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Editors Talk about Editing

Insights for Readers, Writers and Publishers


Susan L. Greenberg

The work of «editing» is by and large something that happens behind the scenes, noticed only when it is done badly, or not done at all. There is not much information about what editors do. The result is that editing is not often talked about in its own right – not even by the people who do it. This collection of interviews attempts to fill some of the gaps. The author, a former editor herself, interviews practitioners at the top of their game – from newspapers, magazines, broadcast news, book publishing, scholarly editing, academic publishing and digital curation. The interviewees think out loud about creativity and human judgment; what they have in common and what makes them different; how editing skills and culture can be shared; why editing continues to fascinate; and why any of this might matter.
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Chapter 1: Johnny Grimond, The Economist


← 18 | 19 → Chapter 1


Writer at Large, The Economist1Interview: Wednesday, June 13, 2012Holland Park, London

The meeting recorded here took place just a few weeks after Johnny Grimond’s retirement from The Economist, his professional home since 1969. Some of that time was spent as foreign editor, and during the interview it became clear that Grimond had edited my own work in the 1990s, during a stint as a Prague correspondent.

The Economist is an apt case study for this book, because its ‘tightly edited and closely argued’ style2 is widely recognised as a key to its success. It is an example of a consistent collective voice and a model of publishing in which not getting rid of the middleman has made a positive difference. Until his retirement, Grimond played a key role in defining that voice.

The publication’s style guide, long edited by Grimond, explains the creed:

‘The Economist has a single editorial outlook, and it is anonymous. But it is the work of many people, both in London and abroad. If the prose of our Tokyo correspondent is indistinguishable from the prose of our Nairobi correspondent, readers will feel…robbed of variety [and] wonder whether these two people exist…The moral for good editors is that they should respect good writing. That is mainly what this style guide is designed to promote.’3

The discussion that follows adds some three-dimensional detail to...

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