You Want to Be the Editor? What Kind of Stories Would You Do?

Several years ago when Politico, the DC-based website that covers politics and government, started a glossy magazine, it was to be edited by Susan Glasser, who appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” to promote it.

In a segment on “The Rebirth of Longform Journalism,” the show’s host, Frank Sesno, asked Glasser about her plans for the new magazine and she said she wanted it to be something “truly original.”

But, he asked, what kind of stories? Glasser said it would be “more ambitious journalism.”

But what exactly? Glasser said there was a need “for more accountability reporting, more investigate reporting, more deep, memorable profiles,” adding that she wants “to tell you something you didn’t know about.”

The challenge for an editor trying to describe great stories yet to be conceived and written.

After I’d been editing The Washingtonian for about five years, I got a call from a newspaper editor who was looking for an editor for his Sunday magazine. I traveled to the paper, exchanged pleasantries, and he asked, “What kind of stories would you do?” I was less articulate than Glasser and no more forthcoming.

What stories are you going to do is not a question an editor can really answer. You can promise great stories, but all you really know is that you have to find writers with interesting minds, who have energy, curiosity, and skepticism, who know a subject.

The best story ideas come when the writer gets out of the office and talks to people: What’s going on, what’s new, what are people talking about?

You need writers who know the difference between a subject and an idea. You need writers who like to tell a good story.

It’s a lot of work and if all goes well, and editors help but don’t get in the way, you get stories that are, as Glasser promised, original, ambitious, and memorable.

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