Inside the NYTimes: Editing With a Reporter’s Instinct

From an Inside the Times story be Emmett Lindner headlined “Editing With a Reporter’s Instinct”:

Reporters and editors exist in an ecosystem that works to take an idea and shape it into an article. The relationship can be symbiotic and, at times, contentious. But at its best, editors and reporters work together to make the article both descriptive and accurate. Four New York Times editors shared how their prior reporting experiences strengthened their ability to edit. Read their edited reflections below.

Richard Pérez-Peña, senior staff editor, International

Reporters complain about editors, and editors complain about reporters. I’ve done my share of that complaining, maybe more. OK, definitely more.

But working in both roles has deepened my appreciation for each side of the divide, for how these jobs, which are in constant tension and collaboration, can nudge each other toward something better. At its best, the relationship is more a partnership than a hierarchy.

I was a reporter for more than three decades before becoming an editor, and at first I was reluctant to alter anyone’s copy, though I soon learned that it was unavoidable.

I’ve learned that being an editor is about process in addition to journalism — about meetings and search engine tags and headline structure and style rules. I try to make the editing process visible to reporters, so the editing seems slightly less arbitrary. Working on the International desk, I also remind myself that our reporters and photographers work under hardships and risks that I never had to endure. I admire their energy and bravery.

As a writer, I’ve always thought critically about language, but being an editor has shifted that into high gear. I can’t read anything anymore — from a book to a billboard — without mentally editing it.

None of it is an exact science. I try to stay open to reporters pushing back on my edits. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ll stop complaining.

Nikita Richardson, senior staff editor, Food

When I was interviewing for the senior staff editor position on the Food desk in 2020, the deputy editor Patrick Farrell asked if I would miss reporting, and my answer then, and now, was no. I’m drawn to the big picture, and reporters are meant to be very detail-oriented. I was a good reporter, but I’m a better editor.

That said, so many of my editing skills were honed by years of being edited. I edit like a writer: I drop a lot of “word choice” notes, and I’m big on pacing and voice. (My background is in magazines and websites.) I also want to be incredibly constructive and reasoned with my feedback, because as a writer, I always felt the most empowered when it seemed as if my editor and I were in this together.

Andrew Hinderaker, staff editor, Photo

Before working at The Times as a photo editor, I worked as a photojournalist in New York City, shooting assignments from portraits to breaking news for a variety of publications.

I raced from job to job on editors’ orders, but I didn’t really understand what those editors did all day. Now, I see that we play a crucial role in advocating on behalf of our photographers and their work, to make sure it’s used for maximum impact.

Working with new photographers is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I love supporting them as they navigate their first assignments and bringing in people who hadn’t been part of The Times’s contributor pool.

I think my experience working as a photographer helps me see the process through a photographer’s eyes. Sometimes, that involves long phone calls with a photographer who has shot something traumatic, or helping my editorial colleagues understand the conditions freelance photographers face in the field.

Andrew LaVallee, editor, Arts & Leisure

I’m a better editor because I started out as a reporter. I know what it’s like to look at an empty file, waiting for my words to fill it; to have to bone up on an unfamiliar topic on a deadline; to face the music when something is wrong in a story and nobody else’s name is on it.

I know what it’s like to work with bad editors — the careless ones, the insensitive ones, the ones who always think they’re right — and try to instead be the type who leaves accurate wording alone even if it’s not how I’d phrase it.

The more time I spend as an editor, the more humbled I am by reporters. I feel like I increasingly see them writing, asking, noticing things that never occurred to me when I had their job. It sometimes makes me think that, with what I’ve learned, I would be a much better reporter now, but mostly it makes me want to step it up, to be an editor worthy of this partnership.

Emmett Lindner has covered international protests, worked on live briefings and asked the tough questions about frozen reindeer meat for The Times. 

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