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Jessica Marshall is an award-winning science, environmental and health journalist. She has been a regular contributor to Discovery News and New Scientist. Her work has also appeared in Nature, TheAtlantic.com, Science's online news service, Science News for Kids, and on public radio, among other outlets. She has taught science journalism at the University of Minnesota. Jessica earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley before becoming a science journalist. She attended the Science Communication Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

8 responses to “Working with editors panel Nov 2, share your stories here”

  1. Monya Baker

    A few weeks ago, I was watching a Shakespeare performance at San Francisco’s Presidio. As Lady Macbeth sleepwashed her hands, I felt a pulse on my thigh. My editor had called my cell phone. I padded far off on the grass, and as the players tomorrowed and tomorrowed and tomorrowed, my editor and I discussed the finer points of brain anatomy.
    This last-minute discussion, forced by unanticipated schedule shifts, was unusual and far from ideal. But as much as I hated missing the end of the performance, I was grateful my editor had picked up the phone to call me. It was close to midnight for her, but we both knew that the other would do what it took to get the story right, and that we needed each other to make the story the best it could be. That sense of trust and teamwork underlies much of the best science journalism.

  2. Kendall Powell

    A burning question of mine: Do editors want to see what you self-edited out?

    I started a habit–learned and encouraged as an intern–of moving interesting/informative bits of a story that I ultimately end up cutting to the end of the text under the heading “overmatter”. In my head, I think it’s important sometimes for the editor to see these, but perhaps I’m just muddying the waters or annoying the heck out of all of my clients?

  3. Adam Rogers

    Editors! What a bunch of jerks!

    (Are we really so opaque and mysterious? We’re just a bunch of writers and reporters who are trying to put out a magazine/newspaper/website/whatever. Our writers make that possible, and we love them for it.)

  4. Robert Frederick

    Burning (hypothetical) question about the freelance writer-editor relationship:

    What do you do when an editor who commissioned an article and with whom you have been providing regular updates to passes it off to another editor with whom you also provide updates to but then reverses course and kills your article after you’ve submitted it?

    In general, unlike staff reporters, we’re not paid on salary and it takes just as much time to report/write/file a story that gets killed as one that doesn’t, and kill fees are rarely as high as if the story had been published.

    Looking forward to the panel!

  5. Michael E. Newman

    My first freelance assignment for a national health and wellness education magazine in 1984 was a story on back pain. The editor decided to change my title to “Getting Straight in the USA” which made it sound like an anti-gay piece. To make matters worse, he used a photo of a burly man in work clothes and a hard hat standing rigidly straight like a soldier at attention. After the article was published, the editor hated the resulting look, felt sorry for what he had done, and swore he would never dress one of my stories again with anything so atrocious. He kept his promise; thank goodness because I wrote for the magazine for the next 26 years!

  6. Michael E. Newman

    To balance the ledger, what makes a great editor? I think he or she must be clear and detailed with directions, supportive and guiding through every phase of writing and production, talented in wordsmithing and creative editing; and most of all, fair at all times. They should consistently make the freelancer’s work the best it can be. Great editors are like great doctors or mechanics-—hard to find but when you do, consider yourself lucky. Over 35 years of freelancing, I have only experienced a few stinkers among the editors I’ve served. Most have been true gems!

  7. Michelle Nijhuis

    My favorite assigning editors are those who can clearly articulate what their bosses are looking for. There’s always some degree of caprice in the assigning process, sure, but great editors watch for patterns and communicate those to writers. So instead of responding to a promising but not-quite-right pitch with “Sorry, I just couldn’t get any interest in this at the pitch meeting,” they can say “I think this would have sold if it took place in the Southeast,” or “Ms. EIC really needed a fresher tech angle.” Writers get that there’s no recipe, but specifics do help us pitch better and faster. The sense that one’s getting closer to the target is really motivating.

  8. Jill U Adams

    One thing I’ve gotten better at is seeing edits as in-the-moment reactions to my story. Sometimes they’re editor reactions (such as, this is the place to tell me how many Americans get lung cancer) and sometimes they’re reader reactions (such as, what is plantar fasciitis again?). Back in my early take-everything-personally days, I would berate myself for not including the lung cancer stats (I should know that by now!) or really wonder at the intelligence of my editor (really? my health editor doesn’t know what plantar fasciitis is?).

    Now, as sane as this sounds, I realize that my editors are trying to help my story serve the reader.

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