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Following In Your Footsteps

Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2020 at 12:05 AM

Whether it’s a promotion or retirement, when the time comes, who would you choose as your successor?

By the Editors Only Staff

Choosing a successor may be one of the hardest decisions a successful leader has to make -- especially when a great editor cares deeply about their readers. Finding the right person is not something to consider lightly. So how do you choose and what qualities should you consider?

It was some time ago that we invited comments from editors about the qualities they'd look for in hiring their own successor. Since then, respondents' positions and affiliations may have changed. Therefore, we identify them only as Editor A, Editor B, etc.

Subject Matter Background

One thing that came out clear has to do with the subject matter covered by the publication. You can't expect to run a publication if you don't have enough knowledge about the subject.

Editor A produces a publication in a sports field. He said, "You need to know the history of the sport, past and present, chapter and verse. You need to know where the sport came from and where it is today."

This is particularly important when it falls upon the chief editor to interview someone prominent in the field.

Editor B added, "Never try to deal with people in the industry when you don't really know enough about it and ask questions that are so obvious that they make you sound dumb."

Editor C has a publication that deals with alternative treatments in medicine. She told us "You can read books and become familiar with the jargon and language of the subject. But I think people who have become interested in our subject area are people who have been dragged into the experience through some personal problem they've had. Then they wind up being involved in it."

That suggests an additional element of knowing your subject matter. It gives you credibility that appeals to your readers. The more you know about something, the easier it is to win your readers' trust. That helps to keep them interested in what your publication has to offer.

"I think magazines read better and are livelier and more exciting when stories are created by people who themselves have gotten very excited about them," concludes Editor C.

Inspiring the Staff

The next quality your successor should have is the ability to inspire your staff. In order to produce a top-notch publication, the editor needs to work well with the editorial staff -- and give them the respect they deserve. Many times, staffers look to the editor for guidance, inspiration, and encouragement.

Editor A said that, for one thing, "I would never give anyone an assignment that I wouldn't do myself." This perspective, he believes, keeps members of the staff feeling like they are a valuable part of the magazine. In addition, it is a good idea to listen to the suggestions and comments of each editorial staff member. This promotes an atmosphere of teamwork and a focus on a common goal: a strong publication.

Inspiring staff excitement is important to Editor C. She explains, "To somehow do that is kind of tricky. I think every editor needs to figure out the chemistry with his or her staff and whatever it takes to do that. When people aren't inspired, the editor needs to take a look and see how to make that happen."

In other words, the editor has the responsibility to draw out the best work possible from employees and see that it is shaped in a manner that suits the aims of the publication.

"The editor needs to set an example of what he or she wants to have done," says Editor C. She adds, "The editor needs to set an example of what he or she wants. I would suggest that editors develop a rapport with the editorial staff by being a part of all that is going on. Editors can sometimes be a little removed. An editor has to find out what makes the individual people work well. And for every person that can be a different story."

The editors we talked to seem to share a common point: an editor must develop a good relationship with the members of the staff and behave in a manner befitting the position. The editorial staff looks to the editor for cues on how to conduct themselves, especially when working with others involved in the publication.


A good editor-in-chief needs to be the driving force behind any strong publication. Possessing an ability to move the publication in the direction that will help its readership grow is very important.

It is important that you recognize new "hot" topics and get your writers working on them. You can be sure your competition is trying to do the same.

These days it is especially important that the editor is willing to explore whatever new technologies are available. It is a constant learning process.

Editor B looks at it this way: "If you come into work every day trying to learn something -- no matter how small -- I think that generates a lot of energy. Things always spring to mind. Keep your eyes open wherever you are. You can always be thinking, this might be a good story idea where this might make a good picture or layout."

In Summary

From the foregoing comments and others that we received from editors we offer the following attributes to consider when choosing your replacement. The ideal candidate:

1. Always knows the contents of the publication and is well-versed in the subject matter.

2. Is willing to guide and direct staff members without forcing his own suggestions on them.

3. Listens to input from staff and gives them the respect they deserve.

4. Knows what readers want and what will interest them most.

5. Tries to keep learning all she can and keeps her eyes and ears open for anything new that can be helpful.

6. Never stops improving upon what you have.

This article was contributed to by managing editor Denise Gable, based on work originally developed by Michelle Kocay, now assistant professor at Housatonic Community College.

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