Training an editor
Storytelling Content Creation

Can You Train a Non-Editor to Edit for Brand Journalism?

Spoiler alert: No.

I wanted to share a recent post I contributed as part of an email for Boston Content, a content marketing professionals group. Boston Content founder Jay Acunzo had posed the question, “How would YOU start to train an editor? Can you, or is it all intuition plus years of repetition that make an editor good? If you needed to ramp up colleagues to defend content quality and be that editor, what would you do?”

This is a question that many businesses and marketing teams are faced with as they begin to outline their own brand journalism teams. After consulting the wisdom of our editorial department here at Skyword, I came back with the following responses from members of our editorial team:

“We’ve been at this for several years now, and have robust processes in place for every new account (and that’s for a team of trained brand journalism editors). This isn’t an easy task by any means.”

1. You Cannot Train Someone to Be an Editor, at Least not within Your Timeline

  • “Sam, am I reading that your friend wants to take non-editor tech people and train them to edit content? Better to find an editor and train him/her on the specific content quality standards. If your friend is only looking for someone to find spelling and grammar errors, he might be able to train someone who is already good at coding to proofread. If he wants someone to smooth and shape language, good luck to him.”
  • “Well, you really need someone with an editorial background, someone who has a degree in journalism, English, or some other related field. You also want someone who has a fair amount of years as an editor under his or her belt. It’s not necessarily years of repetition, but years of reading content with a critical eye; knowledge of style, spelling, grammar, and syntax; and the ability to adapt these editorial skills to the type of content the client needs. If you have people with an editorial background already, it’s possible to train them on the specific content and client needs. I don’t think, however, it’s possible to start from scratch.”
  • “It might be possible if you sent the people in question to an editing class to learn the nuts and bolts of grammar, etc.”

2. You Need to Think Like the Brand

  • “Being an editor is not only about fixing typos and style. It is about learning to think like your brand. Owning the content you approve. Would you approve this content if you were the president of the brand? Really? Explain why. If you are not 100 percent sure, then be conservative—big brands usually are. Do not approve an article you are not 100 percent comfortable with. This would be my first piece of advice to any editor, junior or senior. Of course, learning to understand a brand takes time and professional experience, but even a new editor can have this mindset.”

3. You Need to Understand the Client’s Business Model Inside and Out

  • “I think, first and foremost, editors have to be cognizant of the different channels they are involved in. Despite the notion that an editor needs necessarily to be a grammar guru or deadeye when it comes to catching errors, it seems much more important that he or she understands the needs of the client. In this regard, it is of utmost importance that editors not just function as a catch-all for fact checking, spelling, grammar, etc., but also that they understand the ever-changing business requirements of the client. This is best achieved, I think, through visibility; that is to say, an editor should be ‘involved’ in a way that perhaps it is not expected that editors need be. Whether this is a conference call, weekly ‘touch base’ meetings, or inclusion on emails, the more that an editor can see the nuts and bolts of a process, the better.”

4. You Need to Have Experience Establishing Brand Guidelines

  • “I’d then bring in an outside consultant to help establish brand guidelines and do [quality control] as the new editors learn the craft.”
  • “That being said, it is also important to streamline guidelines and procedures, much as we do here. Though it is understood that such documents are organic and ‘alive,’ effort should be taken to keep these standards concise, up to date, and accessible at all times. No one can commit such things to memory—perhaps that is what the ‘years of repetition’ provides, though!”

Other advice included having someone in-house who can quality-check the work. Even the best editors miss things from time to time, so it is helpful to have someone who can double-check articles and be sure that the content is adhering to even the nitty-grittiest content quality standards.

These are just our thoughts on the matter. What do you think? Can you train an editor?

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