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How to Become a Magazine Editor in 4 Steps: Essential Skills Every Magazine Editor Must Master

Written by MasterClass

Sep 5, 2019 • 5 min read

When one thinks of iconic magazines, be it Vogue, The New Yorker, or Vanity Fair, one might immediately think about famous authors or prominent subjects of cover stories. But behind the scenes is someone overseeing everything from issue themes to layout to the phrasing of individual sentences. That person is the magazine’s editor.

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What Is a Magazine Editor?

A magazine’s editor-in-chief is the individual who oversees all matters of content in that magazine. Topics that fall under the editor-in-chief’s purview include:

  • The slate of stories appearing in a given issue
  • Writers assigned to particular stories
  • Word count for each story
  • The budget allocated to each writer, both for expenses and for their personal fee
  • Layout and artwork
  • Proofreading and fact-checking the truthfulness of published content
  • Specific choices regarding syntax, grammar, and conciseness

Beneath the editor-in-chief, most magazines staff other editing positions to oversee various aspects of the publication. These individuals may have titles like executive editor, senior editor, managing editor, associate editor, content editor, assistant editor, copy editor, and more. These roles tend to be full-time positions that are paid via an annual salary. On small scale magazines, they often constitute part-time work.

What Does a Magazine Editor Do?

The specific tasks of a magazine’s editor-in-chief will vary by publication, but they may include any of the following:

  • Meeting regularly with the magazine’s publisher or CEO to discuss circulation, target audience, and human resources—including adding new jobs or eliminating redundant ones
  • Supervising the entire writing staff, from staff reporters to editors to high school interns
  • Strategic planning of the magazine’s upcoming initiatives, features, and investigations
  • Hiring subordinates to oversee specialized areas of the magazine
  • Overseeing the magazine as a whole and making sure that each department is working to its fullest potential
  • Brainstorming story ideas
  • Making large-scale editing decisions about what content will be published and what will not
  • Making decisions about visual aesthetics, layout, and cover art

Beneath the editor-in-chief lies a staff of editors with more specialized tasks. These may include:

  • Assigning stories to beat reporters or features writers
  • Personally following up to confirm a story’s accuracy
  • Helping coordinate photoshoots (which are necessary for publications ranging from fashion magazines to news publications to science and tech periodicals)
  • Making sure that writers meet deadlines that enable the rest of the staff to do their jobs in a timely manner
  • Copy editing, which means actually checking, correcting, and rewriting sections of a story marked for publication
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2 Essential Skills Every Magazine Editor Must Master

A magazine editor should be thorough, driven, a stickler for detail, ethical, and passionate about an industry that operates on thinner margins than it did at the apex of print media. These important qualities are shared by most senior-level editors throughout the industry.

  1. Excellent journalism and reporting skills. The best kind of work experience to prepare you for magazine editing is to work in another area of the journalism industry. Many editors are former reporters, copywriters, fact-checkers, or editorial assistants who were able to sharpen their writing skills and gain experience in the field before shifting to editing. Many majored in humanities such as English and comparative literature, while many more attended journalism school. Regardless of your college major, a magazine editor in the must have a firm grasp of the English language in order to coax strong writing out of their staff.
  2. Solid management skills. A magazine editor also needs strong management skills. Editors-in-chief supervise an entire newsroom of hardworking reporters, and even more subordinate editors tend to supervise staff. A combination of noble intent, firm expectations, and emotional intelligence can portend great success for an editor as a manager of her colleagues.

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How to Become a Magazine Editor in 4 Steps

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Few people are fortunate enough to go directly from school to becoming a magazine editor. Typically, you will have to begin with an entry-level position and even these will most likely require a bachelor’s degree. These jobs are posted on standard job boards and on employment-focused websites like LinkedIn.

  1. Work with a recruiter. Working with a recruiter can help you become aware of where you need to start. Be prepared for long hours with little pay; it requires legitimate passion to last in the magazine industry.
  2. Start as a general assignment reporter. Another way to get a foot in the door is to start as a reporter. The smaller the publication, the easier it is to get a job. Newspapers and TV stations in small towns throughout the United States may be an easier place to get a start than in media capitals like New York and Washington. Blogging is another good option, although it can be hard to stand out in the mix. You can also try to work as a freelance writer for a period of time, which will give you more experience at a variety of publications.
  3. Utilize your contacts. If you personally know people in the magazine industry, seek them out. Offer to buy them lunch and be direct with them about your aspiration to become a magazine editor. People love to be asked for career advice, so be proactive and seek it. Remember: your friends and colleagues can’t know what you desire unless you tell them. So if you want to work in publishing, whether as a magazine editor or any other position, speak up and let it be known. If nothing else, friends may start alerting you to open opportunities.
  4. Work your way up. Once you know what kind of magazine you want to work for—be it business, fashion, general news, science, or other specialist publication—apply for jobs best suited to your skills. Once you have your foot in the door, work your way up slowly. Be responsive, diligent, and creative. Make sure your superiors know your career aspirations and be prepared to show them how you want to achieve them.

Want to Become a Magazine Editor?

No one knows magazines better than the legendary Anna Wintour, who has served as Vogue editor-in-chief since 1988. In Anna Wintour’s MasterClass on creativity and leadership, the current Artistic Director of Condé Nast provides her distinct and priceless insight into everything from finding your voice and the power of a singular image, to spotting designer talent and leading with impact within the fashion industry.

Want to become a better journalist? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from editorial masters, including Anna Wintour, Malcolm Gladwell, Bob Woodward, and more.

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