The romanticised stereotype of the Benjamin Bradlee editor (Watergate and the Pentagon Papers) leaning back behind a desk and telling his writers he’ll ‘back them up’ is not what you will be as a graduate looking for an entry-level route to editorial work. The scope for editorial jobs can be huge, with crossover into journalism, advertising, marketing and other industries. There is more of a demand for editors at publishing houses than anywhere else, but the job specifications are remarkably similar and you'll need excellent spelling, grammar and attention to detail.
Entry route one: editorial assistant
The most common entry point for graduates pursuing an editorial career, the editorial assistant normally serves in several different roles around the office. Researching and writing articles can be part of the job along with coordinating design, copyediting, proofreading, liaising between different members of staff and departments, generating ideas or directing pitch meetings and probably spending far too much time in the post room.
As the role is so varied it can be difficult to start from scratch. Many publishers or organisations look for graduates with a respectable level of work experience already under their belt and proven written English capability.
You may not be tasked with decisions about content right off the bat, but it is likely that you will be asked to commission articles from freelancers or contributors. Some publications have editors whose only job is to do this and it’s relatively straightforward. Good telephone skills, knowledge of the company you’re working for and a keen ability to understand people and quality will be essentials for anyone commissioning.
Entry route two: copyeditor or sub-editor
In publishing houses, copyeditors review written pieces and aim to improve the wording and style to maintain the quality of the copy and match the needs of the readers. This often involves many long-term projects and a considerable amount of proofreading afterwards. Exceptional time-management capabilities and professional level of written English are the two main factors which will affect whether a graduate is hired for this type of position.
In traditional newspaper and magazine publishing, sub-editors hone the raw copy submitted by reporters and feature 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 punny (get it?) headlines, so much the better. The definition of what makes a sub-editor will vary from place to place; some work correcting copy and spotting errors alone, others require their sub-editors to lay up pages using InDesign or Quark Xpress.
If you’ve passed an NCTJ training course in this field, or have experience subbing to tight deadlines from a placement, you’re probably in good stead to get taken on by a local paper. To see more about routes into journalism jobs see TARGETjobs' entry level routes into journalism and writing for the web.
Entry route three: web editor
As online publishing has grown, there are increasing opportunities for tech-savvy graduates who want to work in editorial. The position might also be advertised as online editors or community overseers, new or social media editors.
You’ll need to know what search engine optimisation (SEO) is and how to use it, which will mean a knowledge of google analytics or similar programmes. This is in addition to the excellent spelling, grammar and attention to detail required by an editor.
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.
Entry-level editorial jobs will vary according to the nature of the company. Daily publications will have a more pressurised environment and higher workload, expecting you to turn around copy in minutes. Web publishing may require a less creative, more clinical approach and knowledge of code. Book publishing will have more of an emphasis on copy-editing and proofreading while magazine publishing may put more of a focus on design, layout and chasing up photographers. Regardless of the role, the broad skills set required remains the same.