When I look back at the many editors who I've had the honour to write for in the past 20 years, I'm astounded by the journalism lessons gleaned from those relationships.
I've written for around 40 publications, which means more than 40 editors (since they come and go from outlets, and for one magazine I've worked with four editors). Some have been lacklustre in their communication and editing skills, while others have been astounding in how they shape stories, root out unclear ideas, and suggest ways to sharpen the feature. I'm not a fan of naming names of those who've impressed me, since those I don't name might feel slighted.
From more than one editor, I learned the importance of telling them ASAP if I had to file late. Missing deadlines is a no-no for writers, but editors will usually be understanding if a) you explain early enough why you're late and b) There's a real reason behind the delay. It could be that sources aren't getting back to you, or a family emergency popped up. Either way, I'm not vague about missing deadlines, the odd time I do, because I know, being an editor, how crucial hitting deadlines can be for publishing calendars.
I've worked with editors who valued clarity over flourishing prose, the latter of which I can be guilty of sometimes (I'm a poet, can you blame me?!). I've wised up the value of blending both clear writing and original phrasing so readers can be carried on this ride without getting confused by the points I'm trying to make. It's easy to be enamoured with your own wordplay but if you aren't providing any momentum forward in your writing, what's the point?
Skilled editors will also know which holes in a story need filled. If I lean too much on one source's viewpoint and quotes, an editor might tell me to interview this or that source who can provide balance to the story. Or maybe I didn't flesh out a stat with enough context. By highlighting these omissions, editors simply make me a better journalist, and I rarely commit this type of imbalance any longer.
Finally, it's integral for writers to remember the human behind their editor's keyboard. This comes up most when the invoices are filed, the payment has yet to come. It's tempting to keep pestering editors until you get your cheque but editors are often not responsible for accounting and payroll. What I learned a long time ago, and also from being behind the keyboard as editor/publisher, is how someone's rep can be tarnished when they constantly badger editors for payment.
While I heartily agree there are too many delays for freelancers to get their fees, the editors shouldn't be blamed. I always try to get the email addy of the accounting rep since paying writers is their domain. Nudge the right people. Don't bother already-busy editors with matters they can't control.
I'm also interested in learning what you've learned from editors, in any field. Comment below or engage with me on Twitter via @SilverbergDave.
About David's Blog
I write about journalism, freelancing, the arts, Toronto, technology, sports and why egg nog is under-rated.