What Are the Duties of a Managing Editor?

by Ron White

A managing editor position is often the pinnacle of a career in print journalism. This highly coveted job also brings with it a heap of responsibility. Managing editors play a key role in the operation of newspapers and magazines. In most cases, the success or continued success of a publication relies heavily on the performance of the managing editor, and performance depends largely on meeting the expectations of the job.

Manages Staff

The managing editor directly oversees all other editors, acting as a supervisor, mentor and guide. A managing editor works closely with the opinion page editor, news editor, sports editor, lifestyles editor, graphics editor, online editor, design editors and other top newsroom employees. He promotes and hires new editors and terminates those who fail to meet expectations. At smaller companies, the managing editor may hire and fire all editorial employees, including reporters and photographers. The managing editor also makes daily decisions that affect the entire editorial department. Such decisions include adjusting deadlines under special circumstances, including during elections, and deciding whether to run controversial content, such as images of dead bodies at a crash scene.

Sets and Enforces Policies

The managing editor sets and enforces policies and procedures used by the publication’s editors, reporters, photographers and news clerks. The managing editor sets times for editorial meetings, deadlines for sending the newspaper to the pressroom for printing and which pages will include color. The managing editor also helps in enforcing policies established by the publisher and editor in chief. Such policies may include when to publish names with stories. For example, many newspapers do not publish the names of sex crime victims and some do not publish the names of youth charged with various crimes. In special circumstances, the managing editor also makes the decision to stray from the normal policy.

Determines Coverage

The managing editor often assigns stories to news departments or directly to reporters. The managing editor also approves and denies pitched news and feature stories. The managing editor also plays an advisory role in deciding how stories are reported. He may recommend or require that a particular story appear on the first page above the fold, and he may recommend that a story be held for a different day. The managing editor also plays a key role in establishing and overseeing compliance with style standards. This includes making certain that all editors and reporters use the correct fonts and in-house punctuation, spelling and grammar guidelines.


The managing editor must serve as the primary liaison between the editorial staff and the publisher and editor in chief. At smaller companies, the managing editor may communicate directly with the publisher on a frequent basis. At larger companies, the managing editor may communicate regularly with the editor in chief but rarely with the publisher. The publisher and editor in chief may pass information to the managing editor for delivery to the editorial staff. This may include a simple message of a job well done but also could include written correspondence warning of possible job cuts or awards won by the publication and its employees. The managing editor also may communicate with the advertising department. This is often the case when the advertising department chooses to publish a special section and needs the editorial side’s assistance in providing copy. The managing editor also fields emails and phone calls from the public.

About the Author

Based in Central Florida, Ron White has worked as professional journalist since 2001. He specializes in sports and business. White started his career as a sportswriter and later worked as associate editor for Maintenance Sales News and as the assistant editor for "The Observer," a daily newspaper based in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. White has written more than 2,000 news and sports stories for newspapers and websites. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.

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