Linda Cohn, 60, is a senior staff editor at The New York Times. Cohn grew up in Belleville, Illinois, and graduated from Washington University in St. Louis. Cohn has been at The Times for 29 years. She answered a series of questions about her job and career.
Q: What is a typical day for you?
A: “A typical day is a 9:30 a.m. editorial board meeting led by our (editorial page editor) James Bennet. In the meeting, we discuss issues of the day and ongoing enterprise stories. Each board member can give ideas for editorials from his or her beat. While the writers begin their reporting, (the editors) discuss the lineup for the next day’s paper. We also discuss what piece should be illustrated and from there they brainstorm with the art director.
Next, we pick a piece or two from the writers in Europe and quickly edit his or her article. There is a time crunch when editing because of the time zone difference between New York and Paris.
After that, we start thinking about lengths, research the issues behind the three pieces that will be running the next day.
Then begins the mad scramble: Three editors will each edit a piece or two and work -- usually quite seamlessly -- to make sure the pieces add up to the right lengths to fill the page.
We fine tune the headlines, blurbs and try to write some copy for our social media tweets and Facebook. Then begins the editing process for the international editions."
But throughout the day, news watch is critical -- we never know when we will be sideswiped and the editorial is blown out of the water. Or events occur that require an immediate response from one of the editorial writers.”
Q: You are difficult to research. Did you know there is an ESPN Sports Anchor with the same name as you?
A: “Oh, I get that a lot! It’s hilarious because I know so little about sports.”
Q: In this day in age, having an online presence matters to people who work in media, yet you don’t have any social media. Why is that?
A: “There is no information on me really. I was a copy editor for many years and you just work in the background. It’s never about you. It’s about the story. I don’t really do social media that much. Social media came around late in my career that honestly a lot of it is about being a writer and pushing your stories and your brand. I guess I don’t really need to do that because I’m at a different point in my career. I’m at the end of my career.”
Q: Well, let’s talk about the beginning of your career. How did you get to The New York Times?
A: “I probably fell into it and honestly a lot of it was the ‘What am I going to do with my life? I don’t want to go to law school.’ Then I moved to New York from St. Louis and somehow ended up getting a job as a health plan insurance consultant ... working with the newspaper deal at The New York Times.”
Q: How does one go from being a health plan insurance consultant to being an editor at The Times?
A: “I was an administrative assistant working for a health care firm called MultiPlan in New York at The New York Times (building) and that brought me around journalists almost every day. It piqued my interest and I met great women who were helpful and some of the very early women activists of the times. They convinced me to go to journalism school and they helped me do that. I had contacts at The New York Times that led me to enroll at (New York University). I had to drop out of NYU for health reasons.”
Q: What happened after dropping out of NYU?
A: “I got an internship at a small newspaper, The Stamford Advocate, in Connecticut. They hired me after the internship and I ended up at The New York Times. In the 80s, that was unusual. You would have five years at another major newspaper before getting there. (I was) suggested for a job on the editorial board and I have been there for almost 30 years.”
Q: You were given the opportunity to work at The New York Times in a job that you did not have vast experience in. What went through your mind?
A: “It was my first job on an editorial page. It frightened me to think of the responsibility since I had so little experience. I actually almost turned down the job because I thought there was no way I could work on the page, but I pushed through.
I made a lot of mistakes. I am grateful somehow, they saw promise there. I was thrown into this job. I was alone on the weekends having to copy edit high-profile columnists. With very little experience, we had a style book and strict rules. Of course, you couldn’t search it online at that point. You had your dictionary and an almanac.”
Q: What advice do you have for people who want to become editors, or what did you wish you knew when you first started?
A: “I had an older colleague tell me, ‘We want to have a certain consistency in the editing. In the end, it’s just you and the copy and you have to use your internal sense of what’s right and wrong.’ We have these style books from different institutions, but within that there’s this grey area that you have to develop your own sense of right and wrong and to trust it.”
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