How Can Editors Help Writers Do Their Best Work?

By Jack Limpert

What can the editor of a news organization—a magazine, newspaper, or website—do to help writers do great stories? Which of these ten things have helped you the most? Which are of least importance?

I’m sending this to writers I’ve worked with, but welcome more feedback and suggestions. Let me know which of these are the most important and the least important to you, and add any other ways an editor can help or get in the way. Email me at [email protected]

1. Pay me enough that I feel rewarded for my best efforts.

2. Give me enough time to do the needed reading, reporting, and thinking.

3. Be helpful but give me the freedom to write the story the way I see it.

4. Be reachable if trouble arises.

5. Protect me from others–fact-checkers, sub-editors, accountants, etc.–who make unreasonable demands.

6. Keep me in the loop if big changes are being made to the story.

7. Keep me in the loop on the story’s headline and the types of photos or illustrations that accompany it.

8. Be willing to back me up if there’s controversy when the story comes out.

9. If the story is good enough, give me some notice in any editor’s notes or promotion of the story.

10. If the story is good enough, suggest that I do another one.

Comments

  1. Jack Limpert says

    Comments on Facebook:

    Lisa DePaulo 1-3 don’t happen much anymore, but that’s not the editors’ fault (usually).

    Bob Cullen I had a great editor at Newsweek, Maynard Parker, who didn’t consider himself a writer and didn’t insert words into a story. He would circle an inadequate phrase, sentence or paragraph and write “say better” in the margin. Then it would be up to the writer to re-do it, in his own voice. This was far better than editors who inserted or changed words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs. And it was far, far better than fact checkers who would insert a revision that was invariably clunky in pursuit of their notion of accuracy.

    Ross Guberman Jack, you are very good at cutting fat and adding speed!

    Jack Limpert Always tried to avoid changing a writer’s words but did try to take pieces going 50 or 60 mph and make them go 70.

  2. Mike Feinsilber says

    I’ve been most motivated by an editor whose enthusiasm for the story at least matches mine — one who is willing to ask questions at the start, middle and end of the project and bring in questions that would broaden the original idea, one who gives the writer full, undistracted attention. As a writer and sometime editor, I’ve been impressed by how much praise, if it is sincere, achieves.

  3. Saw this and gave some thought to it. I think the ones that really call to me are:

    1- Pay me enough, so I feel rewarded…. Payment should definitely come in part financially, but also if there are tangible benefits that the outlet can offer, it would be great. I write for KCET Artbound for example and though the pay isn’t stellar, their work is given a chance to be turned into a mini-documentary with the writers adding their voice in. That kind of exposure is great, not the Huffington Post kind. It is something with longevity and a respected name behind it.

    2- Promote their work.– Adding in social media into the picture, it’s great to know that an editor thinks enough of my work to actually share it with his friends or sphere. Again, that’s an additional sentiment of worth.

    3- Creative freedom — This would be amazing, to be able to write in a more creative format. 🙂

    But of course, if I were to choose financial is the foremost consideration. Make it worth the time and love we put into the piece.

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