Number of years in editing: Thirty-eight years. About 10 in newspapers and the rest in higher education.
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
My first editing experience was as editor of my college weekly newspaper, a mixed bag of copyediting, supervising student journalists and battling student government. You know, the usual. My real editing career started after graduation in 1983 and came more slowly as I worked in community newspapers, moving from reporter on dailies to bureau chief/weekly editor to starting my own weekly. The big jump came when I joined a college, later moving to a university, where I copyedit print and digital projects, serve as editor of the university magazine and oversee the news website (as well as handle media relations).
What is your area of focus, and why did you select this niche?
I chose higher education, specifically Christian higher education, as my focus because I was looking for a job at a particular college I admired—which I got—after burning myself out on that weekly newspaper (sometimes your dreams are not what they seem). Quite the change from the push and pull of daily news, but I stay because the variety in higher education keeps it from feeling like a straitjacket. University campuses are also great places to work, with intelligent people and facilities that beat a newsroom.
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
A typical day includes proofing admission ads for spelling, grammar, keystroke errors and university style; copyediting longer corporate pieces, including checking facts and clarifying language (many of our execs are big-picture people so I need to make sure details are consistent); and planning or editing articles for the university magazine, depending on where we are in the never-ending production cycle. As part of the Advancement Office, much of what I do relates to fundraising. Oh, and responding to faculty who don’t understand why our AP-centric university won’t use the serial comma or call academics “Dr.”
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
I love putting a final polish on a project and sending it off into the world. I also still enjoy beating the bushes to flush out the last typo.
What is your biggest challenge, and how do you work through this?
Definitely keeping my work life fresh. COVID upped my consumption of webinars, but I’m finding little for people like me—journeyman editors with more of their career behind than ahead who don’t want to climb the corporate ladder but still want to remain relevant in their workplace and excited about their work. I need to keep an eye on myself as well. While I hate the phrase “This is the way we’ve always done it,” as someone who has been at my place of employment much longer than most of my regular co-workers (25 years) and all but one member of the executive suite I have to watch whether any history lesson I’m tempted to provide would be appropriate. Institutional memory is not appreciated when it’s seen as a blocking device.
What are you currently working on?
Planning the fall issue of the magazine, a presidential update email on COVID-19 protocols, admission ads and a couple of short articles, one on a grant and the other on a new online program.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
This field could be your life! Spend the first five years attending all the conferences, webinars and other developmental programs you can—that seems to be the level those experiences are aimed at.
Wherever you are in your career, there are great books. My favorites include "The Copyeditor’s Handbook," "The Careful Writer," "On Writing Well," "Copyediting: A Practical Guide," "Woe is I" and "The Elements of Style." For great short writing, the hardest to pull off, that features precision editing, try "Floating Off the Page: Stories from The Wall Street Journal’s ‘Middle Column.’"
Also, make some friends, especially if you, like me, are the only one at your place that does what you do.
Last, protect your time; it’s all you have. Don’t let the ability to work any time anywhere become the obligation to work all the time everywhere.