Some 20 years ago, my dean at the University of Maryland, Reese Cleghorn, asked me to develop a course for the editors of our student newspaper, The Diamondback. We were teaching basic copyediting, Cleghorn said, but it was clear that these young editors needed more. They needed to know about managing people, coordinating coverage, developing ideas, budgeting time, and keeping themselves and their staffs productive and sane under stress.

I was a former editor, just arrived at the university, and this sounded like a wonderful course, one I wanted to take myself rather than teach. I set out to collect the most relevant books and materials for this much-needed class. I found almost nothing. There were books on reporting, copyediting and design, on upper-level management, and on general matters of leadership and ethics. But the shelves were nearly bare of materials aimed directly at those key newsroom figures, the midlevel assigning editors.

Today, a generation later, things are better, but nowhere near what is needed. In both the news industry and the universities that feed it, editing is neglected. We fail to invest intellectually in identifying, recruiting, developing and nurturing editors, especially at the assigning level, and this failure is reflected in the profession’s literature.

“Resources for Midlevel Editors”
– By Carl Sessions Stepp
After a few years of teaching our advanced editing course, I wrote a book, “Editing for Today’s Newsroom: New Perspectives for a Changing Profession,” which was published in 1989. That this book remains in use in some classrooms and newsrooms speaks to the absence of contemporary, comprehensive texts for assigning editors. While fledgling and veteran writers can choose from dozens of fine textbooks and trade volumes in their area and copyeditors and designers can select from at least a shelf-full, assigning editors must piece together their libraries from a few books, a large but scattered field of articles, and the handouts and tip sheets collected at relatively few Web sites.

Meantime, we must be heartened that some progress has occurred. The literature today, if not adequate, certainly surpasses what I found two decades ago. It falls into two broad categories: a few works expressly for midlevel editors and more general works that can help midlevel editors. Let’s hope that today’s renewed interest in editing will inspire even more advances in the literature.

Carl Sessions Stepp, a former reporter and assigning editor, teaches journalism at the University of Maryland and is a senior editor of American Journalism Review.

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