Senior Editor at Fast Company
Brooklyn, New York
In magazines, an “editor doesn’t simply correct grammar (that’s the copy editor’s role). It’s more like a director role, in which you’re coming up with ideas, deciding which writers are best to execute them, and then guiding the writers and working with the art department to bring a story or page together. Magazines are made up of many different parts, and each require somewhat different skill sets. As you progress, you learn more of them. Basic skills are clean and proficient writing and editing, and a knowledge of how to do journalism—interview, report, find sources, come up with stories. More complex skills involve packaging—that’s the term for parts of the magazine with lots of little stories and charts—and long-form narrative editing, in which you’re editing a 5,000-word story.
No specific education is required. There are journalism schools, but there’s no agreement in the industry about how useful or important they are. Certainly, when applying for a job, nobody will care whether you attended one. It’s all about your past experience—where you’ve worked, what you’ve done, and how well you understand the needs and sensibility of the magazine you’re applying to.
My first job out of college was at a small-town newspaper in Massachusetts. I was a general assignment reporter, covering everything from cops to schools to features about local diners. After a year, I quit that job to work full-time as a freelancer, because I wanted to get my work into larger publications. My hope was to develop relationships at those places and eventually be hired by one of them. After nine months of that, I landed some stories in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Salon, and because freelancing is hard and doesn’t often pay well, I took a job at a somewhat larger newspaper in Massachusetts. I continued freelancing on the side and developed some steady work at Boston magazine—which eventually hired me as an editor. After about a year and a half, I was hired at Men’s Health, and moved to New York.
My days usually take place in our office. I like to write and report, and so there are days when I’m out of the office doing that, but my job is primarily as an editor. So I’m at my computer editing stories, or meeting with other editors and artists, or on the phone interviewing somebody. It depends on the project, but generally speaking, my job is to come up with ideas for stories, assign them to writers, work with the writer to craft the story, work with the art department to develop how the story will look in the magazine, and then coordinate with everyone at the magazine to move the story through our production process (edits, fact-checking, and so on). I also report and write stories of my own, though not every issue.
There are always new challenges—complex stories that are difficult to edit, complex packages that require a lot of attention and detail, looking for new ideas, and so on. But I don’t think of them as “the hardest parts.” They’re what we’re here for; they’re about challenging our creative abilities.
As mentioned above, I enjoy being a reporter and writing stories, and so the best parts of my job are when I get to go out and spend time with interesting people. I’ve interviewed actors, singers, athletes, and CEOs. But I’ve also interviewed really interesting regular folks, who, because I’m a journalist, invite me into their lives and tell me very personal things. Being a reporter is like a ticket to talk to people you wouldn’t normally talk to about things you wouldn’t normally talk about.
Funny you ask—I wrote a piece (here) about how much I dislike my workspace. Basically: It’s a very modern-looking office on the 29th floor of a tower in New York. A few lucky people have offices on the perimeter of the space, and everyone else is at desks with half walls. This is typical for many magazines.
Work hard. This is a crowded field and it’s often hard to find a job in it, and success doesn’t happen by accident. Get an internship or freelance or just find some way to get a foot in the door, and then hustle to prove yourself with every opportunity. Turn things in ahead of deadline. Work well with editors. Over-report everything. Editors notice these things.
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.
Martha Graham, choreographer
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