Learning to Be an Editor: What to Do When Trouble Comes From All Directions

When I started as editor at The Washingtonian, it was my first magazine job and after about a year it seemed there were many more problems and headaches than successes and I began to think I wasn’t cut out to be an editor.

Then I made a phone call that changed everything. Back then Philadelphia was the nation’s  best city magazine, and its  editor, Alan Halpern, was seen as very smart and successful. I called him and asked if I could spend a day with him to see how he did it. He said sure, and I took the train up to Philly and got some good tips and developed a lot of respect for Alan. But what I also learned was that as good as he was, he also had headaches and had to deal with problems that seemed to come from all directions.

So I settled into the Washingtonian job, always trying not to let the problems get me too down. I’d be listening to someone but also saying this to myself:

You can’t please everyone.

You can’t win them all.

In low moments, I used to think that the job of a monthly magazine editor was rolling a big boulder up a hill for 30 days while everyone was biting at my ankles and then the boulder would roll back down and you had to do it again.

But mostly I thought positively. I figured that sometimes you got handed a problem, a lemon, and what a smart editor does is figure out how to make lemonade from it. And then think about how to avoid the problem in the future.



  1. Richard Mattersdorff says

    Good advice about many lines of work. Thank you.

    And how great that another editor let you follow him around for a day! Did you ever tell Mr. Halpern that that ‘changed everything’ for you?

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