Newspaper editors assign, review, edit, rewrite, and lay out all copy in a newspaper except advertisements. Editors sometimes write stories or editorials that offer opinions on issues. Editors review the editorial page and copy written by staff or syndicated columnists. A large metropolitan daily newspaper staff may include various editors who process thousands of words into print daily. A small town staff of a weekly newspaper, however, may include only one editor, who might be both owner and star reporter. Large metropolitan areas, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., employ many editors. Approximately 127,000 editors work for publications of all types in the United States.
Newspaper Editor Career History
Journalism may have begun in Rome with the regular publication of reports called Acta Diurna, or “Daily Acts,” begun in 59 b.c. They reported political news and social events on a daily basis. In China, a journal called the pao was published on a regular basis from a.d. 618 until 1911, recording activities of the court. The first regularly printed European newspapers appeared in the early 1700s in Germany, The Netherlands, and Italy. The Dutch corantos, composed of items from the foreign press, were translated into English and French around 1620. The first English newspaper is considered to be the Weekly Newes, initially published in 1622. Until 1644, the news in English journals was controlled by the Star Chamber, a court that censored any unfavorable information about the king. Interestingly, also in 1644, the chamber was dismissed, and the English enjoyed the first semblance of freedom of the press. It was not until 1670 that the term “newspaper” came into use.
Benjamin Harris, an English journalist who emigrated to the United States, published the first American colonial newspaper in Boston in 1690, but because of the repressive climate of the times, it was immediately closed down by the British governor.
The first regularly circulated newspaper in the colonies was the Boston News-Letter, a weekly first published in 1704 by John Campbell. The press at this time still operated under rather severe government restrictions, but the struggle for freedom of the press grew, and before the end of the century, journalists were able to print the news without fear of repression.
The need for newspaper editors grew rapidly through the 19th and early 20th centuries as the demand for newspapers grew, causing circulation to jump from thousands to millions. New technology allowed the newspaper industry to meet the demand. Presses were invented that could produce newspapers by the millions on a daily basis.
In the 19th century, newspaper publishers began to endorse political candidates and to take stands on other political and social issues. They also came to be sources of entertainment. When Benjamin Day founded the New York Sun in 1833, he sought to do more than inform. The paper’s pages were filled with news from the police beat as well as gossip, disasters, animal stories, and anecdotes. Other papers of the era began to print sports news, particularly horse racing and prize fights, society pages, and the business news from Wall Street. By the mid-19th century, there was an outpouring of human interest news, and journalists discovered the public appetite for scandal. By the end of the century, a number of newspaper editors were famed for their craft, including Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, Charles A. Dana of the New York Sun, and William Allen White of the Kansas Gazette.
Newspaper sensationalism reached its peak during the last years of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th. The most notable figure in this period of “yellow journalism” was William Randolph Hearst. He built a vast newspaper empire by playing on the emotions of his readership. Hearst often fabricated news, as did others, including his chief rival of the period, Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World. Perhaps the most glaring example of this type of journalism was Hearst and Pulitzer’s exaggerated treatment of Spanish atrocities in Cuba, which incited public sentiment for war against Spain. Historians feel that the news coverage was at least partially responsible for the declaration of war that came in 1898. Although most newspapers through the 20th century have adhered to ethical journalistic practices, a number of dailies and weekly tabloids, protected by freedom of the press, continue to exploit the sensationalist market. Journalists in general, however, have adopted codes, such as that of the Society of Professional Journalists, which stress responsibility, freedom of the press, ethics, accuracy, objectivity, and fair play.
By the 20th century, newspapers became big business. Many newspaper publishing companies became corporate conglomerates that owned printing plants, radio and television stations, paper plants, forest acreage, and other related assets. Most of the profits came from advertising dollars as newspapers became the leading medium for advertising. As costs rose, it took more and more advertising to support the news portion of the paper, until advertising occupied most of the space in almost all U.S. newspapers. The amount of advertising, in most cases, now determines the amount of news coverage a newspaper carries. Eventually, many newspapers could not withstand the rising costs and the increased competition from television. From the mid-20th-century newspapers started declining at a rapid rate. Between 1962 and 1990, for instance, the number of daily papers in the United States fell from 1,761 to 1,626.
As some papers failed, others, especially in large cities, grew as they took over new circulation. The major metropolitan dailies continued to add new and more exciting features in order to keep up with the competition, especially television.
From the beginning of the century, newspapers had been expanding their coverage, and on large papers, editorial departments came to be divided into many specialty areas, requiring reporters and editors with equivalent specialties. Today, most newspapers have departments devoted to entertainment, sports, business, science, consumer affairs, education, and just about every other area of interest in today’s society. Many also have online versions which feature articles from print editions as well as Internet exclusives.
Newspaper Editor Job Description
Newspaper editors are responsible for the paper’s entire news content. The news section includes features, “hard” news, and editorial commentary. Editors of a daily paper plan the contents of each day’s issue, assigning articles, reviewing submissions, prioritizing stories, checking wire services, selecting illustrations, and laying out each page with the advertising space allotted.
At a large daily newspaper, an editor in chief oversees the entire editorial operation, determines its editorial policy, and reports to the publisher. The managing editor is responsible for day-to-day operations in an administrative capacity. Story editors, or wire editors, determine which national news agency (or wire service) stories will be used and edit them. Wire services give smaller papers, without foreign correspondents, access to international stories.
A city editor gathers local and sometimes state and national news. The city editor hires copy editors and reporters, hands out assignments to reporters and photographers, reviews and edits stories, confers with executive editors on story content and space availability, and gives stories to copy editors for final editing.
A newspaper may have separate desks for state, national, and foreign news, each with its own head editor. Some papers have separate editorial page editors. The department editors oversee individual features; they include business editors, fashion editors, sports editors, book section editors, entertainment editors, and more. Department heads make decisions on coverage, recommend story ideas, and make assignments. They often have backgrounds in their department’s subject matter and are highly skilled at writing and editing.
The copy desk, the story’s last stop, is staffed by copy editors, who correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes; check for readability and sense; edit for clarification; examine stories for factual accuracy; and ensure the story conforms to editorial policy. Copy editors sometimes write headlines or picture captions and may crop photos. Occasionally they find serious problems that cause them to kick stories back to the editors or the writer.
Editors, particularly copy editors, base many of their decisions on a stylebook that provides preferences in spelling, grammar, and word usage; it indicates when to use foreign spellings or English translations and the preferred system of transliteration. Some houses develop their own stylebooks, but often they use or adapt the Associated Press Stylebook.
After editors approve the story’s organization, coverage, writing quality, and accuracy, they turn it over to the news editors, who supervise article placement and determine page layout with the advertising department. News and executive editors discuss the relative priorities of major news stories. If a paper is divided into several sections, each has its own priorities.
Modern newspaper editors depend heavily on computers. Generally, a reporter types the story directly onto the computer network, providing editors with immediate access. Some editorial departments are situated remotely from printing facilities, but computers allow the printer to receive copy immediately upon approval. Today, designers computerize page layout. Many columnists send their finished columns from home computers to the editorial department via e-mail.
Newspaper Editor Career Requirements
English is the most important school subject for any future editor. You must have a strong grasp of the English language, including vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation, and you must be able to write well in various styles. Study journalism and take communications-related courses. Work as a writer or editor for your school paper or yearbook. Computer classes that teach word processing software and how to navigate the Internet will be invaluable in your future research. You absolutely must learn to type. If you cannot type accurately and rapidly, you will be at an extreme disadvantage.
Other subjects are important, too. Editors have knowledge in a wide range of topics, and the more you know about history, geography, math, the sciences, the arts, and culture, the better a writer and editor you will be.
Look for a school with strong journalism and communications programs. Many programs require you to complete two years of liberal arts studies before concentrating on journalism studies. Journalism courses include reporting, writing, and editing; press law and ethics; journalism history; and photojournalism. Advanced classes include feature writing, investigative reporting, and graphics. Some schools offer internships for credit.
When hiring, newspapers look closely at a candidate’s extracurricular activities, putting special emphasis on internships, school newspaper and freelance writing and editing, and part-time newspaper work (stringing). Typing, computer skills, and knowledge of printing are helpful.
To be a successful newspaper editor, you must have a love of learning, reading, and writing. You should enjoy the process of discovering information and presenting it to a wide audience in a complete, precise, and understandable way. You must be detail-oriented and care about the finer points of accuracy, not only in writing, but in reporting and presentation. You must be able to work well with coworkers, both giving and taking direction, and you must be able to work alone. Editors can spend long hours sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen.
Exploring Newspaper Editor Career
One of the best ways to explore this job is by working on your school’s newspaper or other publication. You will most probably start as a staff writer or proofreader, but the experience will help you understand editing and how it relates to the entire field of publishing.
Keeping a journal is another good way to polish your writing skills and explore your interest in writing and editing your own work. In fact, any writing project will be helpful, since editing and writing are inextricably linked. Make an effort to write every day, even if it is only a few paragraphs. Try different kinds of writing, such as letters to the editor, short stories, poetry, essays, comedic prose, and plays.
There are approximately 127,000 editors in the United States. Generally, newspaper editors are employed in every city or town, as most towns have at least one newspaper. As the population multiplies, so do the opportunities. In large metropolitan areas, there may be one or two daily papers, several general interest weekly papers, ethnic and other special-interest newspapers, trade newspapers, and daily and weekly community and suburban newspapers. All of these publications need managing and department editors. Online papers also provide opportunities for editors.
A typical route of entry into this field is by working as an editorial assistant or proofreader. Editorial assistants perform clerical tasks as well as some proofreading and other basic editorial tasks. Proofreaders can learn about editorial jobs while they work on a piece by looking at editors’ comments on their work.
Job openings can be found using school placement offices, classified ads in newspapers and trade journals, and specialized publications such as Publishers Weekly (http://www.publishersweekly.com/). In addition, many publishers have Web sites that list job openings, and large publishers often have telephone job lines that serve the same purpose.
Newspaper editors generally begin working on the copy desk, where they progress from less significant stories and projects to major news and feature stories. A common route to advancement is for copy editors to be promoted to a particular department, where they may move up the ranks to management positions. An editor who has achieved success in a department may become a city editor, who is responsible for news, or a managing editor, who runs the entire editorial operation of a newspaper.
Salaries for newspaper editors vary from small to large communities, but editors generally are well compensated. Other factors affecting compensation include quality of education and previous experience, job level, and the newspaper’s circulation. Large metropolitan dailies offer higher-paying jobs, while outlying weekly papers pay less.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual income for newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers editors was $44,620 in 2004. Salaries for all editors ranged from less than $26,490 to more than $82,070 annually.
On many newspapers, salary ranges and benefits, such as vacation time and health insurance, of most nonmanagerial editorial workers are negotiated by the Newspaper Guild.
The environments in which editors work vary widely. For the most part, publishers of all kinds realize that a quiet atmosphere is conducive to work that requires tremendous concentration. It takes an unusual ability to edit in a noisy place. Most editors work in private offices or cubicles. Even in relatively quiet surroundings, however, editors often have many distractions. In many cases, editors have computers that are exclusively for their own use, but in others, editors must share computers that are located in a common area.
Deadlines are an important issue for virtually all editors. Newspaper editors work in a much more pressured atmosphere than other editors because they face daily or weekly deadlines. To meet these deadlines, newspaper editors often work long hours. Some newspaper editors start work at 5:00 a.m., others work until 11:00 p.m. or even through the night. Those who work on weekly newspapers, including feature editors, columnists, and editorial page editors, usually work more regular hours.
Newspaper Editor Career Outlook
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment for editors and writers, while highly competitive, should grow about as fast as the average through 2014. Opportunities will be better on small daily and weekly newspapers, where the pay is lower. Some publications hire freelance editors to support reduced full-time staffs. And as experienced editors leave the workforce or move to other fields, job openings will occur.