of the publication and the background of the sport or area of interest. Take time to do your homework. Imagine how it would be to interview a major figure or athlete in your field and have no idea why they were so important. It pays to do the required research."

Experience helps an editor to be an authority on the subject. It also gives some personal credibility that appeals to the readers. Would you listen to somebody's advice on relief of chronic pain through acupuncture if she had never even tried it? Probably not. The editor needs to be a specialist to a certain degree in his field and to provide his readers with accurate information they can rely on. The more you know about something, the easier it is to win your readers' trust and to keep them interested in what your publication has to offer.

Offering Inspiration

In order to produce a top-notch publication, an editor needs to work well with the editorial staff and give them the respect they deserve. Many times others look to the editor for guidance, inspiration, and encouragement. An editor told me, "I would never give anyone an assignment that I wouldn't do myself."

This approach keeps members of the staff feeling like they are a valuable part of the magazine. It is a good idea to listen to the suggestions and comments each member of the editorial staff offers and then take these ideas into consideration to promote an atmosphere of teamwork and the focus on a common goal: a strong publication.

It would be very difficult to get the staff involved and interested in the publication if the editor didn't take the time to share his ideas and perhaps inspire others to get energized about their own work.

The editor has a responsibility to draw out the best work possible from the employees and to see that it is shaped in a manner that suits the aims of the publication.

The editors we talked to seemed to share a common point: an editor must develop a good relationship with the members of the staff and behave in a manner befitting the position. The editorial staff looks to the editor for cues on how to conduct themselves, especially when working with others involved in the publication.

Maximizing Abilities

Obviously, any publication is looking for individuals with strong editorial skills. All the editors we spoke to agree that a publication maintains its credibility by reporting accurate facts and figures. Checking and re-checking sources and information are important as well. A good editor also knows how to make the material he has received a perfect fit for its purpose. As one editor put it, "Know what a good story is for the readers and be able to have a strong editing hand. Know when stories need to be cut and rewritten and reshaped."

A good editor needs to be the driving force behind any strong publication and have the ability to move the magazine in a direction that will help its readership grow. You need to be the first to recognize a new "hot" topic or movement and get your writers working on it. You can be sure your competition is trying to do the same thing. An editor also has to be willing to explore whatever new technology is available. One has to keep her eyes open for other materials and ideas that may be useful to the publication as a whole.

An editor should stay energized and make a habit of constantly trying to learn and educate himself in all he does. It can only help the publication. As one editor put it, "Everyone has their own fields of interest and curiosity and things they are excited about. Find what an editor or writer is passionate about and then encourage him or her to go out and get away from the desk, away from the computer, and go into the world and find where that thing they are passionate about is happening. I think that is the point where the editor begins to feel the pulse of that thing. Find a writer to work on that. Steer your staff toward it and turn them loose."

Takeaway Points

Top editors have offered many helpful tips for what skills are necessary for an editor-in-chief. It's always a good idea to nurture these abilities among your staff. After all, one of them may someday step into your position!

Here are some things to focus on:

1. Always knowing the content of the publication and being well versed in its subject matter.

2. Being willing to guide and direct staff members without forcing one's own suggestions on them.

3. Listening to the input from staff and giving them the respect they deserve.

4. Knowing what readers want and what interests them most.

5. Trying to keep learning all you can and keeping your eyes and ears open for anything new that can be helpful.

6. Checking facts -- being accurate and accountable.

7. Always improving on what you have and never assuming you know it all.

Michelle Kocay is a former managing editor of Editors Only who currently teaches developmental English to undergraduate students.

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