Our editors prove their ability to straddle both skill sets
“Editing” is an umbrella type of word — a vague term that encompasses a lot of different tasks. But not all editors perform the same work, and not all pieces require the same skill set.
All editors care about language — the phrasing, the precision, the cadence, the imagery it evokes. And if you love and care about language, your first instinct is to correct or tweak less-than-perfect usage. So there’s a real temptation, when a piece arrives in an editor’s inbox, to immediately dig into the language itself.
But it’s a lot smarter to resist that temptation and instead read through the piece from start to finish. Why?
Because often a piece requires macro work: reordering chunks of text, smoothing out bumpy transitions, building a more effective lead or conclusion, resolving confusing chronology, adding missing context, realizing where a great story or quote can do double the work of narrative. And once an editor gets deep into the specifics of phrasing, distinguishing between single or double quotation marks, or fact-checking dates, chances are they’ll lose their awareness of the bigger picture.
So even if the bulk of an editor’s time will be spent on the details, it’s always smart to look out for the big-picture issues before attacking those semicolons.
here are, of course, editors who can do it all — macro and micro, big-picture and nitty-gritty, flow and fact-checks. But in an ideal setup (and this is what we aim for), each staff member’s job description should capitalize on their most outstanding ability.
Some editors are better suited to that big-picture review. They can identify issues like angle, flow, clarity, and structure with an almost instinctual ease. Other editors know precisely how to break up a quote for maximum effect, or relish the opportunity to finesse a translated term, or summon up their vast knowledge of history, politics, or economics to catch a near-miss. It’s a waste of time and talent to task the big-picture editor with a nitty-gritty edit, or a detail-minded editor with a massive restructuring assignment.
In an ideal world, the macro editor will analyze the message, delivery, and structure of a first draft and ask a writer to resolve any macro issues. Like, “Can you get me some more quotes from your interviewee about that?” or “This section is sagging, let’s move the material into an informational sidebar,” or “This could be a great conclusion if you moved it down.” Then, after the final draft is submitted to a line editor, it will be treated to that intense focus on the micro details.
This is a weekly magazine with tight deadlines, though, and reality doesn’t always adhere to the ideal. Sometimes time doesn’t allow for the utopian divider between macro and micro. Sometimes it’s a closing day, the printers are losing their patience, and a last-minute piece has just arrived. It’s full of great material, but not only does the writing need attention, the structure and flow need work too.
That’s when our editors prove their ability to straddle both skill sets — rephrasing individual words while reordering paragraphs or entire sections, moving the middle to the end while slipping in the right attribution to that quote, finessing a transition while double-checking the spelling of that politician’s name. And while we hope it doesn’t happen every week, it can be challenging and exhilarating to step outside the macro or micro box and, every now and then, try to do it all.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 966)
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