Editors at Work: U.S. Institute of Peace

Viola Gienger is a senior editor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C.

What does the United States Institute of Peace do?

It’s one of the institutes in Washington that is both a research institute, like a think tank, but also does a lot of programming on the ground in conflict zones. So our brief is to try to prevent violent conflict and mitigate it when it happens. We work in all of the major conflict zones, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Tunisia, Pakistan, [and in] Colombia we are very heavily involved in supporting the Colombian peace process.

What does your job entail?

I’m a senior editor and writer, which means that I handle all of the articles and analysis that go on to our website, except for our publications like special reports, peace briefs and so forth which are handled in a different department. But I oversee the editorial quality, editorial content, coverage of events that we have in the building [and] discussions on major issues.

How did you got your start?

My career in journalism started largely because biomedical engineering turned out to not be for me. I spent a lot of time while I was at university getting practical experience. I worked at the student newspaper, worked at the student literary magazine, and then I got an internship with my hometown newspaper.

I moved to Britain for a couple of years for personal reasons and worked at a computer magazine there for a while until I found a position at AP Dow Jones. I got a fellowship with the Knight International Journalism Fellowship program and went to Eastern Europe for six months and just learned so much and was so interested in that field I decided to stay over there and ended up seven years in Eastern Europe, living in Belarus and Poland, and four years in Bosnia. I got back into foreign affairs, national security and foreign policy coverage, and covered the State Department and Pentagon. I got to travel with the secretaries of state and secretaries of defense and with the press pool and cover some really burning issues on that beat. Then this position came up at the United States Institute of Peace, and I really couldn’t turn it down.

Is there any one project that has been the most important to you or you have felt the most proud of?

I’m very fortunate to say there have been many. One was in Bosnia. I got there a couple years after the war, and everybody there was adjusting to a new system with checks and balances, but there was still a lot of resistance to that, and the role of journalists as independent reporters and investigators was just emerging. The project that I’m most proud of there is working with local counterparts, who were really first-rate journalists themselves, as well as the leaders of the news media there. The publisher and owner of a relatively new newspaper there decided that he wanted to expand his newspaper, and we worked with him and he ultimately decided that he wanted to establish the first multi-ethnic, national newspaper in Bosnia, and he did that. Working with him and working with his team was really, really gratifying.

 

Current college students are eligible to be a part of the Research Assistant Program through the United States Institute of Peace. Recent graduates can also be hired as Program Assistants to various departments within the organization. For all job listings and to view current openings, visit http://www.usip.org/jobs.

—Katryna Perera, ’16

Editors at Work: TheAtlantic.com

Caty Green is managing editor of TheAtlantic.com. She was recently promoted from her role as assignment editor.

How did you get into journalism?

I actually didn’t get started in journalism until after college. I went to Bates College up in Maine and majored in rhetoric, so mostly I was studying speeches and different ways of persuading. I decided to go to j-school because it was another form of persuasive writing that I wanted to learn about, but I quickly discovered that grad schools for journalism typically want you to have some newsroom experience. Usually I don’t recommend grad school to student journalists if [they’ve] taken a lot of journalism courses during undergrad. I think you should just get right into the workforce. For me, it worked because I wanted more formal training.

What led you to The Atlantic?

While I was at Voice of San Diego, the executive editor at TheAtlantic.com, John Gould, got in touch with me. John and I set up a call, and we had a few good conversations about where I saw Voice of San Diego’s place in journalism and where I saw The Atlantic’s place in journalism—like what The Atlantic could be and what they could do to make a closer connection to readers. Kind of from our conversations, John and Matt Thompson, who’s the deputy editor [at TheAtlantic.com], created this job called the assignment editor. My main goals for the job were to broaden the pool of voices we were featuring and different kinds of contributors.

What will you be doing in your new position as managing editor?

It’s answering a lot of questions. I am kind of directing traffic within the newsroom. One thing I want to focus on is making sure that [the teams behind] our print product and our web product continue to integrate and continue to work together.

Do you have advice for young writers adapting to a new work environment?

The imposter syndrome is so real, and everyone has it. I was actually talking to a friend about this over the weekend. This job that I’m still just in training for is the first one where I don’t feel I have the imposter syndrome.It’s more like, Oh, this is what I should’ve been doing. But it always comes up, and you always question yourself or doubt what people see in you to have given you this job. Go into whatever situation, if it’s a job interview or a reporting interview, thinking “I deserve to be here” and sell it.

 

Atlantic Media offers a year-long paid fellowship program for recent college graduates looking for editorial and business careers.

—Katie White, ’17

Editors at Work: Cengage Learning (2)

Peter McGahey is a senior content development editor, focusing on physics and chemistry textbooks, at Cengage Learning.

What does your job as a content development editor entail?

When people hear editing, they think we’re looking line by line at what an author gives us and then moving forward. A lot of our job is taking the vision of the author, which is usually very localized to their students and their school and people in their discipline, and trying to create that into an item that can be used by students in every academic level and doing that for a national audience. I am involved in a lot of the drudgery of editorial work that you don’t realize is there. How much money can we spend on this? If the budget can only be this big, how are we going to distribute that through this? We are shifting heavily into digital platforms, especially in the sciences. They are a much more effective way to learn. All of this is happening before you have even gotten to the content that is going to be delivered to the customer.

How did you end up working with textbooks?

I took a bachelor’s degree at LaSalle University in English and philosophy. I was out of school for a couple of years and then went to the University of Connecticut for my master’s degree in English. Along the way, I had done a variety of different things in publishing. I came home from graduate school and ran into Ed Dodd, who I knew, at a barbeque for a police academy graduation. He told me that there was an opening at Saunders College Publishing. Here I am, nearly 20 years later. We all started out as editorial assistants, which back then was a lot of photocopying and moving paper around. Openings came here and there, sort of a zig-zaggy path.

What skills would someone going into development work need?

Attention to detail­, for one. Follow-through is also good. If we discuss a revision to a product family, you’ll ensure it is executed in the textbook, the online homework system, the instructor support books and PowerPoint slides, etc. Creativity is important. Whether it is words, art, animations or photos, the best way to convey a concept may require stepping back and determining a novel way to present it. Project management is important as well. There may be several dozen balls in the air at one time, and you can’t drop any of them. I want to see an ability to adapt. There are trends in education, and we need to recognize them and revise our content to accommodate them.

Do you recommend getting a master’s degree?

For educational publishing many people do graduate work first. You likely will feel underemployed with your master’s degree and a low-level job, but the upward path is much quicker with the degree. Some positions just won’t be possible without one when competing for promotions with people who have master’s and doctoral degrees. This decision also depends on the kind of publishing you want to get into. The situation is different in trade or periodicals.

So what should we be doing now?

For any publishing job, a goal should be to establish as much experience as you can as early as you can, volunteer work, internships, work-study, part-time or gig work, etc. Much of what you need to know to be a good editor is gleaned by doing the jobs, not taught per se.

 

Think you might want to work behind-the-scenes on those textbooks you use in class? Visit Cengage’s careers website for information about internship and job opportunities. 

Mark De Leon, ’17

Editors at Work: Weight Watchers Magazine

Katerina Gkionis is the associate managing editor of Weight Watchers Magazine.

How did you end up at Weight Watchers?

I decided in high school that I wanted to do some kind of journalism, so I did a number of internships. In the summer of my junior year in college, I saw there was a Weight Watchers Magazine internship. I had been interning at CosmoGirl and Seventeen, but I thought, “Hey, this is a smaller magazine. I’ll get more experience there.” So I applied and I got it. I did research. I wrote. I was able to do so much because it’s a smaller staff. When there was an opening as an editorial assistant there, I got that job, which I did for two years. Then I was assistant editor and associate editor and now associate managing editor.

What do you do as an associate managing editor?

My role here is very different from a traditional managing editor at a magazine. We had some restructuring last year, so I took over part of the production side of the magazine. I manage the workflow and deadlines to ensure that we ship the magazine to the press on time and also handle success stories content and fitness content for the magazine. For fitness, I pitch ideas, then work with writers who produce the piece. Then, I edit and send to my editors. For success stories, I find the Weight Watchers members, present them to our editors and write their stories myself. It’s an exciting job with many different tasks, but I actually prefer it that way.

What’s your strategy for keeping your content fresh?

That is always a challenge, especially with weight loss. We used to redesign the magazine every year because the topics were basically the same, and the issues that people tended to have were the same. So we had to find a different spin, right? It’s really about interviewing people, finding experts, looking in the news and always reading the latest studies that come out. Of course it’s hard because one day the research will say “Start eating butter again,” and the next day something else will say, “Oh, my god, butter kills you.” At Weight Watchers Magazine, we always read this website called Science Daily so that we can check out what’s new and fact check everything before putting content out. Every day, I get bombarded with press releases about a new expert or a new study or new guidelines, and that’s how we go about doing something fresh.

Does writing about health and fitness content spill over into your everyday life at all?

Yes, absolutely. I am constantly trying out new fitness classes, gadgets and apparel. It’s so fun to be on the cutting edge of fitness, and it adds variety to my workout routines, too. I am also inspired by members who are making healthy changes in their own lives.

Is it a requirement as a Weight Watchers Magazine employee to pilot the Weight Watchers program?

It’s not a requirement for magazine employees to be on the program. The company does, however, encourage employees to visit a Weight Watchers meeting so that they can understand the Weight Watchers consumer. Personally, the reason I was drawn to the company was from my own experience with Weight Watchers over the years. Most recently, I rejoined the program in January 2013, and I have lost 50 pounds since. It’s a program that I believe in and that I am proud of.

 

Be sure to check out Gkionis’ self-described “best work yet,” the magazines bare-all body image issue, which was featured on Good Morning America. For information on Weight Watchers Magazine’s summer internship program, visit JobVite.

—Samantha Puleo, ’16

Editors at Work: Cengage Learning

Ed Dodd, ’93, is a freelance content developer/editor for Cengage Learning and has worked in the publishing field for almost 22 years. He was an English major at Saint Joseph’s University.

After graduating from Saint Josephs, how did you end up in editing?


One of my radio station [WSJR] colleagues had found work as an editorial assistant at Saunders College Publishing, a college textbook publisher imprint of then Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. She told me that the company was looking for summer interns, and while the job paid very little—if I recall it was either $7.50 or $8 an hour with no benefits whatsoever—it sometimes led to actual job offers at the end of the summer to become full-time editorial assistants. I was an editorial assistant for almost three years before I was named a development editor for physics and chemistry in 1998. I worked in-house for a little under three years before going freelance and working on my own in May of 2001.

What is your role in the editing process?

As a content developer, I’m the primary point of contact with the author on behalf of the company. The company sets the agenda for the new edition or revision in consultation with the author, and a “revision plan” is drafted. Once a manuscript comes in for a certain chapter or chapters, I’ll read it over to make sure the plan is being followed and then prep the text manuscript and the art manuscript for the production process.

What is the relationship like between editor and writer?

A lot of your job is convincing the author of something through emails you write or conversations you have. The emails you write and the arguments you make have to be well written, and in this age of very short attention spans, you can’t send a three-page email because no one is going to read it.

What experiences have made you into a talented editor?

I’ve now worked on textbooks in physics, chemistry, astronomy, earth science, statistics, calculus, business writing, technical communication, TV production, theater design and nonfiction essay compilations, and I think having that sort of range helps keep me marketable as an independent contractor who has to hustle for his next contract the same way a roofer has to find the next guy who needs a roof for his house.

What is your advice for an aspiring editor?

Self-mentoring is really the thing that I would suggest. No one is going to sit down and mentor you because that doesn’t happen. You have to be self-motivated, and you have to mentor yourself. If you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to ask. I also won’t pretend it’s all fun and games. It isn’t. There is tediousness, paperwork and annoying corporate bosses, but you still do what good editors do: Keep authors focused on what they do best—writing—and try to be the best advocate for authors and their needs within the corporate structure. If you’re successful in these two tasks, I think you’d probably be a good editor no matter what the prose you are working with, fiction, nonfiction, children’s books or textbooks.

 

Internships available at Cengage Learning can be found here.

—Ashley Cappetta, ’17

Editors at Work: Star Tribune

Laurie Hertzel is books editor at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

What does your job entail? 

We review books three times a week, which is a lot for a regional paper. I also write a weekly column. I write book reviews myself. I also do author profiles. I get about 1,000 books a month in the mail, and I look at every book and make a decision as to whether or not we’re going to review it. It’s a lot of trotting around, and it’s a lot of organizing, but the wonderful part is I have access to so many books. For me that’s just heaven. When I took the job, one of my editors said, “At some point, you’re going to stop looking at these as books, and you’re going to think of them as tonnage.” And I said if that ever happened, I would quit, and it has not happened.

What about a book makes you decide to review it?

I’m looking for a mix so I have something for everyone. I do pay attention to who the author is. If it’s somebody important and noteworthy, we will probably review it. However, it’s very important to me to not just review the books that you probably already know about or will have seen somewhere else. I also look for books where the author is either from here or is coming to town.

Is there a project that you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?

I wrote a book that came out five years ago called “News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist,” and it was about how I became a journalist and how I kind of fell into newspapers by accident. Then I would say that the pivotal moment for me in my career was when I was working in Duluth, when the newspaper sent me to the Soviet Union to report, and that opened a lot of doors for me.

Who makes a good book editor?

I think somebody like me who is obsessed with books and doesn’t mind working on their own time. You need somebody who is a journalist, really, because a big part of the job is making decisions—news decisions, really. What stories am I going to write? Which writers am I going to profile? [You need] somebody who has a broad taste in reading.

 

The Star Tribune offers paid newsroom internships for seniors in college who have worked for a college news outlet and have interned with at least one other professional news organization. If this sort of internship sounds appealing but you want to stay closer to home, the Philadelphia Inquirer offers similar internships.

—Sarah Sutherland, ’16

Editors at Work: Asset Management

Chris Davis is an investment communications & marketing manager at a large national asset management firm.

How did you end up as a business writer and editor?

I got my master’s degree in English at the University of Connecticut. I was an English professor after school, but for financial reasons I had to change jobs. While reading a newspaper, I saw an ad for a company that was in need of a writer. I applied for it and got a job as an economics writer. You will find that business people cannot write, and they need writers to write for them. I have been writing about economics for 20 years now and do not see myself switching my career any time soon.

With no business background, what steps have you taken to understand economics?

My biggest challenge was learning the terminology and teaching myself. I read a lot of self-starter books to grasp full understanding on the subject. I spent a lot of time reading about economics and the stock market in the Wall Street Journal. There is something new to talk about every day, which has kept me interested over the 20 years.

What specific topics do you write about in your firm?

I do a 12-page brochure of what’s going to happen in the economic year focusing on stock market, products, services, management funds and unemployment rates. I am a ghostwriter for a chief equity strategist. I sit down with the strategist and interview them on what’s going to happen in the world of economics and then write it.

Does it bother you to be a ghostwriter and not see your name on any of your work?

No, it doesn’t bother me because it’s what I do for a living. It’s a different type of writing. A novelist would care, but that’s not this kind of writing.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I’m constantly learning something new and writing about new events. The economic and financial backdrop changes constantly, but the need to inform our clients remains a constant. As a result, every day I need to educate myself about what’s happening in the world and work with my colleagues to figure out what new developments mean for investors. That’s a challenging but deeply rewarding task.

How important is it to be interested in what you are writing?

It certainty helps. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have been interested in economics, but over time I became interested in it. I wouldn’t have stuck to it this long if I didn’t have an interest for it.

What advice would you give to young writers who are moving into the working world?

Don’t underestimate how important it is to have writing and editing skills. Being self-motivated and taking on more responsibilities will make you more successful. I have never seen someone ask for more responsibilities and been told no.

—Emma Schmalz, ’16

Editors at Work: MarVista Entertainment

Michael McGahey is vice president of Series Development and Production at MarVista Entertainment. A Temple University graduate, he convinced a former boss to take a chance on a script by Michael Arndt that became the 2006 hit film “Little Miss Sunshine.”

What does an average work day look like for you?  

In a typical day, I have general meetings or project-specific meetings with writers, producers, directors, actors, managers, agents, network executives and studio executives, or I will have internal meetings with my team. The purpose of my job is to identify, develop, package with talent, sell and ultimately produce TV series and movies for networks, both domestically and internationally. I spend a lot of time meeting with people, corresponding, reading, giving notes and selling a variety of different projects.

What’s your favorite part about your job?

The creative part of the job is the most fun. “Spitballing” ideas with creative people is my favorite part. Negotiating deals is probably my least favorite.

What kind of classes did you take at Temple?

I was really interested in writing and directing, so I took a lot of screenwriting classes and also took classes in the English department, like prose writing and poetry writing. I was really concentrating on writing actually. It was the thing that was most important to me. I did take film editing classes and directing classes and all of that.

How is your job similar to an editor at a publishing or magazine organization?

I read written material, and then I work with the writers to develop that material into something that we can turn into either a television show or movie.

What is the story behind “Little Miss Sunshine”?

“Little Miss Sunshine” was sent to me by an executive at Bona Fide Productions. I read the script, and our development team and assistants all read it. In total there were probably about 10 or 11 of us who read it and weighed in. At the time, I was director of development, and there were two execs above me who didn’t support buying the script, but I fought for it, and ultimately, the partners agreed with me. That was gratifying for me early on in my career. It taught me that you have to have good taste and fight for what you believe in, which doesn’t happen every day.

Why did you make the shift from from movies to television?

I love the theatrical movie business and would have happily stayed in it. The problem is that it’s a business in retreat, so there are not as many job opportunities as there once were because there are fewer and fewer movies being produced. The only reason “Little Miss Sunshine” got made was because my boss was willing to finance the movie out of pocket. That’s a huge gamble, and usually you don’t have a success like “Little Miss Sunshine” come from a gamble like that. TV is just a more robust business presenting more opportunities for success than the feature film will ever likely have again.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years I will likely be more actively producing current TV series for my company, as opposed to developing and selling, and probably managing a larger TV series department. Secretly, I hope I’m on an island in a hammock someplace, but I’m more of a workaholic than that.

 

Want to try your luck in Hollywood? Students interested in internships at MarVista Entertainment in Los Angeles should visit the MarVista website.

—Katherine Ricchini, ’17

Editors at Work: Harcourt

A long-time editor, publisher and writer, Jane Isay served for seven years as editor in chief of Harcourt, where she edited a number of best-sellers, including Buzz Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights.” Isay is currently on the editorial board at The New Press.


What makes you good at editing?

I think it’s love that makes you good at this. I was the kind of girl who read while I was tying my shoelaces. Books have been my salvation. I fit right into publishing, and I knew this was going to be my lifetime work. I also knew what I thought. Being a person who comes to an opinion and trusts it—that’s the first thing about being a book editor. So when there’s a book or a manuscript, if I’m bored, I know it’s going to bore other people. And if I’m excited, I know it’s going to interest people.

Is there something special that makes a particular nonfiction manuscript stand out?

For me, there has to be something new that I’ve never thought or heard of before. Or there has to be, as in “Friday Night Lights,” a window into a world that people don’t know about. So the first is originality. The second is clarity of thought. Sometimes you read a manuscript and the author can’t seem to finish a thought in a paragraph. The writing is writing you could read anywhere. One time I was running a publishing company that was doing a lot of conservative books. And I thought, I’ll do one. They sell. I published a book about juvenile justice, written by a woman who has lately moved to the left politically. I hated everything she had to say. So how could I help her say it better? From that, I learned not to publish cynically. You have to have something in the manuscript that you like. You have to hear some language that resonates with you in order to make it better.

How do you approach authors when you see the need to make a substantial change to their writing?

First you tell the writer all the good things about the work. After all, as an editor, you would not have chosen to publish it if there weren’t good reasons. Then you launch in delicately and, as a colleague, not a judge, discuss some of the problems. Use the pronoun “we” instead of “you.” It’s a team effort.

When deciding to publish a book, do you always try to pick the next best-seller?

Nobody knows what a best-seller is, unless it is the fourth book of a best-selling writer, and even that can fail. A book can be a success without being a best-seller. It can change people’s minds. It can alter the public conversation. I am on the board of a publishing company called The New Press, and we published a book called “The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. The first printing was 3,500 copies, but it’s sold over a million by now, and it’s changed the world. We didn’t know it was gonna be a best-seller. We knew it was important.

What is your advice to young people pursuing a career in publishing?

Go to every website of every major publisher and see if they have an internship program. If you know anybody who’s ever written a book, use that contact. And if there’s a place that publishes a whole lot of books that you are crazy about, then make that part of your application. If you ever get to an interview phase, promise me that you will have studied that publishing company. Give them a sense that you are already engaged in what they’re doing. If you get any internship in a place that deals with words, especially on paper, do it. Because that will give you a leg up in whatever you want to do, especially as an editor.

 

Students interested in applying for editorial internships with The New Press should visit the company’s website for more information. Harcourt, now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, also offers internships at its various offices throughout the United States.

—Abigail Gorman, ’17

Editors at Work: Visit Philadelphia

Dan Wisniewski, ’08, is digital content manager at Visit Philadelphia. He previously worked alongside several other Saint Joseph’s English major alums at Progressive Business Publications 


When did you realize you wanted to work in the digital sphere?

When I worked at Progressive Business Publications, it was an actual publication. If you were an HR Manager, you received it in the mail. Then, we eventually moved it online. I think I would’ve ended up writing in the digital sphere no matter what. All the stuff I was doing for freelancing was stuff that would end up online and also in print, so it wasn’t necessarily a decision that was made so much, as the inevitable thing.

Is there a different learning curve for trying to write web content over print content?

Yes. At Progressive Business Publications, I was using Quark. So I was writing into the actual template of the print, and that was kind of a nightmare. Writing for online now, I have to know HTML. That was a decision that was made maybe a year ago, and I thought, “There is no way I want to do this. This is miserable. It’s going to slow me down so much.” But now I am super excited about it because it means I know a little bit about the coding that goes into how all these pieces work.

For annual events that Visit Philadelphia covers, do you ever feel like you are saying the same thing over and over again? 

We definitely do some repurposing. It is a small team. We have four people. We try to rewrite stuff when we can, and we’re able to use some of the information the communications and PR team put together since they work very far ahead for press. In terms of struggling to talk about the same thing in different ways, you just get used to it. The things that are interesting are always going to be interesting. You just have to keep trying different ways, and some work and some don’t.

 You’ve been successful in what you do. Is it just being a good writer?

 It’s just working hard. The way that I got to be what I think is a decent writer is I just wrote all the time, and I read stuff all of the time. Naturally, you just get better at it as you keep doing it. That’s how I think I ended up where I am today.

Is there a specific area you enjoy working on the most for Visit Philly?  

I really like history a lot, which is good because Philadelphia has the best history. Society Hill is like Disney World. It’s incredible. I also like craft beer, so I like writing about craft beer festivals and stuff like that. We should have a piece coming out soon on Uwishunu on the top 10 brewpubs to visit in a weekend.

To view current internship opportunities, check out VisitPhilly.com. If no internships are listed, email a quick note with your interests to jobs@visitphilly.com

 Lauren Carroll, ’16