Being an Editor Hasn’t Changed All That Much in 25 Years

By Jack Limpert

A 1980s note sent to other editors at the Washingtonian magazine:

20 Ways to Editorial Excellence

1. Listen more than you talk.

2. Respect the reader.

3. Go out to lunch.

4. Hire people smarter than you.

5. Work harder than anyone else.

6. Keep your office door open.

7. Read a lot.

8. Send a lot of thank you notes.

9. Don’t get too important to do the work.

10. Some ideas work, some don’t, but there are no bad ideas.

11. When in doubt, say no.

12. When in doubt, listen to your gut.

13. Never lose your temper unless you mean to.

14. Keep some sense of astonishment.

15. Hire interesting minds.

16. Shake things up a little all the time.

17. Don’t be too clever.

18. Write often enough to remember how hard it is.

19. Style may belong to the writer, but tone belongs to the editor.

20. All that matters is what finally appears in the magazine.
Some of this I learned from editors at meetings of the American Society of Magazine Editors, some I learned from informal meetings of city magazine editors. Not on the list is how to deal with publishers, balancing budgets, hiring and firing, damage control, and a lot else that affects editorial quality and integrity. And remember that as an editor you’re not trying to impress anyone other than the reader.  If you need a friend, get a dog.




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