A good editor has many qualities and a lot of responsibilities.
Editors are necessary. They're like a test run before something gets printed or posted online. The editor is the first person to read it, aside from the writer, and can fix the mistakes before it's shown to the public.
Think of it like a new car design. Before it goes on sale or is even made, the design is created for a specific reason. It's then tested for numerous things before being sold to the public.
Likewise, an editor needs to decide if what they're editing is worth the time. Is there a purpose to the piece? Does it benefit the public or audience? If so, it's then "tested" by various means (such as length, grammar and punctuation, accuracy and fairness, and ethics), and put up against the editor's personal qualities (like patience, time management, decision making, objectivity, accountability, etc.).
The following will detail these means and qualities to show what makes a good editor, specifically for publications.
The most well known thing an editor does is basic editing. Before they do anything else, they should've read through the piece and decided if it's even worth their time. If it is, length cuts come first. Cutting should start from the bottom, where the least important information is. Then comes grammar and punctuation edits, one at a time. They should go through it looking for grammar mistakes first, and then go through it again looking for punctuation mistakes (or vice versa). If an editor tries to do both at once, they'll get caught up focusing on one thing, and miss other mistakes nearby.
Why is punctuation important? It can change the entire meaning of a sentence. There's a huge difference between "Let's eat, Grandma" and "Let's eat Grandma." One's an invitation to dinner, and the other is cannibalism.
I don't think your grandma would appreciate the second option.
An editor needs to check word choices, tenses, transitions, headlines, and make sure the writer didn't stray from the message. Spell check will find some errors, but editors still need to go through the piece themselves. Spell check only finds misspelled words, not misused words.
Darn you homophones!
After that, they'll re-read it. Read it again. Read it out loud. Read it slowly. Read it backwards. Just keep re-reading it!
A good editor will do all of these things, and do them several times if they have the chance.
A good editor should also be accurate. This is a vague term because it encompasses a lot.
When editing, it's always important to make sure that names are spelled correctly. If a person's name is misspelled or what they said is misinterpreted, that's an insult. That person, and their family and friends, will likely hold a grudge. If they have an option to pick up a different newspaper or watch a different news channel, they probably will. Mistakes like these can limit and decrease audience and sales.
Similarly, and on a larger scale, if a company's name is misspelled or what they say isn't represented accurately, a large portion of the audience and sales will decline, and someone may be sued. Capitalization is important here as well. Sometimes a company intentionally spells or capitalizes their name a certain way. It's respectful to also write it like that, and fairly easy to check on their website or business cards for the correct way.
Editors should also be able to fact check. When looking at a piece, they should be able to point out what sources were used, if they're credible, and whether everything is attributed or not. If a story has no sources or has flimsy ones, how will the audience know the information is reliable? Even little details should be checked. Sometimes a person isn't always completely correct, and what they said isn't true. Unless it's an opinion, that information should be able to be found.
Wording matters as well. For example, if a restaurant says they're the best in town, the writer and editor shouldn't assume that's a fact. It wouldn't be accurate to say they are the best because there's no proof. It's an opinion, not a fact, so it needs to be accredited. Instead, they can say the restaurant claims to be the best.
Editing is important because it protects the reputations of the writer, the publication, the subject, and the editors themselves. Accuracy plays a key role.
A good editor also knows how to use technology, at least minimally. How frustrating is it when someone can't do their job because they don't know how to use a computer?
They waste time that could be used more productively because they're sitting there staring at a blank screen. They're always pestering other people for help. They have no clue what they're doing. It's hard to believe some people haven't learned to use a computer yet.
Though, for those editors that do know how to use technology efficiently, they should know how to do search engine optimization. This helps a page get further up in a search result, giving their page more views and visitors. It's an Internet marketing strategy that can also determine a piece's content. Changing the headline or lead of a story can help because it's the first thing people see when they find the search result. If it's more attention grabbing than the others, people will probably click on that one over another option.
Another task an editor has is choosing embedded links, or hyperlinks. Should it be a single word, or a sentence? If there are two next to each other, should they be split up or combined? It all depends on which will give better information to readers. The links should be related to the article, and are usually useful to people who may not know what something is. The editor will have to make these decisions.
Photos are something that shouldn't be edited. Manipulated photos don't truthfully show what happened. Cropping or cutting a part out is just the same. It lies to the public and is misleading. This goes for video and audio as well.
Good editors should also decide if diagrams, charts, graphs, etc. should be interactive. If they are, there should be some benefit. Maybe it becomes easier to fit in more information. Maybe it's the easiest way to clearly represent something. Maybe it even brings the audience to other sources of information. If it doesn't have a real purpose, then chances are it's going to waste both the audience's time and the creator's time, and make the information more confusing than it should be.
These things all require basic knowledge of computers. Without it, an editor wouldn't be able to do their job to their full potential. Works are able to reach further audiences because of the Internet and technology, so these skills are essential.
4. Decision Making
Another ability a good editor must have is decision making.
Like said before, an editor has to choose whether or not to edit something. They need to decide if it's worth their time before bothering to do so. This is the first decision they must make in their process.
Part of this decision comes from questioning if the piece is ethical or not. If a story is missing sources, a conflict of interest, or puts someone in danger, it obviously shouldn't be published. If a story has it's sources and is legitimate, even if it may be controversial, it should be run. It's important to give the public the truth, but it must be ethical in how it's done.
The editor must also decide if it's ok to have an anonymous source. There needs to be a purpose to their anonymity. If the reader sees that most of the sources are anonymous, how do they know they can trust the writer? Anonymity can be ok sometimes, such as when someone will be in danger or could lose their job. However, a person asking to be anonymous might have a grudge against something or could benefit from information being leaked. The editor has to decide whether to accept and trust them as a source.
Another decision to make is whether it's ok for someone to go undercover. It's ethically wrong because it deceives people at the time, but sometimes it needs to be done to discover the truth. It should be for something of great public interest, and has to be explained later why it was done. Is there a better way to get the information, or is this the only way?
A decision that editors are now making (thanks to technology) is whether something should be printed or only posted online. There's a limited space for print, but enough room on a website. Again, they need to decide if the piece is important enough for the public to see. Not everything can be printed, and a good editor will know what takes priority.
There are certain personality traits that every good editor should have.
First, they must be detail-oriented. An editor must be able to see every aspect of a story. This way they'll catch little mistakes that most people would look past and be able to correct them quickly.
They'll also need interpersonal skills. Editors don't work alone. They're constantly communicating with different people, whether the writer or a source. If they have this skill, it will make their job a lot smoother. People will want to work and cooperate with them, and their editing will be more successful.
A good editor will also be good at time management. They can work efficiently under pressure and get the job done. Less time will be wasted, and more edits can be made, making the piece closer to perfect. The balance of quality and quantity will be more even.
They will also be accountable and fair. If there's a mistake, they will take responsibility and correct it. If making corrections or updates online, the public will be told that there have been changes, and past versions will most likely be made available. A good editor will be truthful and honest to their actions. They'll interpret information correctly without manipulating it, and won't omit facts to mislead the audience.
Editors should also be able to do their job without silencing the voice of the writer. They shouldn't try to sway the writer's views or interject their own ideas. There needs to be objectivity when editing, and the editor should know when he or she is being ignorant.
Finally, a good editor should have patience. Nothing would be accomplished if there were no tolerance between the editor and writer. Sometimes a deep breath and a break are necessary. Without patience, editing wouldn't even be possible.