Survive Your Newsroom

Survive Your Newsroom: Comment Editor

You might be yoked to the newswheel being broken like a butterfly but occasionally you’ll get a glimpse of someone who thinks for a living: the Comment Editor.

Responsible for the intellectual heart of a newspaper – as opposed to the fist-pump of sports or the tub-thump of angry news – the Comment Editor can be a rarefied creature.

But do not be fooled.

While the primary task of the comment editor is to fill those middle bits of the paper that you skip through before the TV guide, they should be regarded as one of your most useful newsroom allies. Not only are they grt company for lunch – two bottles of wine is seen as standard – they have a contacts book as long as your arm.

Every one of the pointy heads that has written about global warming (ok, climate change, if you must), every ministerial column (or likely, their spin doctor) and every celebrity who has offered ‘their take’ on the issue du jour is in their contacts book. This makes cultivating them for help when you need to get that knee-jerk splash quote for the headline absolutely vital.

They are also the most skilled in office politics.

comment

Middle bits: very important and skillfully marshalled but no contest when it comes to Page 3

Not only do they attend morning and evening news conferences, they also attend leader conference where editors spew out the official narrative on the day’s events – including skateboarding squirrels – usually to the bafflement of any reader who can bring themselves to read them.

Interpreting the editor’s thoughts, handling and roping in intellectual heavyweights to write for a deadline while finding time for tow hour wine filled lunches requires a deftness not often seen in the newsroom. Some may go as far as to have ‘the ear’ of your editor and scratching their back when needed will go a long way to building goodwill in an environment riddled with insecurity and paranoia.

But they are not all cuddly.

Beware of those with Assistant Editor or Associate Editor monikers acting as comment editors. Some fo these are passed over editors-in-waiting or sidelined editors skewered on the office politics pyramid. This is as far as they can go and now must serve their time until the golden watch and the cobbled together front page presented at the retirement party.

These can be tricky indeed and conference with these in tow can see the unprepared naif news editor skewered for kicks. Other than the chief sub, comment editors are known for their ability to casually add a killer question into the conference mix that can undo the news desk presentation as skilfully as a stillet between the ribs.

They never ask a question they don’t know the answer to and they only ever posit a point you cannot rebut.

There’s a reason they’re called comment editors but that comment couldn’t be printed in a family newspaper.

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