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Newspaper Editor Job Description, Career as a Newspaper Editor, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College

Salary: Median—$43,620 a year

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

A newspaper's content is determined by its editors. The managing editor decides which stories are newsworthy and gives reporters their assignments. To an editor, there are two kinds of news: hard news, such as the election of a president or the signing of a peace treaty, and soft news. Soft news includes feature stories about a new dance craze, a beautiful historic building, or an interesting personality. The soft news fills whatever space is left after the hard news is assigned newspaper space. There is also public service news to fit in—announcements of meetings and lectures, free health programs, or changes in a local library's hours.

The managing editor decides how important a story is. If a story is very important, it is marked for a headline on the front page. Less important stories appear farther back in the paper. Many stories of national interest come directly to the newspaper office from a news service. In the past, news services relayed the news through teletypewriters—machines that sent messages over the telephone system and printed them out on a teletype machine. In modern papers, news services transmit news stories and photographs via satellite dishes that feed the information directly into computers and radioteleprinters, or through electronic mail (e-mail). The story editor takes a story "off the wires" and decides to "trim, boil, or slash it." If the editor decides to boil a story, it becomes front-page news. A story that is slashed or trimmed is reduced in size.

Other editors are responsible for the coverage of news in areas the paper serves—municipal, suburban, or regional. Depending on the size of a paper, there may be a sports editor, a feature editor, a business editor, or an arts editor. On a small weekly paper, an associate editor may cover two or more of these areas or subjects. Once all the stories are written, they are given to a copy editor, who corrects any mistakes and stylizes the articles to the newspaper's format.

The makeup editor, with the managing editor, usually decides how the paper will look. This editor's job is to fit the stories into the page layouts and decide where the ads will go. The makeup editor decides whether a page will carry two stories and four ads or six stories and one ad. For later editions of the same day's paper the makeup editor may redesign many of the pages as more stories come from the pressroom.

In his home office a city editor proofs copy before the newspaper goes to press. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Education and Training Requirements

High school courses in writing, history, political science, and economics are vital to a prospective news editor's preparation. Since newspaper editors draw on a great deal of general information, candidates should also take some science courses. Newspaper editors need a bachelor's degree in journalism or another liberal arts field. For some jobs, a master's degree in journalism may be helpful. A degree in news-editorial journalism is excellent preparation for news work.

Future newspaper editors get their most valuable training by working on high school and college newspapers or by working as a "stringer," or part-time reporter, for a small local paper. Summer internships are offered by the Newspaper Fund and by individual papers. Through these programs college students gain editing and reporting experience.

Getting the Job

Newspaper work is a highly competitive and evolving business. Almost everyone starts at the bottom: individuals new to the field begin by filing and delivering copy before being assigned a first story as a reporter. Only experienced, accomplished reporters become editors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the best opportunities for news editors through 2014 will be in online news services.

Colleges and schools of journalism have placement offices that can help beginning reporters find jobs. Candidates can also apply directly to local papers or check the newspaper's classified ads and online employment sites.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

There are several ways for newspaper editors to advance. The route an editor chooses depends on personal ambition. Some editors leave small papers to work on larger ones, while others prefer to stay on one paper and work their way up to more responsible positions, such as that of managing editor. Some become the head of a department in a special-interest area, such as fashion or sports. A few may even start their own newspaper, but this can be a financially risky move.

It is expected that the number of small-town and suburban newspapers will grow in the future; however, little or no increase in the number of large city daily newspapers is expected. Because of economic issues and competition from online news sites, some large papers will be forced to stop publishing altogether. Others will try to solve their financial problems by merging, and many may be bought by newspaper chains. The number of editors needed may also be affected by a growing trend in the newspaper business: more stories—and even editorial opinions—are being written and syndicated by news services. The same columnists appear in hundreds of papers all over the country each day, making it unnecessary for local editors to cover those stories as well.

The competition for the job of editor or top executive on large papers and press services is very keen. Talent and experience will be keys to getting these jobs.

Working Conditions

Working for a newspaper is hard work for an editor, a reporter, or a copy editor. The hours are long and irregular because no one knows when a big story will break. This is also the excitement of the work. These are high-pressure jobs, and there is always a deadline to be met and a new edition of the paper to get out.

Newspaper people find no two days or weeks alike and no two issues of the paper the same. There is enormous responsibility involved in this profession. Because people believe what they read in the paper, the facts must be correct. It is the editors who are responsible for the news printed in their papers.

Where to Go for More Information

American Society of Newspaper Editors
11690B Sunrise Valley Dr.
Reston, VA 20191-1409
(703) 453-1122

Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
234 Outlet Pointe Blvd.
Columbia, SC 29210
(803) 798-0271

Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc.
138 Neff Annex
Columbia, MO 65211
(573) 882-2042

Earnings and Benefits

The range of salaries for newspaper editors varies greatly depending on the experience and talent of the individual and on the size of the newspaper. Newspaper editors earn a median income of $43,620 per year. Senior editors often earn $70,000 or more per year. Most newspaper editors receive health insurance and paid vacations.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCommunication and the Arts