Here are some thoughts on the best editor I’ve ever had.
The most important function of the best editor I’ve ever had was to shield his reporters from the noise upstairs. That is, as a section editor, he distilled the shifting, vague, ill-conceived directives of upper management into something more manageable and sensical. Sometimes, I’m pretty sure, he didn’t relay their orders at all. And he did this so exquisitely that not only did his reporters love him, his bosses loved him, too.
Of course, this took a huge toll. Sometimes his editors would ask for something so ridiculous, he’d refuse to shovel it onto one of us and he’d write it himself. The endless meetings were another thing. It’s a lot of stress.
Two things I learned from him about being an editor:
If you’ve hired talented journalists, you should leave them alone and let them do their jobs. Don’t stifle a writer by over-editing perfectly good copy to suit your voice; otherwise, they’ll be writing scared, trying to guess how you’d do it.
And avoid negatives. With creative people, threats and disparagement cause them to freeze up, and they’ll perform worse. That goes for anything from line edits to productivity. (e.g. “I’ve seen you write better ledes than this; try again with the most important information and an active verb up front.” “I’d be happy to give you a raise if you can knock out two or three more stories every week.”)
Thanks, Bobbie Johnson. Looking forward to more!