Publishing Title Inflation

Bill Jacobson and Glenn Reynolds seem to be overly amused that Conor Friedersdorf has the title of "senior editor" over at Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Bill Jacobson and Glenn Reynolds seem to be overly amused that Conor Friedersdorf has the title of “senior editor” over at Andrew Sullivan’s blog.  Why, Jacobson wonders, does a blog need an editor?  And who is he senior to, anyway?

But it’s actually a pretty common title for people in the publishing industry and, contrary to the obvious implications of the words which make it up, the persons holding it are seldom senior and hardly ever actually edit anything.

If you look at the masthead of The Atlantic — which hosts Sully’s blog and thus employs him and Conor — you’ll get a flavor for how titles work.

There’s a Chairman, President, Publisher, and various VPs and Associate Publishers.  These people run the business side of the magazine.

The Editor, James Bennet, runs the creative operation.  Sometimes, this person is called the Editor-in-Chief.

Below him, there’s a Deputy Editor, an Editorial Director, a Literary Editor, four Deputy Managing Editors, and an Art Director.

Next come the Senior Editors.   They’re not editors at all but rather established writers who answer to all the people already mentioned in some fashion or other.   There are fifteen of them.  Including, oddly, Andrew Sullivan and not Conor Friedersdorf.  (He, along with Patrick Appel, are simply listed under “The Daily Dish.”)

There are then four National Correspondents: Mark Bowden, James Fallows, Jeffrey Goldberg, Robert D. Kaplan. It’s not obvious what makes them different from Senior Editors; they’re all writers. And all of them are more prestigious members of the staff than most of the Senior Editors, so I’m not sure why they come later in the masthead. Or, for that matter, why Sullivan and fellow Senior Editor Michael Kinsley aren’t here instead.

There are dozens of people with sundry other titles, including bloggers Megan McArdle and Marc Ambinder, who used to be Senior Editors but have become Business & Economics Editor and Politics Editor, respectively.   It’s again not clear why they’re not listed higher on the masthead, since they’re presumably senior to the Senior Editors.

Way down the list, we get to the Contributing Editors.  These, generally speaking, are simply writers who don’t actually work for the magazine but who either publish there frequently enough to merit mention or have published there in the past and are well known enough that the magazine wants to have the association listed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    The problem is writers wanting a more lofty title. “Writer” implies that they, you know, write. Whereas “Editor” implies that they have some position of overlordship, a place in the hierarchy; that they willingly participate in climbing the ladder of douchebaggery; that they revel in labels like, “senior.”

    Why any self-respecting writer would prefer to be associated with the suits is beyond me.

    Michael Reynolds

  2. James Joyner says:

    Yeah, I’m “managing editor” at a think tank, a title which really makes very little sense in that context. Part of the problem is that, in an organizational hierarchy, you have to have titles to justify reporting chains, pay, and whatnot.

    You’re a free agent, essentially working for yourself, so your title is irrelevant. Although, even in your case, I tend to think of you as an “author” rather than a “writer.” The latter sounds like someone who does press releases or ad copy.

  3. sam says:

    Hell, I was a “senior editior.” All that meant, in that outfit, was that there was this giant funnel with me at the little end, and all the effups and problems just flowed right down to moi. Some place in the hierarchy, I can tell you.

  4. michael reynolds says:


    Okay, let’s compromise at “Senior Author,” for me. Though in this case it would be “Senior” in the sense of so very, very old.

  5. Brummagem Joe says:

    “Why any self-respecting writer would prefer to be associated with the suits is beyond me.”

    Some rather successful writers were considerable “suits” (Conrad, Greene, Maugham, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Mann, Proust) and one of the recent king of suits in publishing Michael Korda is quite a wordsmith in his own right. I guess writers have egos like the rest of us and they need to be massaged from time to time. The organisational structure Jim outlines for a modest publication like the Atlantic is hilarious but I’m sure it’s replicated over at the intensely free market Forbes or NR. No wonder all these businesses are losing money and it costs so much to make movies (look at the list of credits).

  6. michael reynolds says:


    I suppose in the spirit of full disclosure I should confess that I’m posturing a bit as working class guy.

    I have a corporation, thus in theory at least I’m a “President,” and I have formed a joint venture with a publisher, marketing company and production company to develop new forms of media, which I suppose also technically makes me a bit of a suit.

    But I’m clinging to my working class roots. It’s a fun way to make other suits uncomfortable.

  7. Brummagem Joe says:

    MR: “But I’m clinging to my working class roots.”

    Yeah I’ve detected a bit of Londonism or its more modern version Mailerism, but you don’t approve of London.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    I never meant to imply I didn’t think London was a good writer. (In fact we wrote a forward to an edition of White Fang a while back under my wife’s name.) But he was a raving loon on race. Not just a sort of genteel white-man’s-burden supremacist, but a hate-spewing nut.

    The question becomes whether it is appropriate to judge his racism by contemporary standards. But we don’t have to, really, he wrote at the dawn of the 20th century not the 18th. His white supremacist position wasn’t exactly rare at that point but neither was the opposing point of view. London embraced racism at a time when an alternative point of view had been advanced. He had a choice. He made the wrong one.

    And if we cannot decry London’s early 20th century racism, how do we decry Hitler’s three decades later?

  9. Brummagem Joe says:

    “In fact we wrote a forward to an edition of White Fang a while back under my wife’s name.)”

    This made me laugh Michael since the other day you were dismissing my promotion of the uniqueness of children’s books by “dead authors.” Being something of a moral relativist I can’t get too excited about the fact London disliked “lesser breeds without the law” or Trollope didn’t like Jews. When I talk about Londonism I’m really referring to wearing his working man stuff on his sleeve rather as Mailer does or did for awhile before it got swamped by Hemingwayism.

  10. MarkedMan says:

    While I don’t disagree with the general direction of this post, Conor Friedersdorf actually does serve as an editor on Sullivan’s blog. He looks for content, decides what should be posted, puts it in context and presents it. He might now be particularly “senior”, but given the age of the blogosphere even that might be true enough.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    Well, London had a right to the working man schtick. He had a tough life. Hemingway’s history I don’t know well enough to comment on. As for mine I’ve been a street person and slept under a freeway overpass for a while, but my wounds are almost all self-inflicted.

  12. Alex Knapp says:

    Hey wait… I’m a Senior Editor of OTB!

  13. James Joyner says:

    Hey wait… I’m a Senior Editor of OTB!

    True. That’s mostly for the folks at Google News, who like sites with an editorial structure.