EXACTLY What It Takes to Be a Managing Editor

Illustration by Ramiro Roman

Last week, I asked you, the readers, what you’d like me to write about next. The response I got most often was “What are the duties of a Managing Editor?”

That’s a great choice! But, boy – this is going to be a LONG post.

I’m the Managing Editor of both a news site and Be a Freelance Blogger. So I have some personal experience in this particular area. I’ve also seen the Managing Editors of the publications I’ve written for in action.

The basic duties of a Managing Editor in today’s online world boil down to this:

Accepting and rejecting pitches. Some publications hire a separate Pitching Editor for these duties but, most of the time, they fall onto the shoulders of the ME.

Editing writers’ posts. As a Managing Editor, you’ll not only be looking for typos and grammatical errors in the posts you intend to publish, you’ll also be making minor rewrites to get the “tone” of the overall article correct, and you’ll also be keeping an eye out for a Call to Action (CTA) at the end so that the post’s final goal is fulfilled (getting shared/getting comments/selling something/whatever).

Uploading and formatting posts. It’s your job to make the posts look pretty before they’re published. This means adding in headers, enhancing certain sentences, adding in a photo or video, etc.

Writing posts yourself. As a Managing Editor you’ll often be called upon to write certain posts yourself. Generally, when something needs to be done RIGHT – and is “too hard” for your stable of writers – you’ll have to take on the task of writing the post yourself. Or, if you’re a publication that accepts guest posts and your buffer has run dry, it could be up to you to fill in the gap in the schedule. So don’t think your writing skills are going to go to waste just because you’re an editor now!

Maintaining a uniform social media presence. Again, some publications hire a separate person to take on the duties of updating the publication’s social media accounts. But, as the Managing Editor, it’ll be your duty – if not to write the updates yourself – to at least take a peek at what’s being written to make sure it’s “on target” with the publication’s overall branding/message. You may also have to edit copy before it’s sent out.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten the “basics” out of the way, I’m going to share some helpful tips to get all you aspiring Managing Editors out there on the path to success! 🙂

You Have to Keep Organized

I’ll admit it: Having severe OCD has actually been helpful for me in this regard. I’m ALL about labeling things and putting items in their proper place. And, while those traits are sometimes a nuisance to my roommates in my personal life, they’re invaluable in my role as a Managing Editor.

MEs absolutely MUST stay organized.

If you’re working for a smaller publication, or are simply looking for a way to keep your self-run blog updating consistently, then you can sometimes get away with loading all of the posts into the WordPress backend and scheduling them from there. You can use an online or physical calendar to help you keep track of what’s going out when.

Larger publications generally use Trello to keep organized.

Trello has the ability to set up multiple boards in order to keep track of pitches, drafts, finished posts, scheduled posts, etc. And it also allows you to tag the people you work with (like writers), and add colorful labels to distinguish certain aspects of the publishing process.

It sounds horrendously complicated, but, I promise, you get used to it quickly. At the time of this writing, Trello is built to be fairly intuitive and utilizes a simple drag-and-drop system that allows you to shift from phase-to-phase with ease.

Don’t Expect It to Be Easy

A lot of writers foolishly assume that the role of an editor is much “easier” than their own. After all, the posts are already written, so how hard could it be, right?

I’ll tell it to you straight: Most writers do NOT proofread – at all!

Out of the thousands of posts I’ve had my Managing Editor eyes on, only two or three of them were free of typos. Even the BEST writers in the business slip up – and it’s YOUR job to catch those slip ups before they hit the eyes of your readers.

Being an editor is HARD work, no bones about it.

In addition to there always being tiny typos, some writers just aren’t what you expected them to be…

Many writers will (somehow) make it past the pitching process, but then turn in a “final draft” that’s almost completely crap.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be in a position where you can tell said writer to “take a hike” and then move onto the next writer who actually CAN perform well. But, in some cases, you’ll be on a rushed deadline and you’ll have to make do with what you’ve been given.

In these cases, extensive rewriting may be in order to “save” the post before it gets published. Not only will you have to edit out typos and grammatical errors, you may have to add in paragraphs of your own to get the overall “tone” right.

To make matters worse, by the time YOU get a “finished” post, your publication deadline is nearer than ever before! While the writers were frittering their time away to produce something nearly unusable, your schedule has been flying by. So you’ll likely have to work QUICKLY as well as efficiently to get what’s been written ready for your audience.

Your Eyes WILL Hurt

Aching eyeballs are just a fact of life for Managing Editors.

Even if you’re careful to take breaks, the sheer number of things you have to read on your brightly-lit computer screen will eventually catch up to you and cause your eyes to burn.

There are little tricks you can use to stave off the pain – like enlarging the text you’re reading, or looking at it in different formats – but eventually it always catches up to you.

Speed is Good, But…

…accuracy is better.

If you’re a perfectionist, then the Managing Editor title might be a good one for you to don.

Although speed is highly-valued, especially since you’re working with tight deadlines, accuracy is ultimately the most important goal.

Speed won’t do ANYONE any good if the post you’re rushing to publish is utter garbage.

For example, if one of your writers types something ridiculous like “Honduras is part of Mexico” and you let it slip by you and get published… Well, you’re going to have a lot of upset people pounding on your virtual doors!

Make sure you PAY ATTENTION while you’re reading – and fact-check any outrageous claims made by your writers!

It’s Not JUST Typos

I alluded to this a few times earlier, but it deserves its own special place on this list, just to drive it thoroughly into your brain.

As a Managing Editor, you won’t “just” be looking for typos (and, believe me, there are ALWAYS typos). You’ll also be looking for grammar mistakes, tonal errors, and the placement of a CTA at the end of each post.

In addition to that, you’ll also be in charge of making sure that cited sources are accurate, and reputable.

You’ll also have to keep “readability” in mind, breaking up overly-large paragraphs into smaller ones so that you don’t strain your audience’s eyes or lose their attention.

Get to Know Your Writers

If you’re the ME of a publication that accepts guest posts from random writers, this can be a bit tricky. However, if you work for a large publication that has a “stable” of steady writers… get to know them!

Most importantly, you should be assessing their strengths and weaknesses so you know who to assign which story to. (Side note: handing out stories to the “staff” writers is also part of a Managing Editor’s duties).

And, to improve overall morale, you should get to know them on a personal basis as well. That way they know you’re an actual PERSON, and not just some evil entity that complains about typos all day long.

Many larger publications will set up a Slack, HipChat, or group Skype chat in order to socialize and let everyone get to know each other better.

Yep: Socializing is part of the job description.

Even if you work at a smaller publication that doesn’t have a “stable” of writers, you’ll still have to interact with guest writers via e-mail. Being a wallflower who stands aside and talks to no one is NOT an option when you’re an ME.

Good Sources and Images are Important

There are plenty of places where you can pay to get great images. And, most of the time, the company will set you up with an account so that you don’t have to shell that money out of your own pocket.

There are also some great free places to find images, if your publication has a smaller budget. My favorite is pixabay.

Citing sources can be a bit trickier.

For example, citing a Facebook post in a news article is NOT going to fly. So, if your writer has made this error, you’re going to have to go through and do a little research work. Keep clicking and clicking until you find the ORIGINAL source of the story.

You’re basically in charge of your publication’s reputation as being a reliable source of information. Make the extra effort to make sure any cited sites are up-to-par.

You Have to Write Too!

Just because you’re a Managing Editor now is no excuse to let your writing skills atrophy.

Like I stated at the beginning of this post, there will be several occurrences where you’ll have to step in and do some writing yourself.

The good news is, since you know your publication inside and out, your writing tasks will generally be easier than anyone else’s. Since you already have a grasp of the overall tone, and know where to place the CTA, you can zip through your articles with ease.

The hard part is having to edit your own work.

I don’t know why this is true, but it is: It’s much, much harder to spot typos in your own work than it is to spot them in someone else’s. But, as the Managing Editor, it’s your duty to make sure even YOUR pieces are PERFECT before getting published.

You DON’T Need a Degree

Just like you don’t need to go to college to become a freelance writer, you also don’t need a degree to become a Managing Editor.

What you DO need is:

  • Strong writing and editing skills.
  • Fierce organizational skills.
  • The ability and willingness to work as part of a team.
  • No ego (editors hardly get any credit for their hard work – the glory goes to the bylined writers!).
  • A perfect grasp of the “tone” of the publication you’re applying for.

That’s pretty much it. Not to say that any of those skills are “easy” to acquire, but, if you have them, then you have a great shot at getting a job as a Managing Editor.

Do you still have questions? Did I leave anything out? Let me know in the comments!

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7 comments on “EXACTLY What It Takes to Be a Managing Editor
  1. Jan Gioia says:

    That was a GREAT article, Lauren! You totally explained the duties of a Managing Editor in an article that was interesting and fast moving. Even though being a ME isn’t my goal, I was pulled in by the article and wanted to read until the end. And Ramiro’s pyramid illustration at the top of the post was priceless. Just too cute! Great post! Thanks for sharing your expertise with the world! You are definitely a writer who rocks! (And Ramiro is an illustrator who rocks!) 🙂

  2. Ivy S says:

    I am so glad you wrote about this! How to get into editing for blogs was going to be one of my questions for Sophie during my coaching.

    When you got your editing gigs, did you apply for a job posting, or were you asked to take on editing responsibilities from a blog you were already writing for?

    • Lauren Tharp says:

      I got my job for BAFB by leaving frequent comments on — and one time writing a post for — the blog. It caught Sophie’s attention, and she made me the Pitching Editor. A couple years later, I was promoted to ME. 🙂

      For the ME job at the news site, I applied for it via a job posting on ProBlogger.

  3. Charlene says:

    Wow, Lauren! This post came right on time for me, as I’ve been considering changing my ‘job search’ strategy to editing jobs, now ME jobs. 😉 I now have a better understanding of ME requirements, which interests me. Proofreading/editing/rewriting is right up my alley, but I’m moving really slow with it all, but I felt a strange sense of comfort from the article. Not needing a degree really stood out to me despite being confident about the skill (I’ve no idea why I thought differently), so thank you for the essence of your write-up! Along with brushing up on my technical skills with images and overcoming my slight (yet present) apprehension on reaching deadlines and cite sourcing, focusing more on being a ME may work better for me thanks to your in depth descriptions. A work in progress! The graphic rocked, btw. 🙂

    • Lauren Tharp says:

      Hey, Charlene! Thanks for commenting! It makes me happy to know that this post was useful. 😀 And I’ll be sure to pass along your compliment about the graphic to Ramiro (my roommate).

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