Chapter 12

Chapter 12 - Editors

The editor's job is one of the most important in journalism. The editor takes on the responsibilities of the publication. Journalism is a collaborative effort in that it takes the efforts of many people to produce good journalism. An editor assumes the responsibility of making that collaboration work.

Editors and reporters must develop a special relationship. The tenor and tone of their relationship is up to the editor. An editor must allow reporters enough leeway to do their work and to exercise their best judgments on the stories they choose and the way they write those stories. But an editor also has to impose and maintain the standards of the publication. They have the final word on how the publication works and what it produces.

Getting to be an editor is not an easy task. An editor must have a mastery of the language -- enough to recognize when it is not being used correctly and the courage to demand that it be changed. Editors must have a wide-ranging knowledge that allows them to put events into perspective. They must also have an innate understanding of their news organization and how it puts into practice the tenets of the profession of journalism.

Study questions

  • The books says the job of the editor is one of the most important, if not the most important, in journalism. Why?

  • What lessons about journalism can be learned from the story about Jayson Blair, Howell Raines and the New York Times that opens the chapter?

  • List some of the duties editors are required to perform.

  • What are the traits a person should have to be a good editor?

  • What are some of the things an editor should do in building a relationship with a writer?

  • How does one get to be an editor?

Chapter notes

Howell Raines. This chapter in the book leads off with the story of Howell Raines and what happened when he was executive editor of the New York Times. Raines is a controversial figure, and some people blame him for the Jayson Blair fiasco; others say it was the whole system and atmosphere of the Times that allowed the scandal to develop. After he resigned, Raines wrote a long article ( for the Atlantic Monthly magazine (May 2004) about what had happened. It's worth reading to get his side of the story. (You have to be a subscriber to the magazine to read the entire article on the web; if you are not, you might be able to get the magazine from a local library.) In addition, Seth Mnookin has written a book about the affair titled Hard News.( The book, which is highly critical of Raines management of the Times, has received a number of good reviews (including this one in the Washington Post) and is also worth reading.

Leadership. Journalists have been notoriously bad personnel managers. Most journalists over 40 years old (and some considerably younger) can tell you stories about the horrible editors they worked under and the abuse they suffered. The newsroom can be a tough environment in which to work. Many current editors are trying to do better than their predecessors, however. The Poynter Institute ( runs regular leadership workshops to help editors manage people better.

Seven deadly sins. Anne Glover, assistant managing editor for the copy desk of the St. Petersburg Times, has written an excellent piece on the seven deadly sins of a copy editor. (This was originally put together for the Poynter Institute.) Those sins are arrogance, assumptions, sloppiness, indifference, ignorance, laziness and inflexibility. Her article is reproduced in full on this web site.

Love the language. A basic requirement for any good editor is that he or she know how to use the language. But good editors go beyond just knowing how to use the language. They take an active interest in the language itself – particularly to its misuses in the news media. One editor who does just that is Bill Walsh of the Washington Post who has an excellent web site on the use of the language called The Slot ( Walsh has an e-newsletter to which you can subscribe to get his latest observations. Other copyediting sites that are maintained by individuals include (and these are just a few of many):

Word Police, Barbara Wallraff of the Atlantic Monthly, Bob Baker of the Los Angeles Times
Newroom101, Ron Hartung of the Tallahassee Democrat
Gudie to Grammar and Style, Jack Lynch of Rutgers University

Key concepts and terms

Editor – a person who has some responsibility for the news organization and how it functions; editors are in charge of the process of journalism.

Copyeditor – a person charged with checking the writing that reporters and other editors produced; these people must have a wide range of knowledge as well as an expertise in how the language is used.

• Editors should develop relationships of trust, respect and mutual purpose with reporters. A reporter should come to count on an editor’s expertise and support.

• Editors, in addition to their responsibility to their news organization, have a responsibility to the audience the organization serves; they must constantly consider how the organization can best deliver information to that audience.

• Editors set and enforce the standards for a news organization; their sense of honesty and ethics will permeate the news organization.

Related web
sites for
Chapter 12

American Society of Newspaper Editors

Associated Press Managing Editors

National Conference of Editorial Writers

American Copyeditors Society

Section I | 1: News and Society  |  2: Culture of Journalism  |  3: Becoming a Journalist
Section II  |  4: Newspapers  |  5: Magazines  |  6: Television and Radio  |  7: News Web Sites
Section III  |  8: Reporters  |  9: Reporting  |  10: Writing news and features  |  11: Style  | 
12: Editors13: Editing and headline writing  |  14: Visual Journalists  |
  15: Graphics Journalism  |  16: Photojournalism  |  17: Publication Design  |
  18: Broadcasters  |  19: Writing for Broadcast
Section IV  |  20: Beginnings of Journalism  |  21: Journalism Comes of Age  | 
22: New Realities, New Journalism  |   23: 20th Century and Beyond
Section V  |  24: Law and the Journalist  |  25: Ethical Practices  |   26: Present and Future
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