What Do You Major in if You Want to Be a Magazine Editor?

by Linda Emma

    Magazine editors are responsible for everything within the pages of a magazine from stories and photos to corporate advertisements. The editor makes certain that individual pieces are well-written and structurally sound and that the layout is aesthetically pleasing. At the top of the editorial food-chain, the editor-in-chief ensures a polished finished product that adheres to the editorial policy of the publisher. She needs excellent oral and written communication skills and knowledge of the magazine’s subject.

    Communication and Journalism

    Communication and journalism majors find work in all areas of publication. Students in these majors learn not only the fundamentals of good communication, but also how to work across media from newspapers and magazines to websites and podcasts. Early communications courses often concentrate on the basics of good writing. More advanced courses focus on specifics such as publishing, media law and layout and design.

    English

    Once upon a time the idea of coming out the other side of a four year degree as an English major was the punch line of a joke. However, today’s employers actively seek out graduates who have a strong command of the English language. In a 2007 survey of human resource executives, respondents placed poor written communication skills as the No. 1 problem with entry level employees. English majors learn to critique, write and edit – the very skills that magazine editors must have.

    Business

    Running a magazine is still running a business. While junior copy editors may not need executive skills, managing editors and editors-in-chief need to be able to see the big picture. Ensuring the long-term viability of a publication means making certain that all parties work toward profitability, particularly in an era where most business are multimedia. Business courses in economics, global studies, management, marketing and organizational behavior all have real world application in the publishing industry. Helen Gurley Brown, who was at the helm of Cosmopolitan magazine for more than 30 years, attended a business college.

    Content Specific

    Some magazines are so content specific that employers look for first-hand knowledge of the subject matter above all else. Tech and trade magazines demand a certain level of understanding. Fashion magazines might want editors who are fashionistas. A magazine dedicated to Dungeons and Dragons would expect its editor to be a player. Students majoring in computer science, therefore, might have a better shot at landing a role as editor of a computer magazine. A music major might make a better music magazine editor and a biology major might fare better at the helm of a biomedical magazine than her English major counterpart.

    About the Author

    Linda Emma is an author and writer with more than 20 years experience in media and business. She works as an instructor and professional writing tutor at a private New England college. Emma also serves as copywriter and promotion consultant to private clients. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern University.

    Photo Credits

    • Marili Forastieri/Photodisc/Getty Images