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An Editor's Life

What, exactly, does the editor of "Kiplinger's Personal Finance" do?

When I tell folks what I do for a living, they almost always get blank looks on their faces and change the subject -- either that or ask for hot stock tips.

I don't blame them for that. Nobody knows what an editor does. Journalism schools teach you how to edit, but not how to be The Editor. So I'm going to tell you what this editor does, and I'll start by telling you what I don't do, which is edit.

Who versus whom

I'm blessed to have two very fine articles editors -- Deputy Editor Janet Bodnar and Executive Editor Manny Schiffres. They talk over story assignments with our writers, consult with them as they report and write, and then edit the output, line by line. Janet and Manny are assisted from time to time by senior editors Bob Frick, Jeff Kosnett and Mark Solheim, plus Managing Editor Barbara Marcus. By the time a story gets to me, there's not much left to do. That's fine by me because my spelling is weak and I keep confusing who with whom and that with which.

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So I focus on three important tasks, none of them literary. The first is finding and keeping a good staff. Without qualified, motivated people, this ship would sink. There is not a single editorial employee (there are about 30 of us) who I wish would leave. I mean that, and it's something I could not have said a decade ago. I keep asking people here to do more -- to jump over the moon, so to speak -- and, without complaining, they do it and do it well.

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Dear reader, do you realize that every month, the same staff also publishes a magazine issue's worth of original articles that appear only on Kiplinger.com? That wasn't happening even three years ago, and more people were here then. I don't know what I've done to deserve such a great staff, except to make folks feel loved by handing out compliments abundantly.

Then comes planning. The contents of an issue aren't fully fixed until a few weeks before you see it. But the planning for that issue begins up to a year in advance. I call it the competition of ideas. Right now, we have enough ideas to fill every issue through May 2009, and more keep coming in from editors and writers, often as the result of brainstorming sessions we hold several times a month.

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Once a month I bring the senior people together to sort through everything. We push the best, most timely ideas forward and push the least timely ones back. This issue, for example, was first conceived on January 21, but since then the cover story changed and three of the longer features were dropped or rescheduled as new and better ideas came in. The competition of ideas is a part of the job I truly enjoy.

Finally, I do quality control. I told you I don't edit. But really, I do. Nothing goes into production until I've read and approved it. Usually I make only minor changes, if any. I convene two meetings each month to critique titles and subtitles, and a working lunch with my wittiest staff members to hone the cover lines. Speaking of the cover, Art Director Cynthia Currie and I spend hours going over the tiniest details.

Now you know what I do. And if it sounds to you like my priorities are also those of managers in most other fields, well, you'd be right.

Next month: Hot stock tips.

A farewell

For almost five years, James Glassman's investing column has been one of the most-read fixtures of each issue. This month marks his last appearance for a while. Jim is now U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, representing this nation to the rest of the world. I'll miss him and his incisive commentary.

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