What Do Editors Do Best?

By Jack Limpert

Another editor asked me for advice on how to structure his magazine’s website. It was an interesting question—it related to a recent Jim VandeHei interview about scale—and trying to answer the question reminded me that editors are better at asking questions than answering them.

Striking proof of that came back in 1981 when David Brinkley took over the ABC-TV Sunday morning talk show, the one now hosted by George Stephanopoulos. To give the show some buzz, Brinkley asked Ben Bradlee, executive editor of the Washington Post, then famous for the Post’s Watergate coverage and the “All the President’s Men” movie, to be a regular panelist.

Bradlee was a good talker and had a quick mind but after only a few Sundays it became clear that he was a terrible talk show panelist. Brinkley’s job was to ask good questions, and that also was what Bradlee was best at.

 

 

Comments

  1. From one writer’s prospective:

    What does an editors do best? It starts with a phone call to a newbie freelancer saying, “We’re buying your piece and could you come in and bring some of your clips.”

    What an editor does best is going through those clips and making a quick and effective decision where the writer can fit into his needs while exercising his own strengths into a collaborative whole.

    What an editor does best is knowing precisely which scalpel to use to trim the carefully chosen words that are–unknown to the author–superfluous or insufficient.

    What an editor does best is develop a shorthand with the writer to the point that a simple “It still feels a bit thin” will send the writer out into the night of his own volition to muscle that bad boy up.

    What an editor does best is maintain the delicate balance of friendship and boss over the years and leave such an impression on the writer that, decades later, he will feel a surge of nostalgic warmth and appreciation for one of the very best relationships of his career.

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