Learning to Be an Editor: What to Do When Trouble Comes From All Directions

When I started as editor at The Washingtonian, it was my first magazine job and after about a year it seemed there were many more problems and headaches than successes and I began to think I wasn’t cut out to be an editor.

Then I made a phone call that changed everything. Back then Philadelphia was the nation’s  best city magazine, and its  editor, Alan Halpern, was seen as very smart and successful. I called him and asked if I could spend a day with him to see how he did it. He said sure, and I took the train up to Philly and got some good tips and developed a lot of respect for Alan. But what I also learned was that as good as he was, he also had headaches and had to deal with problems that seemed to come from all directions.

So I settled into the Washingtonian job, always trying not to let the problems get me too down. I’d be listening to someone but also saying this to myself:

You can’t please everyone.

You can’t win them all.

In low moments, I used to think that the job of a monthly magazine editor was rolling a big boulder up a hill for 30 days while everyone was biting at my ankles and then the boulder would roll back down and you had to do it again.

But mostly I thought positively. I figured that sometimes you got handed a problem, a lemon, and what a smart editor does is figure out how to make lemonade from it. And then think about how to avoid the problem in the future.



  1. Richard Mattersdorff says:

    Good advice about many lines of work. Thank you.

    And how great that another editor let you follow him around for a day! Did you ever tell Mr. Halpern that that ‘changed everything’ for you?

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