By Chandra Turner
Most of my recruiting clients are not from the world of publishing — they work at brands, startups, and nonprofits. Often this is the first time they are hiring an editorial leader or team, but they all want the same thing: the amazing content that only editorially trained people know how to create. Because their primary editorial reference may be Miranda Priestly, I often spend time (gently) aligning expectations about what editors are, and what they are not.
Myth: Editors Don’t Get Analytics or Data
Truth: Very few editors have this luxury these days. “I’ll admit that “editor me” 10 years ago was skeptical of SEO because it sometimes felt like fitting a square peg into a round hole,” says says Stacy Tornio, Head of Content and Engagement at Underdog Games and former editor at Reader Digest’s Birds & Blooms. “But when you do it the right way, there’s so much value there and it serves the reader.”
“I left magazines and then came back, and in recent years I’ve found it’s become standard that editors know and lead content strategy bearing in mind everything from SEO, traffic, and engagement metrics to social, e-commerce and affiliate partnerships. There is no editor anymore just assigning and editing stories—the market demands so much more of us!,” says Corina Quinn a digital director at Condé Nast Traveler who was a managing editor at the PR giant Weber Shandwick in her previous after-mag role.
Also notable: Editors aren’t a slave to those numbers. They are trained to trust their gut and are skilled at reading the zeitgeist in a way that predates analytics.
Myth: Editors Are Used to Big Budgets and Big Teams
Truth: Editors now work in scrappy, get-it-done-with-what-you’ve got environments. They have had to do more with less for over a decade to keep their brands alive. Most of the editorial leaders at the big three largest consumer media companies — Hearst, Meredith, Conde Nast — now oversee both print, digital, and social media content. And their teams have shrunk to sometimes a third of what they once were, but with output expectation in overdrive.
Many of those prestigious legacy brands you think of when you think of luxury media outlets are really one-person-led operations who rely on shared resources for art, design, social media, copyediting, and production.
Myth: Editorial Leaders Aren’t Also Doers
Truth: Senior level editors are writers and executors as well as leaders and managers. Most prefer being in the weeds. In fact, many editors who have risen to levels of leadership, such as editor in chief or head of content roles, often lament to me that they miss working with writers directly, spending time tinkering with words and design, and dealing with the little details that make quality content, quality content.
The days of editors sitting upon their thrones and throwing down commands to their minions ala Devil Wears Prada are long gone. (And in truth were very rare even when they did exist.)
Myth: Editors Only Know How to Talk to One Type of Consumer
Truth: Editors are trained to write from the audience’s perspective even if they aren’t the audience. I worked at American Baby and Good Housekeeping as a single, parentless 20something was an editor at Cosmo Girl in my 30s.
Storytelling and editing is a universal skill that can be used across subject areas, says journalist Stephanie Cain, a former editor who has worked in wine, food, and weddings, including roles at Wine Spectator and The Knot.
“I often felt that I had to have a ‘specialty’ when in reality, words are words. Most editors have a general sense of curiosity and desire to stay informed on a range of topics anyway. Plus, we’re pretty good at researching new subjects when needed!” says Asher Fogle Paul, a writer and book author who was an editor at Us Weekly and Good Housekeeping.
Myth: Editors are Words People, Not Tech People
Truth: Editors are forced to keep up with the pace of business and society in a way other creatives may not need to be. Frankly, because we have had little choice: “We quickly pick up new technology, like CMSs and video editing software,” says Megan Fernandez, Executive Editor at Indianapolis Monthly and freelance tennis writer. “Furthermore, we have the communication skills to break down and simplify instructions for teammates, which IT people sometimes can’t do.”
btw: stop thinking editors 40+ don’t “get” digital. “I started in digital when most people at brands these days were in diapers. Older means experienced and experience means quicker turnarounds,” says Rachel Hager, founding editor of Parents.com and former Digital Editor in Chief at Reader’s Digest and Consumer Reports.
Myth: Editors Need The Spotlight Like Influencers
Truth: While many editors have become influencers (they are natural communicators and connectors, after all), just as many loathe being in the limelight. This may stem from the fact that many editors were trained as journalists and went to J school where they were taught to be objective and to keep themselves out of the story.
As a career coach who works predominantly with content creators, I find that editors struggle with self-promotion — they have been so accustomed to honing the work of others and speaking on behalf of the brand’s voice, that they sometimes forget their own greatness.
Myth: Editors are just “creatives” who don’t understand business.
Truth: Most senior-level editors did grow up in a time when editorial and sales were church and state — but after the 2008 market crash we all learned quickly to start praying to the same god. Nearly all editors now have a good grasp on content, budgets, and how it affects revenue.
Not only that, editors know how businesses work; they have to get their job done: “I often refer to my team as the ‘hub of the wheel.’ We have to understand all of the areas [of the business] and often the ones making connections and finding efficiencies across teams who may not talk to each other as much,” says Lauren Piro, Editorial Director at Food Network and former editor at Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal.
Myth: Editors Slow Down the Process.
Truth: The reality is editors are experts at meeting deadlines and cranking out work, notes Lisa Lombardi, a branded content consultant and former Executive Editor of Health. “We’re pros at saving the brand time (and money) on the back end by troubleshooting as we go.”
Why? Because back in the days of print, deadlines couldn’t be pushed. Your magazine had an assigned time on the presses; if you missed it, you were SOL and so were your readers.
Chandra Turner is founder and CEO of Ed2010 and Talent Fairy. She is a talent recruiter specializing in editorial and content roles. She also offers personalized career coaching for editors and content creators at all stages of their career.
Photo: The American Film Institute