Media Magazine

What Makes a Great Editor? Here Are 3 That I Think Rock.

Posted on the 20 June 2014 by Themarioblog @garciainteract
This is the weekend edition of TheMarioBlog and will be updated as necessary. The next blog post will be Monday, June 23.
What makes a great editor? Here are 3 that I think rock.What makes a great editor? Here are 3 that I think rock.

I tend to agree with what they mention as great attributes for an editor, and I have some of my own (not that they asked me!). Here are highlights of what the Times' journalists said:

David Carr, media columnist

A good editor is right most of the time, making copy better every time she or he touches it. The greats do the same for the people who produce that copy.

Frank Bruni, columnist

A great editor is like a great meatloaf. By which I mean: There is a multitude of kinds, and all get the job done, deploying different recipes for the same result, which is your nourishment. A meatloaf is going to have nonnegotiable elements: meat and an egg or two and bread crumbs and probably onions. A great editor is also sure to have a certain foundation of ingredients, which I’ll hereby list.


Gretchen Morgenson, Business columnist and reporter


The best editor is the person who can take a modest story and make it big, broad and powerful. Believe it or not, some editors take big stories and make them small. But the great editor is one who pushes a reporter to widen a story’s scope or one who recognizes an impact in the story that the reporter might not have seen initially.

My own take on what makes for a great editor

In my 41 years in this business, I have worked with hundreds of editors, some more memorable than others.

Two words describe the management style of the real excellent ones: firm and compassionate.

In terms of how they managed the journalistic aspects of the job: an open door to their office for staffers to discuss story ideas, stories in the midst of editing, page designs and concepts, and emphasis on innovation.'

Three editors come to mind when I think of the great ones:

Geneva Overholser, with whom I worked on a redesign of the Des Moines Register; Abdul Hamid, editor in chief of the Gulf News of Dubai; Espen Egil Hansen, editor of Norway's Aftenposten.

What made them great?

Geneva Overholser (formerly of the Des Moines Register)

Geneva was a reporter's editor, but in the process of redesigning the Register I also realized that she was a designer's editor.

I would present her with many ideas. She would zero in on the ones that interested her.  If she left out an idea I was championing, she would ask:

"I know you want me to like this, but I don't. Tell me why I should?"

That would allow me an opportunity to explain the concept. She would listen. We would meet at the right place, or in the middle.  The result? A Des Moines Register that was true to the essence of that iconic midwesterner daily, but which had advanced in how it showcased the news, starting on Page one.

In her own words, this is the Geneva formula for a great editor:

The editor's primary job is to unleash the talents around her. You do all you can to create the conditions in which everyone can do the best work they are capable of.

Abdul Hamid, Gulf News, UAE

Abdul Hamid sits princely in his office, the first one one sees when entering the newsroom of the Gulf News.  He is witty, quick on his feet, and you must catch his attention when you get it, as he moves quickly through the paces, his hands fidgeting with beads that help him navigate the waters of editing the largest circulation daily in the UAE, and the city of the future.

Abdul Hamid has the ability to listen to what others tell him. He knows what he wants (such an essential in an editor), and to push his people to do the best. Abdul Hamid does not settle for the first draft of the story or the page.  Like all the good editors I have worked with, he has a sense of visuals, and of the importance of graphics. Under his tutelage, the Gulf News has become among the most award winning newspapers in the world for design and graphics (with the help of Gulf News design director, Miguel Gomez and his incredibly talented team).

Here is how Miguel Gomez describes working with the unique Abdul Hamid:

To work with Abdul Hamid has been one of my best experiences in journalism, he is a born storyteller who believes in the usage of alternative ways to present the information. passionate about his job and a great human being  that takes care of the people's needs. He always gets excited about interesting stories and has a good eye to find out what readers may be interested in. Despite his love for print, he always pushes for mobile and online publishing, I think that one of his main attributes is that he is like a kid that is always curious and can be amazed and surprised with stories.


One Abdul Hamid story I never forget: when a young reporter walked into his office to complain in detail about why she was having trouble with her story, Abdul Hamid responded:

"If you wrote as much as you talk, things would be so much better."

Espen Egil Hansen, Aftenposten, Norway

Espen is the new editor of Norway's Aftenposten, and the most recent editor I have worked with. Dynamic (is there a word to describe an editor who comes with and extra set of batteries?), intuitive about news and how people consume it today, and digital with a capital D, Espen is the ultimate editor for doing print (and everything else) happily.

He arrived at the Aftenposten reluctantly. Was happy as the digital director for the sister paper, VG+. But he was convinced that Aftenposten needed him and so he arrived armed with an arsenal of ideas of how to do a newspaper in 2014.

The results are obvious and you can see our case study here.

He begins each day with a short (5 minute) review of the news that most people are reading on line, then moving on to question  how the editors will handle follow up of those stories across platforms, then allow a few minutes for "things we will do in the printed paper."

It works. It energizes the team.  It energizes the consultant (that's me), and AFtenposten is becoming an example of how to do the media quartet best.

I have learned from Espen, especially when he reminds everyone that it is not just about digital first.

"It is about quality now, with emphasis on NOW," he tells his staff.

These three editors are, by no means, the only good ones I have worked with. They have taught me much through observation. They inspire. They push their teams to do the best.

And, Frank Bruni had it right: they are all a good meat loaf, but with very different recipes behind their making.

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