Editors as managers

Jim Sernoe | Midwestern State University

Although the editing course is often a hands-on skills course (and as technology changes, it seems we have more and more skills we need to teach), I spend about three weeks each semester on personnel management. My thinking is that many people become editors because they were promoted after being good reporters, but they have no idea what awaits them aside from the obvious tasks of editing articles, doling out assignments, and making decisions regarding layout. As supervisors, today’s editors often find themselves overwhelmed with the administrative tasks – hiring/firing, discipline, "people" problems, budget, etc.

I begin by having the students list three to five things they loved about their favorite boss (it can be from any job, not necessarily just a job in our field), as well as three to five things they hated about their most loathed boss. We then create lists on the board, and I often find similar traits, regardless of the specific job (e.g., bosses who were “unfair,” “played favorites” and “gave no guidance but got mad when it wasn’t done the way they wanted it done”; bosses who were “fair,” “understanding,” “specific” and “supportive”).

I then spend some time on what, exactly, an editor does, in the non-journalistic sense:

  • payroll/tax forms/bureaucracy
  • correspondence (letters, e-mail, memos, etc.)
  • dealing with the public (e.g., complaints from readers, viewers, sources, etc., or making appearances at functions, charity events, banquets, schools)
  • interviewing/hiring; training/orientation
  • evaluation/discipline/firing/promoting

We discuss the practical skills needed as well as legal considerations.

We then move on to models of management (such as mentor/coach/role model and boss/disciplinarian) as well as the continuum between rigid/authoritarian and flexible/democratic. We discuss which works better, in which kinds of situations, and with which types of employees (highly motivated, responsible, lazy, apathetic, etc.).

I conclude with several case studies, in which the students are given situations and asked to describe what they would do as editor. These are often real-life examples.

Student evaluations have consistently been positive for this part of the course. The topic is often not covered anywhere else, yet it is a reality of the field.

Examples of my case studies are at left.

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