An editor’s job is to be in the middle.
Imagine a triangle. At one corner stands an executive — for instance, a publisher or a network president. The executive wants to attract a paying audience and believes that a line of children’s books, a monthly magazine, a series of broadcasts, or some other form of content will pull in the buyers.
At another corner of the triangle, a content creator — journalist, photographer, illustrator, novelist or some other creator — wants to distribute his/her talents and creations to an audience, and earn good money for them.
And at the third corner stands an audience: readers, listeners, or viewers. They want to see, read, or hear content that’s interesting, even compelling.
The editor — or in electronic media, the producer — stands in the middle of the triangle. The editor has to represent everyone’s viewpoint and needs to everyone else.
The editor presents the executive’s viewpoint to the creator.
“Your content doesn’t fit the boss’s idea of what our magazine / broadcast / publishing line has to be. Let me tell you what to do.”
“Your content is great, but the boss has given me a tight budget, so we can’t afford what you’re asking us to pay. Cut your rate by 10 percent, and we’ve got a deal.”
The editor also presents the audience’s viewpoint to the creator.
“Your project’s beautiful, but it’s all about medieval times, and our audience is skater kids. Try to find something that they want to know about.”
“Your idea’s good, but the execution doesn’t meet our standards. Our audience expects tight, concise writing; live, on-the-scene reporting; and diamond-sharp videography. Come back when you can deliver.”
“Your story needs tweaking to fit our audience. That’s not your fault; you’re not dealing with them every day the way we are, so there are things that you couldn’t know. But if you don’t mind making some changes, we’ll be happy to run it.”
The editor presents the creator’s viewpoint to the executive.
“Boss, Connie Creator is making something terrific — but she needs more money and more time. I think she deserves it. Can you loosen the budget and the schedule?”
“Boss, I know Connie’s piece is a little different from what we usually run — but it’s good, and pushing the envelope would liven up our website / broadcast / newsletter.”
The editor also presents the audience’s viewpoint to the executive.
“Boss, I’m getting lots of emails from the audience, saying that we’re doing the same thing over and over. You can see the same thing on our Twitter feed and Facebook page. So I want to get Connie Creator to work on a piece that would freshen things up.”
Finally, the editor presents the creator’s and executive’s views to the audience, simply by choosing what to present to the audience and how to present it.
Good editors also present their own views to everyone involved. But they do it always knowing what the others want and need.
I suspect that middle children — like me, the second of three — make good editors. We middle kids are used to making our way between opposing forces.