‘Oh, the night editor! So when you go on to days you’ll be the editor, right?’It’s a common misconception. It’s the sort of job people don’t know about – not many kids say to their careers adviser: ‘I fancy being a night editor”. Well, I certainly didn’t. But there are times after you’ve sent a final edition, to get a late-breaking disaster, an election shock or a small domestic earthquake into the paper, that it can be pretty satisfying.
So what does it take? Well, first get some sleep. The world never nods off so big stories can break at night – and you’ll need to be sharp when they do. Then you have got to be up on the news – all the usual sources will give you a clue on how the day is panning out.
Night editing really begins after the first edition – and it’s here that you have to combine organisation and a feeling for the type of story your readers want to see with an eye for pictures, headlines and layouts. In effect, it’s the job of any editor, whatever the hour.
Lots of stuff will pop up on the TV and wires. The trick is to keep an eye on everything while not getting too engrossed in anything. Focus on what’s achievable and important.
To do that you have to run a team: a news editor, a picture editor, sub-editors and a night reporter. A story pops up in the USA – recent shootings in Michigan come to mind. A call goes to the US correspondents. What you must decide is where this goes in the paper, what is the emphasis and how much can we do in the time available.
I have a production background so I’ll know how I want things to look. But it’s not just about aesthetics, it’s about how the story reads, headlines and the content of pictures.
This is a lot to consider. You have to delegate and trust those you work with. The night editor’s chair is no place for the control freak – you’d burn out pretty quickly. But you have to keep an eye on the whole thing. After all, any changes are down to you.
The traditional motto is: ‘If in doubt, put it in the paper.’That can mean obvious disasters or lighter stories to leaven the mix. The frustrating side of the job can be having a breaking story and not being able to see it to the end – you’re never entirely sure, then, whether you have the volume right. At least we’re fortunate at The Guardian to be able to hand things on to the website.
So that’s it. Night Editing 1.01: get organised and get some sleep. And be prepared to have people thinking your job is just a little bit more high-powered than it actually is.