When you flip through the first pages of a magazine, before you hit the table of contents (or “TOC” in industry parlance), you’ll come across the masthead. This list of names and titles includes, among others, the editors who put that publication together.
In general, editors usually spend most of their time reading, reviewing, and rewriting written works. They spend their days working with authors and freelance writers to plan out, organize, and present written material and accompanying graphics in the best manner possible.
Much of a magazine editor’s job, like a book editor’s job, deals with editing stories, but magazine stories have their own, unique set of requirements. Additionally, since magazines typically come out on a weekly or monthly basis, editors at magazines work on more stories in a shorter period of time.
Magazine editors are quite involved in coming up with story ideas and shaping specific sections of their magazine. Additionally, they're involved in almost all other aspects of the magazine, from approving content and layouts to assisting staff to meet deadlines and building a strong industry-based network.
Finding Magazine Stories
Magazine stories usually come about in one of three ways: A writer comes to an editor with an idea (or “pitches” him), an editor approaches a writer with an idea, or the idea is born in an editorial meeting. Editorial meetings are essentially brainstorming sessions that most editorial staffs hold. During these meetings ideas are batted around and, often, group discussions will help flesh out and focus general ideas.
Defining a Story
Although there is a lot of overlap between stories that run in newspapers and magazines, the big difference between magazine content and newspaper content is the time devoted to them. For the most part, newspapers work on daily deadlines and therefore newspaper stories are more driven by things developing moment-to-moment and day-to-day.
If there’s a major fire in, say, Atlanta, that city’s daily newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is going to run stories covering the blaze the day it’s happening. The regional magazine for the area, however, Atlanta Magazine, might run something about the effects of the fire, a longer piece, months after the blaze was put out (assuming the city is affected in a significant way).
Because magazines plan their content weeks and months in advance, they can’t report on breaking news the way daily newspapers do. That said, there are exceptions. Some newspapers, for example, will put reporters on a single story for many months and then run a series about it, or run a long magazine-style story.
Finding the Story Hook
Like newspaper stories, all magazine stories need hooks. Hooks come in all shapes and sizes or, more specifically, some are obvious and some less so. Hooks are typically at the beginning of the story, and they grab or "hook" the reader's attention and keep them engaged. In a magazine piece, the hook is the piece of a story that makes it relevant right now.
Although there are stories that are considered “evergreen” —i.e. they have perennial relevance—the majority of magazine stories (like newspaper stories) need a hook.
If you work at, say, Entertainment Weekly, you will usually work on stories about an actor or a musician when they have a current project coming out.
In other words, you’ll do a piece on Will Smith the week before his summer blockbuster hits theaters. So the hook of the story—the reason you’re writing a piece about Will Smith at that moment in time—is that he’s about to release a new movie. An evergreen piece, however, might be a summer movie round-up. Every summer EW might do a rundown of what the big movies are in theaters because the idea addresses new content every year.
Overseeing a Magazine Section
If you look closely at any magazine, you’ll notice that there are recurring sections and specific kinds of stories that run in that magazine. Editors determine the look and feel of these sections. Just as editors at newspapers work on specific sections of the paper, magazine editors also specialize.
Magazines are generally (though not always) broken down into three sections: the front-of-the-book (or FOB); the feature well; and the back-of-the-book (BOB). Generally, the FOB caters to smaller, newsier stories, while the well contains the longer stories and the BOB has a mix of recurring columns and shorter stories.
Often magazine editors will work on a specific section of a magazine coming up with story ideas, finding good writers and, sometimes, writing the stories themselves. Magazine editors are therefore major idea generators as well as occasional writers and traditional editors.
Other Duties of the Job
As a magazine editor, you'll have other job responsibilities that may require you to spend time attending industry networking events, overseeing photo shoots, and doing what you can to raise the profile of the publication.