Editor: Dante A. Ciampaglia Company: College Board Number of years in editing: My first assignment as a writer, to review the Keanu Reeves film Hardball, was September 11, 2001. Needless to say the screening, scheduled for a theater by the Pittsburgh International Airport, didn’t happen. But I stuck with trying to write about movies, which led to the A&E Editor position a couple years later. I’ve been editing ever since (a few layoff interruptions notwithstanding).
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
My first editing job came in 2003, when I ran the Arts & Entertainment section of The Pitt News, the University of Pittsburgh’s independent student newspaper. It was a job I wanted (and stayed in school an extra year to do), but a journalism career was never a dream or goal. As a kid in Pittsburgh, I didn’t idolize writers or editors; I don’t think I even knew “journalist” was a job people had. I read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette when it was in the house and watched the evening news, but in my middle-class blue-collar world people worked in mills, factories, hospitals, and occasionally offices. My mom was a steelworker who retrained herself, after the mills closed in the early 1980s, to work in the burgeoning healthcare industry. (The Post-Gazette actually profiled her when the city grappled with what came after steel!) My uncle was the rare professional— a nuclear engineer—and when I was finally forced to decide, in high school, how to spend my life, I thought I’d be an aerospace engineer. I loved space, math, and science, so why not? But it turned out I had a wandering eye that drifted toward filmmaking then journalism, which is where it (mostly) settled.
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
Because of the nature of media in the 21st century, I never had the luxury of concentrating on one coverage area. I’m sure that has hurt me professionally, but it has allowed me to grow in lots of directions. I’ve bounced from Scholastic News to Sports Illustrated to TIME to Newsweek to my current gig, at the College Board where I edit The Elective. This has allowed me to edit arts and culture, news and politics, sports, science, opinion, and education. I’ve edited adults and children, and I’ve edited journalism for adults and journalism for kids. (One of the best jobs I’ve had was running the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps and working with kid reporters, aged 9-13, across the country to cover everything from presidential elections to the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy to red-carpet premieres and interviews with celebrities.) Every job I’ve had since moving to New York in 2008 has been for an online publication, which presented so many opportunities to experiment, adapt, and learn more about the news-gathering and business sides of this profession. And I’m the better for it. Is it fair to say digital is my focus?
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
My day-to-day work has shifted a bit, so I’m in the process of restructuring how I spend my workday. But usually, it involves editing copy that has come in, searching Getty for images to go with it, producing and publishing the story, and going door to (virtual) door to build support and gather ideas for The Elective. I’m also in lots more strategy and planning meetings lately, which has upended my work-day routine a bit. And I’m working with my wife to care for our daughter and ensure we both have the time and space to get our work done. Time management is always a battle, but I’ve resorted to trying to be at my desk early in the morning (around 7 a.m.) to get a jump start on work before the toddler wakes up and the day becomes unpredictable.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
Working with writers, helping them shape their ideas, and, sometimes, find their voice is a remarkable privilege and I’m thankful for it every day. But I really love the strategic nature of being an editor: looking at a section, or an entire publication, finding where improvement can happen, and building on its strengths to realize it. It’s often frustrating, especially when you have to sell it to your colleagues, but it’s always fun—especially when you can create something new and, hopefully, impactful, be it a special reporting package, a new vertical, a podcast or video series, or a reconceptualized website.
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
If I were answering this question a year ago, I would’ve had a more nuts-and-bolts answer. But today, 12 months into the pandemic, the greatest challenge is balancing output and expectations with childcare. My wife is a freelancer, and we’ve been without childcare for our daughter, essentially, for a year. It was relatively easy at first, but when she turned 2 everything got cranked to 11. We’re absolutely not in the worst possible situation, but this is still our reality and it’s difficult to manage deadlines and workplace demands with caring for and entertaining our daughter. And since our Brooklyn apartment is now also our office, it often feels like there’s no space for a breather or mental-health break. I clearly haven’t figured out how to work through this yet. But if anyone has any advice or suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
What are you currently working on?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m the editor of The Elective, a digital education magazine launched last March by the College Board. I’m now building on that website to design a broader brand journalism strategy. It’s still early days, so check back with me in a few months to see how it’s going. But it’s very exciting with a ton of potential for telling good stories and creating exceptional journalism about students, teachers, communities, and leaders doing great, important work—especially in parts of the country often overlooked by legacy outlets.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
Never stop learning, and always come to the work with empathy. That sounds trite, but I’ve worked with a lot of editors who feel like, no, actually, they know everything they need thanksverymuch. They’re usually the ones who have the worst relationships with their writers, are often responsible for lousy copy, and are the least interesting people in the newsroom. There’s always a ton to learn, no matter your beat, and being receptive to new skills and opportunities keeps this job super interesting. But there’s a lot to learn from your colleagues, too—other editors, sure, but also your writers. I’ve been blessed with some amazing mentors—Peter Leo, David Hajdu, Suzanne Freeman, Bob Roe, Mary Kaye Schilling—and I learn something every time I talk with them. But I’ve also grown in incalculable ways thanks to the people I’ve edited, especially the kid reporters. They’ve all made me, and make me, a better and more supportive editor. The more open you are to the advice, guidance, and criticism of your mentors and colleagues, the better editor you’ll be—and the happier you’ll be—in the job.