Twenty-Five Ways to Improve Editorial Relations

The least common denominator among writers: we all saw our own bylines for the first time and were hooked. We think we’re special. We want everyone else to know that too.

The relationship between an editor and a reporter is deep and symbiotic. It carries all the weight and nuance of a marriage. Communication is key.

Reporting is a young person’s game. They have the drive and the energy, but they don’t have the experience. Each successive generation will make the same mistakes. The most difficult part of teaching is repeating the same lessons year in and year out. But remember: it’s not their fault that they’re young. Take your time. Try not to roll your eyes, even though you’ve heard it all before.

Writers may seem neurotic, but it takes a lot of courage to fill a blank page.

Good editors are good nurturers. When you start begrudging your writers their neuroses, it’s time to go back to writing.

When you start to really hate meetings and memos, it’s time to go back to writing.

When you start rewriting your writers’ stories because they can’t write as well as you, it’s time to go back to writing.

Giving of your own talent to help shape someone else’s will benefit you in the end.

Be realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of your writers. Know which ones can handle the truth about their work and which ones can’t. Know who to push and who to accept.

In style calls, the tie should go to the writer, whether you totally agree or not. As long as it doesn’t impact accuracy, let them have their voice, even if it’s not always the best choice. Let them cringe when they see it in stark print for themselves.

It’s got their name on it, not yours. For better and for worse.

Time permitting, do not hesitate to give a reporter notes and then ask them to rewrite from top to bottom.

Suggest that your writers read out loud to themselves. (In a news room setting, this can be done internally, without moving lips.) Help them find the rhythm in the words.

Do the same yourself when editing.

Time permitting, allow a reporter to rewrite your suggested changes in their own language, as long as they satisfy the intent of your changes.

One reason a reporter will argue very strongly for something is because he/she knows you’re right. “He/She doth protest too much.”

Edit for length from the “inside” of a piece. Cut the fat from sentences, shorten grafs. Try to avoid lopping.

Unless, of course, there is a desperate need for lopping.

Don’t forget to pat your writers on the head. A warm smile and a “Nice job” goes a long way.

The time a reporter spends sitting in the editing chair is his/her time in the spotlight. Not to go all Freud on you, but one reason writers work hard is to please their Daddy/Mommy/Editor.

Be aware of sibling rivalries. Take the lead. Take them to lunch together.

Be willing to play the role of a person who is entrusted with bestowing approval.

Be willing to minister to your flock.

The way a player plays has a lot to do with the confidence of his coach.

Try to avoid drinking at lunch.

Mike Sager

Mike Sager is a bestselling author and award-winning reporter. He’s been called “the Beat poet of American journalism.” For more than forty years, he has worked as a writer primarily for the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, GQ, and Esquire.  Sager has written a dozen books; a number of his stories have inspired movies and documentaries, including the classic Boogie Nights. He is the editor and publisher of, a content brand.

Mike Sager