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Media, journalism and publishing

Know your editors: a graduate's guide to jobs in the publishing world

A lot of graduates want to work in the world of media and publishing, so you’re going to need to be focused and determined to get your first job.

We’ve compiled a guide to the sometimes baffling world of editors to help you know who's who. Many of these roles are not entry-level positions, but if you play your cards right you could be applying for them in five or even ten years’ time. Bear in mind that different employers may interpret job titles in different ways.

Editorial assistant

The bottom rung on the ladder of power, editorial assistant jobs are a popular first step for graduates. If you have plenty of work experience – a good idea if you want to work in the media – then you will probably be familiar with the type of tasks that may be involved:

  • brainstorming and drafting ideas
  • writing short sections of text, as well as longer pieces
  • proofreading content
  • administration, including organising events, processing invoices and sending out complimentary copies of publications.

Sub-editor

In traditional newspaper and magazine publishing in the UK, sub-editors hone the raw copy submitted by reporters and features writers and prepare it for publication. It’s a role well suited to perfectionists who have an eagle eye for errors, and if you’ve got a knack for coming up with punning or witty headlines, so much the better. Typical tasks involve:

  • correcting spelling or grammar errors
  • querying factual inaccuracies
  • spotting potential legal problems
  • writing headlines, abstracts and captions
  • cutting or editing copy to fit on the page.

At some publications, particularly newspapers, the roles of reporters and sub-editors are no longer as distinct as they once were. Journalists are increasingly likely to be expected both to write and prepare their copy for publication online and in print.

The chief sub-editor manages the work of a team of sub-editors and may also play a role in positioning adverts in the publication. Production editors perform basically the same tasks as sub-editors. Copy editors tend to work in book publishing. Their role is more wide-ranging and they may suggest changes to do with content or structure.

Commissioning editor

Commissioning editors manage external contributors and make sure they produce quality material on time and on budget. Their tasks include:

  • hiring and briefing writers
  • editing draft copy
  • clarifying any issues
  • managing lists of authors and deciding which manuscripts to publish.

These roles are usually found in book and journal publishing.

Section editors

Newspapers, magazines and websites may have editors whose remit is to look after a particular section. This includes news editors and features editors, but in specific sectors the roles could be more specialised. For example, this might include a fashion editor. Jobs associated with this role include:

  • keeping up-to-date on the latest developments
  • setting the agenda for the sector
  • assigning writers to cover stories

Section editors are a couple of steps up the career ladder, and will frequently have a few more years of experience. By this point they are on their way to a management role, and will see their writing responsibilities begin to diminish.

Web editor

With the growth of online publishing, many companies have hired team members to specifically tackle this area. They may also be called online editors or community overseers, new or social media editors. The tasks associated with this role are:

  • ensuring search engine optimisation (SEO)
  • developing and monitoring online communities
  • making the most of new technologies

Anyone graduating now is likely to have some awareness of internet publishing. However, you will also need a strong body of experience to get a job as a web editor. This specific role is likely to disappear and merge into other roles as traditional print publishers become more and more comfortable with this medium.

Deputy editor

The deputy editor is the second-in-command at a newspaper, magazine or website, who takes over the editor’s role in the editor’s absence. The role performed by the deputy editor depends very much on the management structure of the publishers. In some cases they might operate like a section editor, while in others they will take on some of the editor’s workload.

In some cases, the editor’s deputy may have the job title of assistant editor; at some publications there may be both a deputy editor and an assistant editor. Assistant editors (not to be confused with editorial assistants) typically support a publication’s editor, which, in practice, may mean working as a section editor.

Editor

An editor is the individual in charge of a single publication. It is their responsibility to make sure that the publication performs to the best of its ability and in the context of competition.

  • determining the publication’s position on contentious issues
  • deciding when to run campaigns and series
  • being the spokesperson for the publication

A managing editor performs a similar role, but with greater responsibility for the business of the publication. Some managing editor roles also involve overseeing production. Graduates will typically need several years of experience in the sector before they can become editors.

Editor-in-chief

This title is sometimes used for the overall editor of a publication and its supplements, especially if it is particularly large or prestigious. It indicates that this is an editor who manages other editors. Alternatively, an editor-in-chief may be in charge of a range of titles produced by a particular publisher.

The editor in charge may also be known as an executive editor, or this title may be given to senior editors in charge of particular areas. Consulting editors or consultant editors are typically senior freelancers who play an advisory role or are experts in particular areas covered by the publication.

…and all the rest

Of course, this isn’t a completely exhaustive list of job titles. Each organisation has its own way of operating, and any number of senior and junior roles may exist. There are a lot of specialist vacancies too, where knowledge of a specific market or subject is a particularly important requirement.

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