Nine(ish) points on thinking like an editor with Bill Elsen

My first session today was with retired Washington Post editor Bill Elslen, who now works as a consultant helping young journalists and news staffs do their jobs better.

At the beginning, Elslen said he was going to give nine points about how to be a good editor of a campus newspaper. Throughout his 50-minute talk, I couldn’t quite identify exactly which points made up the nine, but a few really jumped out an me.

  1. Strive to be the best at everything-You have no right bossing other people around if you can’t do what they do. So be the best reporter, videographer, photographer, etc. Those under you will respect you more.
  2. Know how to criticize people-Don’t belittle them in front of others, never email negative criticism and remember that positive criticism is just as important as negative.
  3. Your main job is your obligation to your readers and your secondary job is leaving a legacy to pick up the torch-If you’ve done right, the paper will continue on a great path when your tenure is up. There will be people and a system in place that will endure.
The one thing in the session I wasn’t too keen on was Elslen’s implied disapproval when he mentioned visiting Vanderbilt, and finding that newspaper staffers were prioritizing class over their jobs at the paper. At Elon, we’re always told that our academics should come first and that’s how I think it should be. Our education should be the top priority.
But by far, my favorite quote of the session was said in several ways multiple times. The one that summed it up best was
Anybody who plagiarizes now is dumber than a post.
-Rachel Southmayd

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