Life as an Editor: “If You Want to be Loved…”

Screen shot 2014-10-17 at 10.05.49 AM

Pat Collins: A very good reporter who can do it funny or serious.

By Jack Limpert

Pat Collins is one of the old pros of DC journalism—after graduating from Notre Dame, he worked as a reporter for both the tabloid Washington Daily News and the more sober Washington Star. Then seven years at Channel 9, the CBS affiliate in DC, and since 1986 he has been at Channel 4, the NBC-owned station in Washington. He covers breaking news but is also famous for his offbeat features. He guesses he’s done about 10,000 stories.

When Pat and I crossed paths this week, we couldn’t resist revisiting the story of the Channel 4 station manager who had been replaced about the time Pat got there. The reason for the station manager’s abrupt departure, the Washingtonian said at the time, was that “he managed up better than he managed down.”

I’ve always loved that line—it captures the situation editors often find themselves in. How much time do you spend managing up—keeping in touch with the publisher, letting the people above you know what you’re doing, seeking their approval—and how much do you spend managing down—working with writers and editors.

At the Washingtonian, the owners of the magazine—first Laughlin Phillips, then Philip Merrill, now Cathy Merrill Williams—have been in effect the publisher. They almost always were in the office and it was easy to work as a team, allowing me to devote almost all my time and energy to writers and stories. During the years I was on the board of the American Society of Magazine Editors, I often went to New York for ASME meetings and heard tales of woe from editors about having to work with an ever-changing roster of vice presidents at the big publishing companies. It sounded like their first priority had to be managing up—pleasing everyone above them—to maintain their place in the bureaucracy.

All editors have to do some managing up—you can’t ignore the business side of publishing and the bureaucracy that comes with it. But the really successful editors are allowed  to be obsessed with finding good writers and helping them do great stories. Their job security then comes from creating good journalism, not from playing bureaucratic games.

The good editors I knew also tended to be inner-directed, focused on meeting their own goals and standards; they weren’t inclined to look too much to others for approval or affection. A smart editor once told me, “If you want to be loved, get a dog.”

Speak Your Mind