Who are all these editors?
April 25, 2013 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Help me understand the editor hierarchy at the magazine I write for. Every article I do for them seems to take a different path, with different editors contacting me about different things, but it's never consistnet. I can never figure out if I'm communicating with the right person.

My list of contacts there include: Editorial director, editor-in-chief, editor at large, section editor, senior editor, assistant editor, contributing editor, staff editor, and (plain old) editor. What do all of these people do that is different from the others?

(Also an online editor and copy editor, but it's pretty clear what they do.)
posted by Ookseer to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's very unlikely that there is a generically correct answer to this question. Sure, people can probably tell you the canonical/classic definition of each of those job titles, but who you should be communicating with about what is going to vary wildly at each individual organization, depending on the org's history, various personalities, level of organization, random chance, etc. You're much better off asking your direct supervisor or each individual person for clarity.
posted by brainmouse at 11:31 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I agree with brainmouse-- it's better to contact someone directly at your publication, because these things can vary quite a bit.
That said, at the places I've worked an "editor at large" is a sort of senior reporter who is allowed a lot of control over their own work (hence the editor) but doesn't usually come into the office much and doesn't oversee anyone else.
Editor in chief is usually the big boss. Unless it's a very small organization, I doubt you would be communicating with him/her much. Assistant editors are the junior editors running things under a senior editor. There's usually a clear hierarchy there. Section editors are in charge of their own small territory, e.g. the style section or travel section. They will usually answer to another editor or the editor in chief.
Again, this can vary a lot depending on where you work, like brainmouse said. It's best to just ask outright.
posted by incountrysleep at 11:39 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't have a direct supervisor. I write for them as a freelancer and I'm not involved in the organization. I get contacted, seemingly indiscriminately, by these people. And none of them have time to explain their job to me. Thus my confusion. I'd be happy with a classical definition for any or all of them so at least I'm addressing things to someone close to the correct person.
posted by Ookseer at 12:45 PM on April 25, 2013

My understanding of contributing editor is that this would not be a full-time position but rather a frequent (freelance) contributor to the magazine. So, for example, Christopher Hitchens was once a contributing editor to Harper's Magazine. I doubt that this meant he edited anything, or if he did, it was probably only to read through potential articles in his area of expertise in order to gain feedback. But he did write many articles for the magazine.

At my publishing company at any rate, senior editor just means an editor higher up the pay scale, assistant editor lower, editor in the middle.
posted by seemoreglass at 1:00 PM on April 25, 2013

A starting place to figure this out would be to look at this particular magazine's masthead. The most senior roles will be at the top (probably with the editor-in-chief at the very top). Depending on the magazine, the masthead may be subdivided into sections and you can more easily see how people fit in with the larger organization.

At the publisher I work for, you start out as an associate editor, then get promoted to editor, and finally senior editor. So those three have the same general job description, but different levels of experience and seniority.

If someone contacts you out of the blue, always respond directly to that person. But you should have one point person you can contact who can direct your inquiries as needed.

It is really hard to say what the protocol should be without knowing the magazine. If it's a tiny operation you may be able to contact even the editor-in-chief directly. Not so much if it's Vogue.
posted by payoto at 1:04 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are several possibilities:

1. They aren't terribly well-organized. Whoever needs you contacts you and whoever they have look at your stuff is whoever is available. Which varies. This is pretty normal for a small business. Though they would probably save time by streamlining things, no one is willing/able to take on that task. So, it's ad hoc.

2. They are not following their own rules. They are supposed to have one person be your contact, but either don't know that are just aren't bothering.

If you are getting paid on time and they are not otherwise frustrating to work with, I wouldn't worry about who is contacting you.

Oh, and what titles mean can vary a lot from group to group. Some titles are actually just ways of promoting someone, some of them actually designate a particular responsibility, some of them just look good on the masthead.

So long as you address the right person with the right title, you should be fine.
posted by emjaybee at 1:23 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My understanding of contributing editor is that this would not be a full-time position but rather a frequent (freelance) contributor to the magazine.

That is the case for me at the magazine where I am a contributing editor. I personally have never, EVER edited anyone. For me, I deal with a variety of editors and when it comes to pitches, I tailor them more to the person who works in the segment of the magazine where my pitch feels like it would fit and who I've worked with the most who seems most likely to be in charge. If I'm not sure, either I email both editors and note that I wasn't sure where they foresee so-and-so being placed, or I email the one I'd think is most LIKELY to want it, and note that I'm not sure if I ought to be talking to X instead. I obviously feel free to be a little informal at this point, because I have been there awhile and we all know each other, but I think the same basic theory applies. I also think as long as you do your very best to send stuff to the right person and note in your email that they should let you know if it ought to go to Y, don't worry about the hierarchy so much. I think it's more important that you hit your deadlines and turn in good, clean, accurate work than if you occasionally send Joe something that maybe should go to Jane in terms of your reputation at said publication. (At least I hope so!)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:53 PM on April 25, 2013

Best answer: I used to work freelance in magazine publishing. This was a decade ago, but I doubt things have changed much. In my experience, it would be something like this:

Editorial director, editor-in-chief, editor at large, section editor,
I'd be surprised if any of these people deal with freelance writers. I never ran across a section editor or editorial director. The editor-in-chief is high up the chain and might edit pieces for well-known, established writers.

senior editor,
They'll be looking for pieces they think will work for the magazine, but they don't have the final say on if the article will run. They do actual hands-on editing and work with writers. They'll probably bring a stack of proposals to an editorial meeting and then the senior editors and editor-in-chief will decide which ones to accept.

assistant editor,
They work with writers and do actual editing. They might look through the slush pile if they're particularly ambitious, but that's unlikely. They're working on establishing relationships with writers. They'd like to be senior editors some day.

contributing editor,
I think this is more of a courtesy title for a writer or other creative person the magazine wants to keep around. They don't work in the office, but they frequently write for the magazine.

staff editor,
Don't remember ever seeing one of those.

and (plain old) editor.

I would guess that this is the same as an assistant editor. Probably the same as a staff editor.

People sometimes get to make up their own titles, so that might be why you're seeing so many different ones. And this all varies from magazine to magazine.

You left out the Managing Editor, by the way. They don't do any editing, which is why you probably haven't run into them, but they're in charge of making sure the magazine gets to the printer in time. They track where every article is in the process and bug everyone to stay on target. They're high ranked, I'd guess up there with editor-in-chief.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:42 AM on April 27, 2013

Best answer: Oh, wait, that was wrong. Editors come between Sr Editors and Assistant Editors. No idea why I wrote that. They all work with writers and edit pieces. The longer pieces by established writers are going to go to the Senior Editors, the new writers and short pieces are going to the Assistant Editors.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:07 AM on April 27, 2013

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