Editors: is swimming against the tide what it takes?

Editors = scary. Or so the stereotype tells us, but are they
people we should be intimidated by? I mean this both in the sense of their
professionalism and how the type of relationship they have with their writers
could alter the cohesiveness and efficiency of a publication.

They may scream deadlines at their writers and demand to be
brought coffee of exactly the right temperature, but how much of this is a
display of their authority or stress, rather than what they think necessary to
do their job properly?

This week I was awarded the position of next year’s online
editor for HullFire, the University
of Hull’s student
magazine (soon to become broadsheet newspaper) and last night I watched Channel
4’s documentary The Lady and the Revamp.

Watching this, I couldn’t believe the newly assigned editor
had so little respect for a family-run publication that she was willing to sack
its writers after three decades of loyalty in some cases, without spending any
time with them to assess the problems they were apparently causing to her.

These writers may have initially been employed due to their
relationships to or within the family, but could the job they were doing have
been that bad if for that long their writing had been published on a weekly
basis? The topics they were covering were extremely worrying: the history of
the cucumber, for instance, but topics and writing quality are two different
things, and being a good writer can often be displayed by your ability to
handle such topics. Anyone who can find the words to write a full page feature
on cucumbers without killing themselves must be worth the chance to prove
themselves in my books.

And just that thought got me thinking, before watching the
documentary I’d thought of an editor’s role as liaising with their writers,
including them in the process of putting a publication together as much as
possible, and overall creating a sense of working on the same team for the same
goal, not staff vs. editor.

Immediately upon arrival, editor Rachel Johnson (sister of
Boris) wrote off what she was told was one of the most popular sections of the
magazine, ‘Favourite Things’. She didn’t consult other staff, the editor whose
place she took, or most importantly, the readers. The result? Circulation
figures dropped and she reintroduced the piece a few issues later.

Without an editor you feel you can approach, it’s likely
staff would feel too nervous about suggesting new ideas and approaches, which
is when you would find yourself running a publication on your own effectively.

My past experience of working with editors has always been
positive and relaxed, and it works, so why not carry this on into the upper end
of the industry? I plan to involve all the other section editors and writers as
much as possible next year, it was even suggested I recruit a small team of
assistants – a suggestion I don’t think would have gone down well at The Lady
headquarters, but I think editing is about listening to the people around you.
You can edit a publication all by yourself, but you can’t account for the
circulation figures alone (unless you’re willing to spend more than what you
earn).

All this and then the narrator revealed that the only
editing Rachel Johnson had done previously was for her university newspaper
some years earlier. Maybe other students should share some advice with her to
help her build her experience a bit.

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