Editors, Ruth Whitney Said, Sometimes Have to Play Lord High Executioner

Glamour Magazine to Cease Regular Print Publication

New York Times, November 20, 2018

Unmentioned in the coverage of Glamour’s demise was one of the great American editors—Ruth Whitney, editor of Glamour from 1967 until shortly before she died in 1999. Ruth was from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, about 20 miles from Appleton, where I grew up, so when we saw each other at meetings of the American Society of Magazine Editors we always found time to talk.

At one lunch we were talking about how well an editor should get to know his or her writers. As editor of the Washingtonian, a smaller magazine, I tended to work closely with writers, thinking that a lot of back and forth could help make a good piece great.

Ruth, who ran a bigger magazine with more editors, took the opposite approach with writers. “I don’t like to get to know them too well,” she said. “It makes it too hard to play lord high executioner.”

She was making the point that good editors have to be 51 percent warm-blooded and 49 percent cold-blooded.  Whether or not an editor works closely with writers, the editor’s first responsibility is do what’s best for the reader, not for the writer.

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