We were very lucky to conduct an "in person" interview With Mr. Cannon, an editor at the San Diego Union Tribune:
1. Can you explain your job?
I am an assistant metro editor at The San Diego Union-Tribune, a daily newspaper that circulates about 380,000 papers on weekdays and 450,000 on Sundays. I am in charge of the general assignment team, a group of six reporters who come in every morning ready to write about whatever is the biggest news of the day. I help get photos and other artwork to illustrate these stories and capture readers' attention.
2. Do you like your job? What do you like best? Least?
Most days, I like my job a lot. Some days, though, I wish I were a marine biologist or maybe a carpenter. The best part of my job is when my reporters produce a story that makes a difference in the community. For example, when we find out about something that is wrong, and it gets fixed because we pointed it out, that is very satisfying. The thing I like least about my job is telling people "No." People call and think they have the best story in the world, but then I realize it's a real boring deal that even the best writer in the world couldn't make interesting. I have to tell those people that we won't be writing about them. Sometimes they get mad. Sometimes they yell. Oh well, part of the job.
3. Did you always want to be a newspaper editor? How long have you been an editor?
I knew I always wanted to be a writer, or involved in writing in some way. I was an editor on high school and college newspapers. After college, I was a reporter for 10 years, and then decided to make a switch into editing. I have been an editor for about 15 years. I know what you're going to say -- I really don't look old enough to have spent all those hard years working for newspapers. Come on, that's what you were going to say, right?
4. What other jobs have you done on the newspaper?
People who work in journalism typically move around a lot and work for a several newspapers during their careers. On smaller newspapers, you do many jobs at once, because there are fewer staff members. Early in my career, I worked on small newspapers. Here are newspaper jobs I have held in the last 25 years at a variety of newspapers: news reporter, sportswriter, sports editor, photographer, photo lab technician (the person who develops the film and prints the photos), page designer, copy editor, headline writer, makeup editor (the person that trims stories that come out too long), news editor (helps decide what goes on the front page), and weekend editor. Whew.
5. Is there special training or education involved in your job?
Yes, but most of it is learned on the job. The best way to prepare for a newspaper career is to study as many different subjects as possible, because you never know what you may be writing about the next day or next month or next year. I went to college to get a degree in English, and along the way I took a lot of courses in history and Spanish and political science. I wish I had taken some classes in business and economics. But, you can prepare for journalism in a very simple way: Read a lot.
6. How long does it take to edit one story?
Like everything else in life, that depends. It depends on how long and complicated the story is. If it's a story that is likely to make a lot of important people angry, we can spend days and even weeks making sure it accurate. If it's a fairly simple little story, it might only take 30 minutes to edit. I would say the average time for an everyday type of news story is about an hour.
7. Do you use dictionaries, spell checkers or other tools to help you with your job?
Absolutely! I have a dictionary within arm's reach, and a book called the Associated Press Stylebook, which is a listing of rules that the Union-Tribune follows on word usage, capitalization, and punctuation. My computer at work has a spell checker, which I use on every story. I have a thesaurus on my desk, along with special books on medicine and science and the military that help me edit stories about those subjects. I also have a Thomas Brothers map book on the San Diego region and a road atlas of the United States to help me check on locations that are in stories I'm editing.
8. Can you explain the steps of producing a newspaper?
It's easy. Here's what you do: listen and look for unusual things that are happening; write about those things and get pictures and graphics to show people what you're talking about; edit those stories; decide where they'll be placed in the newspaper; design the pages; write the headlines and photo captions; send all the material to the production department, where the pages are assembled; send the completed pages to the plate making department, where the words and images on the page are transferred to a flexible metal plate; attach the plates (in the right order) to the three-story high printing press; run the press for a few hours, and get the completed papers to the trucks for delivery; get ready to do it again tomorrow.
9. What is the process (are there specific steps) involved in editing?
The best way to edit a story is to read it through once to get a sense of it, before you start changing anything. After you have a feel for it, read it again to look for things that are missing, and ask yourself these questions: Are there gaps in what you are telling the reader? Does the story make sense? Are the important ideas at the beginning of the story? Is it fair, accurate and balanced? Have the reporter fill in anything that's missing. When you are satisfied, read the story again, this time looking for grammar and spelling problems. (Whoops, that should be problems. Good thing I edited this.) After you have made those fixes, read it over one last time just to see if you missed anything. Use the computer spell checker, and you're finished.
10. Do you have to have knowledge of the subject you are editing?
It is a very good idea to have knowledge about subjects that you are editing. That is why it is so important to keep reading books, magazines and newspapers, to keep your knowledge tank full. That doesn't mean you have to be an expert. For example, you don't have to be a lawyer to edit stories about court cases, but you have to know enough to make sure the stories are accurate and fair.
11. Have you ever printed anything that had errors?
Yes, unfortunately. In every case, the errors were because we didn't check into a story enough, or we were going so fast that we overlooked something important.
12. How many editors are there at a newspaper?
That is another one of those questions in which the answer depends on a variety of factors. Size of the newspaper will determine the number of editors at most papers. At the Union-Tribune, if you consider the news, sports and features departments, there are probably 125-150 editors.
13. Are you in charge of other people? How do you choose whom you'll work with?
I supervise a team of six reporters. My bosses assigned the team to me, so I didn't really pick them. However, when we have an opening on the team, my bosses ask me if I want to recommend someone who I think might be good on the team.
14. What part of the newspaper do you edit?
I edit stories about things that happen in the San Diego area, or stories that happen elsewhere in the world that might have some sort of connection to San Diego. These stories are likely to appear in the A (front) and B (local news) sections of the newspaper, although they sometimes are printed in the Currents or Business sections.