From the Founders I
Of Editors and Editing
Photograph by: Bob Capazzo
There are many kinds of editors. And I still haven’t figured out most of their job descriptions. On a small (but mighty) magazine, we all wear lots of hats. But according to the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME), there are editorial directors, editors, managing editors, senior/executive editors, features/associate/assistant editors, copy-editors/researchers and others.
Missing in ASME action is editor-in-chief, my title for twenty years at Greenwich Magazine. Oh well, what’s in a title? I’ve had many — from contributing editor of the Greenwich Review to my current status as founder/editorial adviser. And I’ve been proud to bear each one. That is, once I got over the shock of being an editor at all. In December 1986, when we bought the Review, I turned to Jack at the closing and asked him: “So who’s going to be editor?” “You are,” he said. “But I’m a writer!” I stammered. “I don’t know anything about editing!” He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Donna, we can’t afford an editor. You’re it!”
Of course, people can be touchy about titles. Early on, we had a young employee who worked in production designing the magazine. She wanted the title of associate editor. I pointed out that she wasn’t an editor but that she did indeed assist the editors. So how about editorial assistant? No, she said, she would never be an “assistant” again. (I wish I could say that in life and have it stick.) Later, I told the story to the husband of one of our editors, Cinnie Coulson, and Bobby said, “Well, we just have one title for everybody in our law firm in New York: serf.”
Good editing, or the lack of it, can make or break a book. It’s a detail business, and editors have to check every one. Long ago, we interviewed a woman for a story on second homes. She said she had taken art classes in Portland, fallen in love with the area and decided “to take her time and mosey up to Maine” to buy a summer house there. Due to a one-letter typo, what came out in print was that she’d decided “to take her time and money” up to Maine. As luck would have it, this woman was particularly sensitive about the size of her large pocketbook. She was not amused.
On the other hand, after we announced the marriage of the granddaughter of Mrs. Stillman Rockefeller and the late Mr. Rockefeller, we found out he wasn’t “late” at all. He called to tell me so. And, in fact, he was amused.
Then there was the time we spelled Rukeyser wrong on the cover. Fine fellow that he was, Lou never complained, but when we discovered our giant error, I sent him an apology saying, “Yes, I do know how to spell Rukeyser,” and wrote it in longhand 100 times. We laughed about it together whenever we met, usually at Princeton reunions.
Editors love to proof menus in restaurants, but most of all, we love words. I was just reading Ken Follett’s World Without End and learned where pitfall came from. In fourteenth-century battles, the English dug holes one-foot deep and one-foot square in front of their dismounted knights in order to trip up the huge French warhorses when they came charging in, thus throwing their heavily armored riders to the ground.
About windfall: Apparently that word came from our pre-Revolutionary days when the British needed wood for ships and wouldn’t let the Colonists cut down trees. They were, however, allowed to claim trees blown down by the wind. Fun, what? So now I’m happy to be an editor — by any name.
— Donna Moffly