Editor Training: How to cope with life in the hot seat

When I took the editor’s chair at The Northern Echo in 1990, the first person through my door was the chief accountant. He wanted to know if I was happy with the multi-million pound budget I had inherited. The second person was the NUJ father of chapel who wanted to talk about the 15 per cent pay rise he was seeking for his members.

Nothing in my journalistic career had equipped me for this. I had difficulty running a household budget, let alone a million pound one, and was not prepared for the fierce crossing of swords with my colleagues that ensued. I could certainly have done with some advance training.

Editing today is tougher, editors are appointed younger, and some are not always sure of what the job entails. So who trains the editors? For 15 years my colleagues and I have run a course called the Editor’s Chair. I actually attended it when I was a young chief sub, but the programme was about editorial decisions. Now the course content is very different, reflecting the demands placed on modern editors. It looks at the many hats an editor has to wear and gives tips and pointers on how to balance them. They include:

Journalist: You cannot motivate and manage journalists unless you command their respect – as a journalist.

Administrator: Discipline, rotas, office management, health and safety, and equipment are your responsibility.

Recruitment specialist: You are only as good as the people around you. What is your recruitment policy?

Businessman/woman: The editor is a manager in a business. If the business fails then you take a share of the responsibility.

Negotiator: Who decides where the money goes, persuades management it is a good idea or appeases the angry politician?

Lawyer: The buck stops with the editor. How many legal briefings have you had recently? Do all staff know what the paper’s policy is on all legal matters?

Ambassador: The editor represents the newspaper, the company, the community and the profession. You need to be good on your feet. The editor, as many have found to their cost, is never off duty in public.

Judge: Appoint me, not him; publish, don’t publish; do it, delegate; confront, don’t confront. Although the editor should listen, the final decision rests with you. It can be a lonely job.

Strategist: You have to plot the success of your paper… where will it be in five years time? What are the opportunities, the threats, the potential changes in the marketplace?

Communication expert: Whether addressing 300 people at the Society of Editor’s conference, 30 at a WI, or running a newsroom conference, you need to ensure your message is understood. A great vision for the paper is useless if it is kept secret.

Teacher: One of the editor’s fundamental roles is to develop your staff. Do they have the skills to help you achieve your vision? If not, it is your job to ensure they do.

Leader: Leadership is what separates brilliant editors from the rest. Leaders are visionaries who plot the success of their titles. They have passion, enthusiasm and they motivate and inspire their staff.

There is more of course. But the editor’s job description is the easy bit: Set a vision for your title, communicate it to everyone and then make sure it gets there. Achieving it, though, requires training.

Peter Sands, director of Press Association Training.

The next Editor’s Chair course is being held in London at the PA offices from April 21-25

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