When you see magazines at the bookstore or visit your favorite sites online, do you wish you could be part of the action?
There are a lot of people involved in creating content for the masses on any given subject, but editors-in-chief are the ones supervising the entire process and guiding every single story to completion — from research and facts to grammar and tone. They’re the last fact-checkers, grammar mavens and all-around advisors who get to see a story before sending it out wide. They’re also the ones responsible for cultivating and maintaining an outlet’s unique voice, tone and perspective.
Editors-in-chief have to be experts in what their publication specializes in and how to best communicate that specialty to the public. And without any typos, either! They make sure all their writers are being honest, accurate and engaging. Oftentimes, they contribute their own writing on a regular basis, too.
What Editors-in-Chief Do
Even if editors-in-chief all perform a lot of the same tasks, each one has a different editorial focus. The breadth of jobs in Roadtrip Nation’s archive of career stories is proof.
Kate White, former editor-in-chief, Cosmopolitan: Oversaw the creation of stories about women’s relationships, health, careers, fashion and more.
Mariette DiChristina, editor-in-chief, Scientific American: Leads America’s premier science magazine as it provides vital and varied scientific information to the world.
Kalle Lasn, founder and editor-in-chief, Adbusters: Started a magazine to organize activists, advocate for environmentalism and critique consumerism.
How to Get There
There’s no single path to becoming an editor-in-chief — people enter the field from all different angles. This is a field where it's far more about the skills you possess than the school you went to or the degree you have. Check out all the different ways the people mentioned above got started.
Kate White, former editor-in-chief, Cosmopolitan.
Obtained a B.A. in English → moved to New York City and got an editorial assistant position at Glamour → put together a portfolio for her boss and began contributing to the magazine → released her first book in 1996 → became editor-in-chief for Cosmopolitan.
Mariette DiChristina, editor-in-chief, Scientific American.
Grew up loving science → took a journalism class in college and loved it → majored in journalism → got a job at a newspaper → began writing science stories → worked for Popular Science and Scientific American as an executive editor → became Scientific American’s editor-in-chief.
Kalle Lasn, founder and editor-in-chief, Adbusters.
Started an advertising company in Japan → became disillusioned with the corporate world → quit and traveled around the world for three years → worked on the National Film Board of Canada → went on to found Adbusters.
How to Break in
You may think you have to start out as the most hawkeyed editor of all time in order to one day lead the charge at your favorite publication.
While it certainly helps to know your way around grammar backward and forward, a deep interest and curiosity for your field is an essential ingredient. Communicating effectively and helping others do the same, alongside a basic love of writing, editing and the subject you hope to specialize in, will be the fuel you need to succeed as an editor-in-chief.
Whatever path you take, you’ll need to demonstrate that you have a distinctive voice as a writer, a well-developed sense of your language’s conventions and a confident, clear voice to tell the world about the things you love.
While a B.A. isn’t necessary, it’s probably worth acting like it is. It’s not impossible to break into this career without a college degree, but the odds aren’t in your favor if you don’t have a diploma.
Majoring in English or journalism seems like the obvious choice, but it’s not the only one. Every outlet is different. If you love writing and computer science, you can major in the latter and be all the wiser when it comes to fact-checking others’ stories. The same applies to any subject.
Start writing for and pitching to websites and blogs, building up your portfolio and establishing good rapport with your editors. You’ll find it far easier to climb the ranks if you go one step at a time. Start freelancing for a magazine or website, keep an eye out for staff positions and keep going from there. This way, you can one day take the helm of a site or publication you’ve loved and worked with or get help from friends in the business when you decide to found your own.
More Editor-in-Chief Stories From Roadtrip Nation
Debbie Stoller, editor-in-chief, Bust
Debbie started out interested in psychology and knew she was good with computers. After taking a few classes in women’s studies, she discovered that she wanted to spread the word about feminism. Eventually, she founded Bust magazine.
Betty Cortina, editorial director, Latina
Betty’s parents didn’t want her to go to college — she was supposed to stay home until she was married. After applying to colleges in secret, she got a full-ride scholarship from the Miami Herald and, after a turn as a crime reporter for newspapers, became Latina’s editorial director.
Joe Ray, editor-in-chief, Lowrider
Joe Ray loved his Hot Wheels as a kid. As he got older, that morphed into a love for lowriders. As the editor-in-chief of Lowrider, he gets to spend all day facilitating conversations about the cars he adores.
How to Get Started Now
If becoming an editor-in-chief is an interest for you, don’t feel like you have to make it your only interest right away.
Most importantly, write. Even if you’re the only person who ever sees it. Join clubs inside or outside of school so you can get feedback from others. Work for your school newspaper. Send out pitches to magazines and websites. If your friends need help editing papers, lend a hand!
Focus on developing your writing and editing skills, but when you find something that interests you, try to learn everything you can about it. Ultimately, being an editor-in-chief means knowing all there is to know about what your publication focuses on and making that information accessible to everyone.
Roadtrip Nation is a nonprofit organization working to change the way people approach choosing a career by creating content, products and experiences that guide individuals in exploring what’s possible when they follow their interests.