Real Editor Editorial
When I was first invited to join the estimable ranks of the E2 Editors, I asked several people—what does an editor do around here, anyway? Several fine folks said something like this "...CE's are not really editors, they are more like administrators." It is an axiom I have heard several times in my time here.
Now that I have been a Content Editor for a few months (and I am no longer the newest kid on the CE block), I'll have to confess that the 'real editor' distinction confuses me a bit.
First a quick note about my background: during my 12 years (approximately, plus subsequent freelance work) in the wide world of print, I've done layout, copy editing, and loads of proofreading. I even did some ghostwriting. But, I have never worked for a major publisher, thus I don't really know how real editors work. I've had colleagues who have worked for nearly every major publication in this part of the country, but not one of those is exactly a flagship of the periodical or newspaper industry!
Most of my time here is spent reading—I proof, critique, and comment. That certainly sounds like what real editors do. I mean, I guess the guys at the New Yorker have professional proofreaders who do nothing else, so it could be argued that we CEs are just glorified proofreaders. The thing is, at most small publications the editors are the proofreaders. If the organization can not afford full-time proofers, the editors need exceptional proofreading skills. Even for big organizations, I think it would be a good idea for the editors to be good proofreaders—I see mistakes in major publications from time to time (it's always a little disturbing). I noticed a very common error in a paperback novel from a big name publisher just a few weeks ago!
An editor for the Wall Street Journal probably does more copyediting than we do around here, but the nature of E2 means we can't really change people's work. Still, there are plenty of times that we might gently (or not-so-gently) suggest a noder edit, clarify, expand, or otherwise clean up his or her own work. I'd say that's pretty similar, given the constraints.
Of course, we spend a lot of time working with new noders and encouraging the established talent. That could certainly be seen as an administrative function, but almost every real-world editor I've ever known (or known of) does quite a lot of that. The fact that we suggest ideas, encourage writers and acknowledge our talented staff by /msg (or email) rather than by phone hardly seems significant.
On a related note, real editors (at least at magazines and newspapers) spend a lot (in some cases a whole lot, apparently) of their time coming up with new ideas for articles, features, and that sort of thing. We do the same thing, quite often. When I was new, I found several of the editors were very good at offering advice on things I might enjoy writing about and groups I might want to join. I work to continue that tradition by suggestions to other noders, and I still get suggestions for my own work from other members. It seems to be one of the many wonderful things about this crazy place! This is also the point of quests, of course.
There seems to be the idea that editors, real ones, who work for real magazines and book publishers, are required to have a sort of specialized training. Most editors for the big boys are highly educated and literate, to be sure, but the fact is, there is not a lot of agreement as to what the title editor even entails, let alone what qualifications one should have. It would be nice to believe that all editors are highly qualified professionals, but looking around seems to indicate otherwise. In a few cases, the title is even honorary, "because no one knows what to call you," as a friend of mine (herself a former editor) said.
Many editors are writers, and of course that arrangement is echoed here at E2—many of the editors are specialists, some are very brilliant generalists, but all are picked out of the world of noders at large.
Of course, we CEs also get to participate in management decisions, to a certain extent. Of late, for example, we've been discussing (maybe debating is a better term) the upcoming addition of pictures and video to E2.
While, in that function, we are undeniably administrative, I don't think it is an unrealistic duty for an editor to have. Most of the editors I've worked with spent a lot of time doing sundry administrative tasks, some participated in layout changes, gave input on directions for the publication, and even made some of the decisions (sometimes, in really small organizations, the editors make all the decisions!)
On one final note: I am aware of one major difference between E2 editors and the big time. It seems that, in the last few years, several editors have been caught abetting malfeasance on the part of their writers (plagiarism on one hand, passing fabricated accounts as fact in another). In my experience, the editors around this place tend to pounce on anyone who plagiarizes or fabricates. It keeps us honest!