Editors at Work: Like to Move Fast? Or Want Time to Think?

By Jack Limpert

Earlier this week Ron Charles, fiction editor in the Washington Post’s book section, sent out this tweet:

Ron Charles ‏@RonCharles
Editor friend tells me a daily section is easier than a weekly section because you can’t lie awake *every* night, but you can once a week.

I sent his tweet on to Richard Babcock, an editor who spent years editing at weekly (New York) and monthly (Chicago) magazines, with some daily newspaper experience thrown in, and here was his reaction:

“I’ve lain awake at all three frequencies, but I really do think the psychologically easiest pace is the daily, and it gets harder from there. Distraction is the greatest sedative. At a daily, the press of the news keeps you moving forward. A weekly’s pace is pretty frantic, too. I love monthlies, because they offer the long-form narrative that’s my favorite nonfiction, but for the editor they also provide long-form anxiety. Plus, if you’ve published a flop, it glares out at you from newsstands for the next 30 days.”

I started at a wire service, mostly doing rewrite, then did newspaper editing, mostly on weeklies, and then edited a monthly magazine. Not being a fast thinker (in defense of slow thinkers, see Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman), I didn’t like the deadline-every-minute pace at UPI and happily switched to newspapers. Daily journalism seemed to have a lot of grind-it-out routine but I loved editing a weekly paper.

Here’s a typical schedule at a weekly: The deadline for getting everything laid out and printed is Wednesday night—that means Thursday, Friday, and the weekend gives you time to think, plan, and get started on next week’s issue. The pace picks up on Monday and Tuesday, you wrap things up on Wednesday, and on Thursday you can read the paper, talk about what you did right and wrong, and go on to the next issue.

The weekly cycle provides time to think, you can do some stories fast and some stories slow, and you see the finished product almost immediately.

I edited a monthly magazine for 40 years and never adjusted to it. Here was a typical monthly schedule: On September 15th we finished work on the October issue, which then went to the printer and arrived on newsstands about September 23. On September 15, we had to start work on the November issue, taking the next four weeks to get that issue done by October 15. But since many monthly stories take two or three months to report and write, we also had to be planning December, January, and February and work with writers on stories for all those issues.

For an editor, that meant you were juggling four or five balls, which was okay, but what was hard was wrapping up work on a great story for the October issue on September 5, monitoring the fact-checking and layout for 10 days,  but then not seeing it in the magazine until September 23.

When that October issue would come out on September 23, lots of people would want to talk about it but in late September we were immersed in the November and December issues and I often had to work to remember what was in October—it was new to readers but seemed old to the editors.

So for me, the weekly pace seemed the most satisfying, though monthlies do give you more opportunity to do great stories, the ones that will be remembered for years, not just for a day.

Weekly or monthly? For us slow thinkers who don’t do well at grind-it-out-fast journalism, either can let you do good work and get some sleep.

 

Comments

  1. What is easiest in the Internet era? Seems to me that daily and monthly are easier for reader relevance. I subscribe to the paper weekly TIME magazine. It tries its best, I know, but I find that TIME is not fast enough OR long-form enough to hold my interest on issues I have already read about a couple of times in my paper daily paper and in a couple of online daily papers I regularly check out. (Incidentally, the dailypaper.com domain is not in use. I just checked.)

    • Jack Limpert says

      On the digital side, editors play much less of a role—writers often can post without any fact-checking or editing.

      In the print world, there is much more of a sense of permanence. a sense that the reporting, writing, editing, and fact-checking should be as close to perfect as possible.

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