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What is a Desk Editor?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A desk editor may work at a book publishing house or a publication such as a magazine or newspaper. He or she is often a managing type of editor, which means being responsible for a team of juniors. The overall management of the editing desk is the position's main duty. A desk editor is usually responsible for ensuring that a publication is completed to quality standards as well as for delegating assignments to those who report to him or her.

For example, a newspaper's desk editor may give out assignments to reporters on a regular basis or during breaking news stories. Desk editors at a book publisher may delegate tasks to assistants. Yet, whether this senior editor delegates the work or does it, he or she always has the ultimate responsibility for making sure all of the issues the publication puts out are error-free. Not only that, desk editors must ensure that everything fits in with house style, which means the particular design and look of the individual publication.

Working under pressure is a reality for most desk editors. In addition to managing staff and overseeing the quality standards of every issue, these editors have to read everything that comes across the editing desk as well as communicate between different departments. For instance, desk editors may consult with marketing departments about book cover designs or newspaper advertising supplements. A desk editor always has publishing deadlines to meet and is responsible for making sure they're met.

A lot of work typically comes across the editing desk for approval or development by the managing editor. If a written piece needs to be improved or developed further, the desk editor will choose whether to complete it or give the task to an assistant. Desk editors must be able to deal effectively with authors. They must be able to communicate information to authors about deadline dates and writing style guidelines. While editorial assistants may correct the author's initial work, the desk editor oversees the process to be sure the publication's standards are being met.

A desk editor is typically passionate about the written word. He or she must have excellent spelling, punctuation and grammar. At least a bachelor's degree in English, journalism, communications or a related subject is usually needed to become an editor. Some desk editors begin as writers, then get more involved in tasks such as fact-checking and proofreading. Becoming a supervising editor may eventually lead into a managing role in charge of the editing desk.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By nony — On Jul 09, 2011

@SkyWhisperer - Yeah, everyone has this mythical idea of the editor in an office desk just barking out orders and living well.

The fact is, a desk editor is more of a manager than anything else. The writing credentials are a given. The real hard part of that job in my opinion is managing a bunch of people under you and realizing that if an article or piece falls flat in some way, it comes back to your desk, not the original author’s.

You take plenty of heat as an editor, and for that reason you are well compensated.

I think that people who don’t want that kind of responsibility are better off using their writing skills in another venue.

By SkyWhisperer — On Jul 08, 2011

@indemnifyme - I graduated with B.A. in English and immediately looked into editor jobs – specifically, I wanted to become a news editor at a local newspaper.

It turns out that you can’t just step into that position; you need to do a lot of small jobs, and I do mean a lot of small jobs. Some of the work you do isn’t even writing related; it involves menial office tasks and so forth.

Further, there is intense competition for the editorial position. I eventually gave up pursuing that as a full-time career and just used my writing skills to freelance on the side while doing something else for the day job.

By indemnifyme — On Jul 07, 2011

@JessicaLynn - Television shows and movies make being an editor look pretty glamorous. It sounds like a lot of hard work though! But if you're willing to put the time in and go back to school I'm sure you can claw your way up the ladder and become an editor.

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 07, 2011

This sounds like a really cool job. I've been considering going back to school to get another bachelors degree, this time in English. I've done a little bit of freelance writing lately but I know my grammar and writing skills could use some brushing up so to speak.

I think I might look for a program that also has courses on editing so I could eventually work my way up to becoming a desk editor.

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