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Job Description of a Magazine Editor

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The magazine industry is sometimes glorified in movies and television shows, but not all magazines are “Vogue” and not all magazine editors are like Meryl Streep’s thinly veiled take on Anna Wintour. There are magazines of all shapes and sizes that cover critical topics like the national news and those that get down to the nitty gritty of the plumbing industry. Most magazines rely on an editorial hierarchy to produce issues, earn and maintain readers, and drive ad sales.

Types of Magazine Editors

At the top of the editorial pyramid is the editor-in-chief. This person is responsible for the planning and production of each print or online issue. The editor’s primary goal is to produce exceptional content, including writing and photography, while meeting deadlines and satisfying budget requirements. Many editors rely on a team of writers, photographers and advertising representatives -- either staff or freelance -- to successfully complete each issue. The editor must oversee all of these professionals and develop a working relationship with each, while also meeting the demands of the business side of the operation. This usually involves working hand-in-hand with the publisher and advertising executives. Depending on the size of the magazine, even the editor-in-chief may step in and provide written material to fill pages. At large organizations, other high-level editors might include an executive editor, managing editor, associate editors or assistant editors, all of whom report to the chief editor and help execute the daily tasks of publishing a magazine. At very small publications, the editor-in-chief may run a one-person operation.

Evolving Roles

Writing for "Women’s Wear Daily," media reporter John Koblin describes the new role of the modern editor as moving beyond the mere planning and execution of print issues. Koblin writes that the new landscape for magazine editors is one of critical collaboration with the publisher and editorial stakeholders. These days, a magazine editor might undertake a groundbreaking special edition of a print piece, while simultaneously developing corresponding digital content for a tablet app and a partnership with a major advertiser. At some larger national publications, the editor’s influence might extend into television production or appearances that support the magazine’s brand or even products that bear the magazine’s logo. Koblin points out the example of a successful kitchenware line by “Bon Appetit” magazine.

Trade and Industry Publications

Besides traditional publishing, other industries produce regular print publications including magazines, and employ editors to carry out the planning and production of each issue. Examples include professional groups, technical or scientific organizations, and institutions of higher education. Magazine editors in these settings are charged with communicating to a niche market or audience, such as school alumni or wine connoisseurs.

Environment and Compensation

Magazine editors must be able to operate well under pressure. More than ever, editors are responsible for coordinating many simultaneous projects and delivering results that satisfy readers and advertisers. Meeting deadlines and collaborating with staff teams and freelancers who produce magazine content requires focus, attention to detail and excellent managerial skills. The magazine publishing industry is a competitive one, with many jobs located in centralized city hubs like New York and Los Angeles. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for editors in May 2020 was $63,400.

Editors salary

  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $126,800 ($60.96/hour)
  • Median Annual Salary: $63,400 ($30.48/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $33,620 ($16.16/hour)

Based in Los Angeles, Monica Stevens has been a professional writer since 2005. She covers topics such as health, education, arts and culture, for a variety of local magazines and newspapers. Stevens holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, with a concentration in film studies, from Pepperdine University.

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