Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

A case for training editors ‘as editors’

By · Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Recently, my Newhouse colleague Mark Obbie shared with me a post from the Son of Bold Venture blog by Esquire writer Chris Jones.

As Mark explained, in Chris Jones’ Q/A with writer Charles Pierce, he (Pierce) “goes on a funny rant about editors vs. reporters / writers.” Mark was right. It is funny. And, real.

Here’s Pierce’s point, which you can find in his answer to Question 2:

“One thing that drives me crazy, and this is especially true in newspapers, is the notion that you should take your best writer and ‘promote’ him to be an editor. This is idiotic, and it happens all the time, and nine times out of ten you lose a good writer and end up with a mediocre editor. You can no more ‘promote’ a writer to be an editor than you can ‘promote’ a plumber to be a gardener.”

We agree that the role of an editor is different from the role of a writer. While we routinely share on this blog site our notion that today, reporters and editors are “multijob journalists,” we still acknowledge that there are inherent differences in their purposes and in their responsibilities.

But we also believe it is important for all journalists to understand one another’s roles. The thing that drives me crazy is when reporters think they do not need to know AP style, grammar, spelling and punctuation because there are editors to fix those things. Reporters also need to know how editors think and to understand the question-asking process editors follow as they work their way through a story. Good reporters are good content editors and are able to step away from their own piece and view it as an editor, anticipating questions and providing answers.

In my editing class, the majority of students want to be writers. There’s still a place for them in that class because when they know the role of an editor, they will know how to self-edit their copy — for content and for style.

Today, when Web and print copy gets fewer reads, it is even more important for writers to know the role of editors. Oftentimes, writers find themselves posting their stories directly to the Web with no other reads at all.

When you have some time, check out Chris Jones’ interview with Charles Pierce. Whether you are a writer or an editor, you will find it entertaining.

Emilie Davis


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