Against Editors? Also Against Paying Writers?

By Jack Limpert

Hamilton Nolan, a writer at Gawker, has posted a piece titled “Against Editors.”

David Carr, the New York Times media writer with 454,000 followers on Twitter, now has tweeted a link to Nolan’s piece:

“Against Editors @hamiltonnolan assails those who would stand btw him and his audience.”

Nolan’s piece argues (1) there are too many editors, (2) too many writers are forced to become editors to make decent money, (3) being an editor is easier than being a writer, (4) writers are more important than editors.

Points one and two are maybes, points three and four are true.

What Nolan ignores is the most important thing an editor does, and Carr, having worked at free-circulation alternative weeklies before going to the Times, may not appreciate the importance of the omission.

The omission: The most important thing an editor does.

At the Washingtonian, we were able to get 110,000 people to subscribe to the magazine and another 40,000 to buy it each month on the newsstand. The subscribers and newsstand buyers paid $4 million a year to read the magazine. Advertisers kicked in another $10 million a year to reach that audience.

As the editor, I had $2 million a year of that money to spend on writers and editors. Lots of good writing and editing jobs. There were headaches in being an editor (Ben Bradlee said the hardest part of his job was damage control). There also was a lot of joy: Finding good writers, encouraging them to do their best work, publishing great stories.

We figured if we published enough great stories that readers would continue to pay the $4 million a year to read the magazine.

The most important thing an editor does:

An editor finds good writers and gathers them together in a way that readers will pay to read them.

Nolan concludes:

“The ‘new’ online media, happily, tends to be less editor-heavy than the big legacy media outlets that have sprouted entire ecosystems of editors and sub-editors over the course of decades.”

A brave new world: Not many editors, not much revenue, not many good writing jobs.

When writing about editors, media critics should keep in mind this great Tom Cruise-Cuba Gooding movie scene. If you want to pay writers to do good journalism, then “Show me the money.”



  1. […] newsroom like driftwood carried in on the tide. If they did, no one would need editors at all. Someone hires them. And while some very good writers may truly believe their talent is self-evident to all, that would […]

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