Climb the Ladder

What Does an Assistant Editor Do?

Learn exactly what it is that an assistant editor does

You’ve put in work managing the EIC’s calendar, replying to reader mail and maybe even writing short items. It’s time you apply for that assistant editor position you’re not-so-secretly dying for. Need more info before making the leap? Check out what a few assistant editors have to say about the job and then hop to it.

What exactly does an assistant editor do?

No matter what type of publication — print, digital, fashion, sports, interior design — an assistant editor’s primary responsibility is taking on assignments in collaboration with the editors and EIC. Routine tasks typically include conceptualizing and pitching stories, conducting research, interviewing sources, writing and editing copy, selecting photos and art to accompany articles, and proofreading. Some assistant editors may also manage social media accounts, and repurpose and curate content.

“Because VIBE is a smaller media company, I might have more tasks assigned to my role,” said Stacy-Ann Ellis, assistant editor. “Aside from assigning, cleaning and prepping pieces for publication, I shoot photography for features, determine the visual elements to accompany our larger pieces, keep track of staff and freelance deadlines, as well as write and shoot feature pieces for myself. It’s a lot.”

What skills does an assistant editor need?

The ability to write clear, concise copy (oftentimes in a hurry) is the most important, said Mary Kaarto, author and speaker. Kaarto spent 22 years working as an assistant editor for various trade publications. “A good assistant editor should [be able to] provide valid information in as few words as possible, yet make it enjoyable to read,” said Kaarto. You should also be able to generate creative and competitive stories. It doesn’t matter how well you write, if the story is uninspired, no one will read it, she added.

And you should definitely be skilled in prioritizing a hectic workload, said Ellis, as well as effectively communicating with staff members and working quickly and cleanly.

Being a self-starter and willing to take on any task, from opening mail to answering phones, is also a major deal, added Devon Warren, managing editor at Arts & Crafts magazine publisher Stampington & Company.

Who is an assistant editor’s supervisor?

If you work for a smaller publication as Kaarto did, you’ll likely report directly to the magazine’s editor. At a larger publication or website, an assistant editor may work for a specific section, such as news or fashion, in which case she might report to editor of that section.

How important are digital skills?

“Nowadays, digital publication employers want multi hyphenates who can do their own job and jump in to do someone else’s job if need be,” said Ellis. “That’s just the way it is.”

What does it take to excel in this position?

The ability to quickly solve problems in a pinch is vital to your success in this position, said Kaarto who suggests keeping a backlog of timely filler material on hand for emergencies.

Organizing your time well and offering to assist your colleagues will cast you in a favorable light, advised Warren. And be adaptable, added Ellis. Nowadays, everything’s influx, so staying ahead of the curve is more important than ever.

How can I break into this field?

A degree, preferably in English or journalism, helps. So does having a couple of internships under your belt. And while you’re gaining all that (unpaid) experience, network. Ellis advises that hard work and making—and maintaining—good connections pays off.

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