Editor: Leslie Monthan Company: Consumer Reports Number of years in editing: 22 years
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
Editing is actually my third career, after having been an actor and serving in the U.S. Navy. Which is another story for another day! But you could say copy editing was the day job that stuck. My bachelor’s degree was in dramatic theory, but my love was always performing. Like more than 95% of union actors, though, I had to work a lot of temp jobs to make ends meet, and copy editing was always something I had a knack for, first in a business context and eventually in magazine publishing and multimedia.
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
It’s more like the niche selected me. I landed in service journalism, and I find it suits me. I like working on material that empowers readers in their everyday decisions and dreams, that makes a difference in their lives. And we edit a great variety of material at CR, from investigative journalism to consumer advocacy to how to clean an air fryer.
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
Well, as with many companies during the pandemic, most of us are working from home full-time. I have the added factor of working remotely from Tucson, Arizona, where I recently moved—another long story—which means my day starts at zero-dark-thirty because of the time difference with the NYC area. So first, COFFEE! Most mornings start with virtual production meetings for the website and print publications, and a daily check-in with my team of three copy editors.
For the monthly magazine and most other print work we make assignments, but for our daily online news stories we operate something like a newsroom “slot,” with whoever’s available picking up what arrives in our shared inbox. That can be from eight to 15 or more articles a day, taking anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or so to turn around. Plus whatever else comes over the transom. Most of my job is overseeing and checking the copy team’s work, but I also pitch in and pick up online pieces when it gets extra-busy. I am also, of course, the main keeper of Consumer Reports’ stylebook, so I field a lot of questions from across the organization about style and grammar.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
I’ve always loved language, whether as an actor exploring Shakespeare or as a copy editor picking apart a thorny syntax problem. But what’s most rewarding is collaborating with a smart, fun, passionate group of professional journalists to create work we can all be proud of. And we cover such a wide array of topics on all sorts of issues affecting consumers. There’s no end to the learning curve!
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
Our team works hard, managing multiple streams of work—the magazine, news articles, website, social media, graphics, video scripts and text, white papers, and more—all in different workflows and on different deadlines. It takes a lot of coordination, a cool head, and a constant search for better efficiency. And a few late hours!
What are you currently working on?
Aside from our busy daily workload, we’ve been relaunching our editorial stylebook as a new internal Google Site. We’ve sought to make it an information hub for all things editorial, with a robust word list and supplemental topical guides and references. It’s now up and running, but any stylebook is always a work in progress, so we continue to tweak and update it.
On the personal front, I’m still settling into my new place. The next big project is assembling Ikea Billy bookshelves and then tricking them out to look built in. All those how-to projects I edited over the years do pay off!
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
First, know your reference sources and do your homework. When I first started as a copy editor I did a deep dive into every reference I could get my hands on. And always check your assumptions. The most dangerous blind spot is often “I was always taught that _____ is the rule.” For one thing, we were taught rules because that’s easier than teaching nuance. And many “rules” are really about usage and style. Listen to your gut, and check everything that makes you stumble or hesitate.
Second, understand that a lot of the job is being able to collaborate with people. You are helping the writer reach and serve the reader, not playing language cop. I’ve known more than one very capable copy editor who failed at the job because they were more concerned with being “right” than with working out a solution everyone could agree on. On a team, a collaborative attitude is especially important because you work with the same people every day, often under pressure. There are very few hills worth dying on—better to find the path around it. Make sure you can explain your edits and suggestions in plain, nonjudgmental language. Check your ego at the door, and be flexible and upbeat.
And definitely attend ACES conferences or boot camps and network with other editors! It’s fun, and you’ll come away recharged with fresh perspective and knowledge.