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"Senior editor" is a catchall job title used by magazines, newspapers, newsletters, book publishers and websites to denote someone who works semi-autonomously but is not in an executive position. Senior editors straddle the divide separating entry-level writers, proofreaders and fact checkers and editorial staff involved with strategic planning for a publication.
Before you shoot for an editing job with a specific title, it’s a good idea to understand which ones denote what, even when many are interchangeable at different media outlets. Associate, assistant and copy editors are often entry-level positions responsible for creating short pieces for the front and back sections of a magazine, and helping with research, fact checking and proofreading at magazines, newspapers, newsletters, book publishers and websites. Some senior editors primarily write. They are often given assignments by a management-level editor. A managing editor assigns and traffics articles, while brand and strategic decisions are made by executive editors, editors-in-chiefs or a person with the simple title "editor." The exact duties depend on the size of the publication or website. In the book publishing profession, senior editors focus on a book's readability, character development and story flow rather than on copy editing or proofreading.
Some senior editors get their title because they are able to specialize in a particular area. For example, a newspaper editor with a broad knowledge of a particular industry, such as health care, technology or finance, might become a senior editor. Someone who specializes in one area of an industry or profession, such as a golf writer who covers instruction, equipment or the pro tour, might become a senior editor. Book editors might specialize in a particular genre at a large publishing house, such as fiction, romance, history or business.
Senior editors for newsletters, magazines, newspapers and websites often write multiple stories per issue for a print publication, or per week for a website. They will pitch story ideas in advance to the editor-in-chief to ensure the story aligns with the company’s brand, sales and audience development strategies. Senior editors might be sent to cover events in their area of expertise and are required to stay up to date on what’s going on in their area of expertise. A senior editor is more likely to mentor an associate or assistant editor than the top editor at a company. Some senior editors do little writing. Instead, they manage the work of writers below them. These editors discuss stories with writers before they begin and suggest angles and sources. They then edit first drafts of articles, send them back with suggestions for re-working them or adding more content, and perform the final edit before approving the article. A book senior editor works with writers to suggest ways to improve their writing or their story.
Shooting for a senior editor position as a career goal is tricky because of the constantly changing nature of information delivery, the widely varying use of titles by different media outlets and the fact that there is no universally accepted definition of this title. If you see an ad for a senior editor, read the job description to determine if the job requires more editing or writing. Look for titles that suggest the job covers a certain beat, such as Senior Editor of Politics. If you can find other senior editors on the masthead of a newspaper, magazine or website, search the Internet for articles they’ve written to get a feel for what a senior editor does at this company.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.