At “Thinking Like an Editor” this morning, a session led by retired Washington Post editor Bill Elsen, several motifs were prevalent that all editors should remember. Foremost in my mind is the simple statement that a newsroom is a team. Even in the hierarchical structure in which the editor-in-chief, managing editor and section editors are leaders, it can never be forgotten that a publication is not successful unless everyone accepts one newsroom as a cohesive unit: a team. Although Elsen offered perspectives from a professional publication, much of his session transitioned well into college newspapers. For example, he discussed class rankings, and how freshmen and sophomores can offer just as much intelligent insight and contribution to a publication as an upperclassman with the editor title. In general, colleges and organizations can place a lot of pressure on class rankings, so it was refreshing to hear a professional discuss the contrary.
Elsen also discussed how editors and reporters interact with one another, particularly new reporters. His emphasis on face-to-face communication and assuming the role of trainer, in addition to editor, particularly stood out to me. As features editor, I would like to implement this more with new reporters, as I have noticed a huge difference in reporter-editor relationships and overall quality in writing once a face-to-face meeting has been established. Showing a new reporter what could be corrected, in a way that isn’t bossy or patronizing, is an essential tool in producing quality content and in allowing new reporters to develop their skills so that they can eventually replace the legacy you leave behind.
One statement that made me chuckle a bit inwardly was to simply get out of the bubble. At Elon, we are notorious for being caught inside a bubble, so I felt this advice was not only ironic, but appropriate. Reporters and editors alike have to push themselves to think outside the box, and Elsen’s session was great in encouraging young journalists to do just that: to think in new ways and to see a story in a new light. A journalist must also be a people person, said Elsen; to be outgoing, curious and, naturally, nosy.
Elsen’s session covered a lot of ground in just 50 short minutes, so here are some snapshots I particularly liked:
- Be versatile and flexible.
- Create an individual manual and stylebook for each publication.
- If you make mistakes, accept them.
- Know everything you can about ethics.
- Your responsibility is to your audience.
- Good editors think in the present and in the future.
- Leave behind a staff that will continue to produce an excellent publication.