A Look at What Different Editors Do in the Newsroom

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What Editors Do

Graphic by Tony Rogers

Just as the military has a chain of command, newspapers have a hierarchy of editors responsible for various aspects of the operation. This graphic shows a typical hierarchy, starting at the top with:

The Publisher

The publisher is the top boss, the person overseeing all aspects of the paper on both the editorial, or news, side of things as well as the business side. However, depending on the size of the paper, he or she might have little involvement in the day-to-day operations of the newsroom.

The Editor-in-Chief

The editor-in-chief is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the news operation -- the content of the paper, the play of stories on the front page, staffing, hiring and budgets. The editor's involvement with the day-to-day running of the newsroom varies with the size of the paper. On small papers, the editor is very involved; on big papers, slightly less so.

Managing Editor

The managing editor is the one who directly oversees day-to-day operations of the newsroom. More than anyone else, perhaps, the managing editor is the one responsible for getting the paper out every day and for ensuring that it's the best that it can be and quality meets that paper's standards of journalism. Again, depending on the size of the paper, the managing editor might have a number of assistant managing editors who report to him who are responsible for specific sections of the paper, such as local news, sports, features, national news and business, along with presentation, which includes copy editing and design.

Assignment Editors

Assignment editors are those directly responsible for content in a specific section of the paper, such as local, business, sports, features or national coverage. They are the editors who deal directly with reporters; they assign stories, work with reporters on their coverage, suggest angles and ledes, and do the initial editing of reporters' stories.

Copy Editors

Copy editors typically get reporters' stories after they have been given an initial edit by assignment editors. They edit stories with a focus on the writing, looking at grammar, spelling, flow, transitions and style. They also make sure the lede is supported by the rest of the story and the angle makes sense.  Copy editors also write headlines; secondary headlines, called decks; captions, called cutlines; and takeout quotes; in other words, all the big words on a story.  This is collectively called display type. They also work with designers on presentation of the story, especially on major stories and projects. At larger papers copy editors often work only in specific sections and develop expertise on that content.

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Assignment Editors: Macro Editing

Graphic by Tony Rogers

Assignment editors do what is called macro editing. This means that as they edit, they tend to focus on the content, the "big picture" aspect of the story.

Here is a checklist of things assignment editors look for when they are editing:

  • The lede:  Does it make sense, is it supported by the rest of the story, is it in the first paragraph or is it buried?
  • The story: Is it thorough and complete? Are there any unanswered questions? Is it fair, balanced and objective?
  • Libel:  Are there any statements that might be considered libelous?
  • Writing:  is the story well-written? Is it clear and understandable?
  • Accuracy: Did the reporter double-check all names, titles and places mentioned in this story? Did the reporter properly check all phone numbers or web addresses?
  • Quotes: Are the quotes accurate and properly attributed?
  • Relevance: Are the story's background and context complete enough to tell readers why the story is relevant?
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Copy Editors: Micro Editing

Graphic by Tony Rogers

Copy editors tend to do what is called micro editing. This means that as they edit, they to focus on more technical writing aspects of stories, such as Associated Press style, grammar, spelling, accuracy and general readability. They also act as a backup for assignment editors on such things as the quality and support of the lede, libel and relevance. Assignment editors also might correct such things as AP style errors or grammar. After copy editors do the fine-tuning on a story, they might take questions to the assigning editor or reporter if there is an issue with the content. After the copy editor is satisfied the story meets all standards, the editor writes a headline and any other display type that is required.

Here is a checklist of things copy editors look for when they are editing:

  • Does the story follow AP style and any exceptions to that style, called house style?
  • Are grammar and punctuation correct?
  • Are there any misspelled words?
  • Are names spelled correctly?
  • Are quotes attributed correctly?
  • Is the lede supported?
  • Is the story objective, clear and easy to understand?