Friday, December 23, 2011
Well, this is it. My last post for Dream Job TK. It's been nearly five years, and it's been a trip.

Before I sign off, I'd like to share two things I've learned so far in my magazine editing career. Now, they're not the only things that matter, and they may not even be the most important, but you can't forget them in the pursuit of your dream job:

1. Trust your gut.
If you find yourself asking yourself whether your next career move is the right one for you, maybe it's not.

Excited and giddy about the possibilities of a new gig or assignment? Can't wait to tell everyone? Can you picture yourself doing the job? Jump right in.

Debating the merits of the offer over and over? Making a pros and cons list? Asking everyone you know if you should take it? You might be looking for permission or validation because something in your gut is telling you that it's not for you.

2. Make friends.
Some people might call this networking, but that word doesn't express the true nature of the relationships you can build in this industry. It's a community filled with wonderful people. Get to know them and they will help you over and over again in your career. You will find confidantes, mentors and many, many very good friends, and even some excellent acquaintances. When you're stuck in your career or have an editing problem to solve, nothing is more valuable than having someone (or a few someones) who know what it's like to be an editor to talk to about it.

Thank you all so much for reading Dream Job TK, and for your comments and questions over the years. It truly has been an honour sharing with you.

Wishing each and every one of you all the best in your careers. I hope you find your Dream Job.

PS – The Dream Job TK archives will remain online for you peruse anytime you need a little career advice. And you can find me online on Twitter @vangerwen or at my website,
Monday, December 19, 2011
A weekly roundup of job-hunting tips, career advice and interesting articles relevant to the magazine industry and being an editor. 

"Why We Teach Journalism to Specialists, Instead of the Other Way Around" by Robert Steiner on MediaShift. A different type of J-school, where you're an expert in your field first, then learn the fundamentals of journalism.

"How to Quit Your Job" by Alison Green on U.S. News.  You probably know that you can't do it via text message, but here are some other tips.

"5 Ways To Spot A Bad Boss In An Interview" by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on Forbes. Even if it's your dream job, work could become a living hell with a horrible boss. Some warning signs.

• "10 tips for journalists who want to be better presenters" by Tom Huang on Poynter. If you've been asked to speak at a conference or be a speaker at an event, read this first.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
So you got a job interview (congratulations!) — now what? How do you prepare yourself so you make a good impression?

There are lots of ways, but do this one thing and you should be ready for most questions that come up: Read over the job description and think of examples in your career that demonstrate those skills and qualities.

It's one thing to say that you posses a certain qualification; it's another, better thing to prove you have the skills by relaying a story that supports the claim. Even if you're not asked a direct "give me an example of when..." question, having a stockpile of particular stories makes it easier for you to answer questions and volunteer examples from your career.

It also forces you to think about what the interviewer is looking for in a candidate, and will help you focus your answers so you're less likely to ramble on about irrelevant topics.
Monday, December 12, 2011
A weekly roundup of job-hunting tips, career advice and interesting articles relevant to the magazine industry and being an editor. 

"Women Journalists Confront Harassment, Sexism When Using Social Media" by Jeff Sonderman on Poynter. Ladies, you don't need to grin and bear those nasty, or even slightly uncomfortable comments left on your online work. Take action.

The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks by Bethany Keeley. Check out the sidebar for additional amusing blogs.

"How Do You Deal With Having to Fire Someone?" by Alison Green on Ask a Manager. Getting fired is no fun, but neither is having to fire someone, and there's usually a lot less advice about it. Here's a little.

"Famous Magazines' First Covers" by Judy Berman on Flavorwire.
Friday, December 09, 2011
It is with mixed feelings that I announce the closing of the Dream Job TK blog.
After long consideration, I have decided that it is time for me to move on to other things. I will continue to blog up until Christmas, but will not post again after the New Year. The entire archives of Dream Job TK, dating back to 2007, will remain available at (and also in Masthead's archives).
If you have any burning questions about working in magazines, email me now [vangerwen at gmail dot com] or leave a comment before Dec. 16, and I'll do my best to answer them before I sign off.

Until then.
Monday, November 28, 2011


WHO: Dick Snyder, editorial director, Totem; president, CityBites Media Inc.; editor, CityBites; freelancer.
WENT TO SCHOOL FOR: Jazz Guitar Performance, Concordia University; Journalism, Ryerson University
Summer intern (“Paid, thankfully.”), Saint John Evening Times Globe. “I was a general assignment reporter covering the city and region, everything from City Hall to a performance of The Polka Dot Door at the local theater. This was a fantastic job, because the prime mandate was to fill pages. There were three of us Toronto-based recent grads, all churning out anywhere from two to five stories a day. Battling for the front page!”
Editor, The Eyeopener. “Before the final school year was out, I ran for editor of Ryerson’s independent student newspaper. This was to be a cushion in case I wasn’t offered to stay on at the Times Globe. In fact, I was offered a permanent job, which left me the decision: Do I stay in Saint John and work my way up through a small newspaper, or do I go back to Toronto, work at The Eyeopener, and work on obtaining my dream job — a summer internship at The Globe and Mail. I rang Colin McKenzie, who was then deputy editor at the Globe to ask his advice. He said come back to Toronto, work like hell, and apply for the Globe’s summer internship.”

Summer intern, The Globe and Mail. “A coveted position on the Globe’s summer intern squad! I started as a copy editor on the foreign news desk. Then, I was a copy editor on the ‘universal desk,’ where a pool of copy editors dealt with copy from all departments. Then I was taught layout on the arcane proprietary layout system, and did layout for foreign and local news, and occasionally the front page. At the end of the summer, I was offered the only full-time job available for summer interns. Lesson: make yourself indispensable by learning every skill imaginable, with enthusiasm.” 
“Just an observation on editing and media: When I joined Totem (which was called Redwood at the time, back in 1999), branded or custom content were dirty words. But I’m proud to work with a company that pioneered and defined branded content, which we now see all around us, especially in new media platforms. There used to be a great divide between conventional journalists and the term we coined at Totem, “marketing journalists.” I always considered these two disciplines as two sides of the same coin. Marketing journalism isn’t that different from the kind of service journalism we learned in school, and put in practice in the lifestyle sections of conventional magazines and newspapers. Now, service journalism is everywhere, to wildly divergent standards of quality, mind you. The modern editor and journalist needs to be able to function in so many arenas, from print and digital media, to conventional and branded vehicles, to social and sharing tools. The ‘equipment’ of journalism is changing and will keep changing, but the basic skill sets remain. Tell a great story, make it riveting, package it up nice and never forget about your reader. The reader is the most important person, even more important than the editor.”

There’s no single thing, but a mash-up of skills, emotions, desires, insecurities, instincts and knowledge. A good editor is a contradictory assemblage of divergent abilities and unpredictable mood patterns. A curious beast, like a Gruffalo. Scary and imposing, yet sympathetic. Confident and dictatorial, but open to persuasion. Arrogant and impetuous, though with traces of generosity. I do believe, as with anything, that an editor gets better results with sugar than with vinegar. Though there are times when some acid invective is required to call a writer to heal. But often, this is deployed only at the end of the working relationship, when salvage mode is the last resort. After the third, “I really did send it. I’m having trouble with my Rogers account.”
One of the only universal truths that has been proved to me time and again: The best writers are a dream to edit, because it’s not so much editing (or fixing) as it is collaborative production of an outstanding piece of journalism. The best writers respond to coaching, ideas on making their work better. The worst writers will battle every single note, suggestion or attempt at reason — they are that confident in their superior abilities. And yet, their work is never more than merely acceptable, and barely that. (I’ve edited National Magazine Award winners of this ilk, which is why these awards should recognize the editor rather than the writer, or at least come up with some weighted formula.) The worst writers wonder why you never hire them again.
A good editor is not always a good writer, but it helps. In my case, becoming a good writer — through excellent j-school profs, a lot of hands-on, “real” writing during school, and exposure to great editors — was my initial passion. Idolizing Hunter S. Thompson, Hemingway, Mordecai Richler… the usual. I slogged through j-school convinced that I wanted to be a reporter, but it turns out I liked being an editor better. I truly enjoy doing both, though, and likely maintain about a 70:30 edit-to-writing ratio. And this seems about right. When I feel like my writing and/or reporting skills are atrophying, I’ll pitch a few stories to newspapers or magazines (the conventional kind, print) to force myself to revisit the disciplines of tight focus, reader service and tight word count.
A good editor is a good listener. That’s how he or she gets good ideas, or rips them off by listening in on private conversations. That’s how he can take a drip of a notion and, by matching it up to the best writer, get the writer to do all the work and turn it into a really great idea, and hopefully a really great article. A lot of this trickery, I mean alchemy, happens during the first phone call that takes place after the initial email query: “Hey, I’ve got this idea for an article,” the emails begins, “and it might be up your alley.”
Talking is key. A real conversation results in more clarity of mission, better idea generation, deeper insight. It’s the best way to ensure that the writer is set off on the right track from the get go. Depending on the size and scope of the article, a couple of follow-up conversations are usually in order. Email cannot replace the conversation! Pick up the phone.
A good editor does not impose himself or herself on the writer. That is, she doesn’t judge the work, in style or technique, against her own criteria. She leaves the writer free to express his or her voice. Within the confines of the style of the publication, of course. But without whittling the prose down to a consistent and predictable sludge, or “house style.” A good editor has the reader in mind, over and above her own desires. She never stops asking: What does the reader need to know? What is the reader thinking as he reads this? What’s missing? How can this passage be made shorter? Yes, brevity is king. Shorter is always better.
A good editor trusts his instincts, and doesn’t edit by committee. That is, he doesn’t bother his spouse or kids for input, or circulate the work around the office to get a consensus of opinion (which is never possible). A good editor encourages forthright, declarative prose, and eliminates “fiddly” punctuation as much as possible (brackets, semi-colons, long dashes). Damn, I just used two sets of brackets!
A good editor loves reading. And he reads everything he can, whenever he can. Even the worst writing can teach him something. And the best writing can lift his spirits, and then he can rip off the elements that led to the spirit-lifting. A good editor is obsessed with copy editing, rules of grammar, and parallelism. But she’s not beholden to them. She can toss out all the rules on a whim, and still pull together a wicked piece. 
A good editor doesn’t worry about the death of print. He embraces the rise of digital. He knows print will never die. And all media are valid, riveting, challenging and ridiculous. Best to master them all than fret about being bowled over. A good editor embraces Twitter as a word challenge: It’s really just an exercise in headline writing. Do it several times a day just to exercise that particular editorial muscle. (Oh, and Twitter is just about the best fountain of ideas ever invented!)
A good editor doesn’t whine about the state of journalism. He strives to make it better. And he recognizes that we’re living in the most exciting times imaginable. Plug in, turn on, freak out. That’s what it’s all about.
Reading a good manuscript — do they still call them that? — for the first time, and getting that warm feeling as it becomes clear that this writer, someone you haven’t worked with before, is really good. She has a voice, skill with words, a sense of humour, the ability to deploy the right word to the right effect. And then, instead of marking up the text during this first pass, you just read on and let the narrative happen. There’s always work to be done, of course, but that feeling of recognizing serious potential, and then hunkering down to pull it all to an even higher level — it’s gold.
The other thing I really love — and owning my own magazine, CityBites, allows me to do this — is to give a new writer his or her first gig. And, if she’s good, I can help promote both her work and personal brand, by publicizing her work on our social media platforms, by giving her a place on our contributor page, by giving her more work. I really enjoy mentoring the most enthusiastic ones, and helping them find their voice. And, hopefully, a real job. 
This is why I love our digital age. Because the only way to get good as an editor is to edit, not just other people, but yourself. When I started out as a writer and editor, in the nascent Internet years, desktop publishing was the great salvation, as anyone with a Mac could churn out a “magazine” or chap book on whatever subject they loved best. This was, of course, pre-blog. I hooked up with several basement publishers, and offered to do anything that needed doing (unpaid). I wrote, edited, copy edited, trimmed copy, wrote display, chased drunks out of the living room. Whatever it took to see my name in print, to work with the words and the layouts, and then see the printed piece at the end. Because until you see your name in print, it doesn’t matter. Now, with Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and Wordpress, anyone can see their name in print any time. Which means this: taking responsibility for your work, your voice, your brand. The kids today won’t really see it that way, since they’ve been online since they were in nappies. But they’ve subconsciously absorbed the lessons of permanence: You write it, it’s live, and everyone reads it. So it’d better be good, or you’ll hear about it. Within minutes.
So, the same goes for today’s fledgling editors. Do as much work as you can, for anyone, for no pay, for a little pay. Build your reputation, impress people, surprise people. Never disappoint, never let anyone down. Never think you’ve got it all figured out. There’s always room for great editors, no matter what they say about declining media jobs. I see a continual need for exemplary editors. You just have to be great, not just good. 
Also, keep returning to The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. Read The Elements of Editing by Arthur Plotnick. It’s old and outdated, but the fundamentals are solid. And it’s fun reading about lead type! And keep reading for pleasure. Be aware as you read. That is, aware of the author’s voice, his techniques, even how and where the editor stepped in to make it better. Absorb, learn, steal and improve.
I’d assigned a one-page article to a National Magazine Award winning journalist. One of those guys who’s beloved for his folksy downhomeness, his “real Canadian” voice, his gruff ruralness. This was a guy who cultivated this particular “brand.” I sent him a detailed brief on what I was looking for, and flattered him as to why he was the perfect choice. I wanted a little humour, that particular kind of CBC-Radio-Sunday-morning folksiness. But I was leaving it up to him to find his thread, his POV, his central idea. All I required, and I laid this out in the brief, and in the phone discussion we had, was that it be a pan-Canadian article. That is, I needed quotes from sources on the east coast, the west coast, and somewhere in between. I was paying more than market rate, I think $1.25 a word. This was about 10 years ago. He agreed to everything, and filed on time.
And it was the worst piece of dreck I’d ever read. Lazy writing, devoid of research, incoherent, unstructured, boring and flat, with a terrible lead. It was, however, about the assigned subject matter. And he did get quotes from three people — two of them living in Ontario, and one of them an Ontario native living — coincidentally? — in the same town where the writer lived. I made detailed notes in the document — I’m talking about spending an hour or more to gently emphasize the points from the original brief and how they should come to bear within the article itself. This, for an article of about 700 words. I sent him the notes, and got a reply affirming that he understood what he needed to do, and would refile by the appointed date. 

On the appointed date, I got a phone call. He said he didn’t think he could do the article and thought it would be best for me to give him a kill fee. “It sounds like what you want in this article and what I sent you the first time are completely different things.” I was astounded. Yes, indeed they were completely different, I thought, but who’s fault was that? I thanked him for his time, and sent him a kill fee of about 30% of the agreed fee, as our contract stated that the editor could determine the appropriate kill fee, and I thought this more than a generous payment. He badgered me for several weeks, arguing that he should receive 50%. The difference might have been $100.
I reassigned the story. And I showed my new writer this guy’s shoddy work. She knew the writer personally. She said: “Oh, you know those three people he quoted are his best friends.” A real pro, that guy!
Saveur, the gorgeous and inspirational food magazine. It exudes “smart.” You can see the effort that goes into story development. They don’t follow the trends that all the other food media are doing. They’re more like a National Geographic or a Vanity Fair, but for food and everything that food has to do with your life.
Totem website:
CityBites website: (currently under construction) 
Twitter: @citybites and @snyderdick
Monday, November 21, 2011
A weekly roundup of job-hunting tips, career advice and interesting articles relevant to the magazine industry and being an editor.

"What Good Interview Questions are Actually Trying to Discover" by Seth Godin.

"Leadership: 12 Ways to Fail" by Ron Edmondson of in Report on Business.

"Beware the Perfect Job Candidate" by Carl Beuke in Psychology Today. Being a "perfectionist" is not a valid weakness to cite in a job interview.
Monday, November 07, 2011
A friendly reminder: If you are fortunate enough to have a mentor in your life, don't forget to treat their time and advice as the gifts they are.
  • Always say thank you – then say it again. This person is giving you valuable information free of charge. He is volunteering his time. Even if it's not a big deal to him, it should be a big deal to you. Make sure your mentor knows that you appreciate it.
  • Don't demand too much from your mentor. We are all busy. Don't take up too much of your mentor's time and don't try to dictate the terms. Work around her schedule and be conscious of how much you are asking of her. 
A mentor's generosity can quickly turn sour if he starts to feel as if he's not appreciated or is being taken advantage of. If that happens, you'll lose the benefits that a mentor provides and a valuable champion for your career.
Thursday, October 27, 2011


WHO: Beckie Fox, editor-in-chief and co-owner, Garden Making

WENT TO SCHOOL FOR: Journalism, Michigan State University

FIRST MAGAZINE JOB: Freelance copy editor, Canadian Living (in the early ’80s). “Editing craft and food stories is good training for the step-by-step and how-to stories integral to any type of service journalism. Before that, I was an editor at a community newspaper in Etobicoke, Ont.”

SUBSCRIBES TO: Fine Gardening, Gardens Illustrated, Organic Gardening, Garden Design, The English Garden, Horticulture Magazine, Cook’s Illustrated, The New Yorker, Country Living, House Beautiful, Martha Stewart Living, Maclean’s, Better Homes and Gardens, Canadian House & Home, The Walrus, Saltscapes, Vines. “There are probably about a dozen others I occasionally buy on the newsstand. The magazines I still miss are Gourmet and House & Garden.”



  • The ability to deliver content your readers want.
  • The intuition to deliver content your readers didn’t know they wanted.
  • Having a solid partnership with an art director who understands the stories you’re conveying to your readers.
  • Respectful relationships with freelance writers, editors and photographers.
Planning and assigning the story lineup for each issue. It’s trying to achieve that magical mix of what I want to read with what the writers want to write, all packaged in a way that will make readers say “Wow!” 

The second-best part of being an editor is reading a new writer’s first draft and loving it (while feeling a bit of relief).

Make sure you have strong, solid editing skills. Understand that organization and picky details are part of the territory, but you need to look at the bigger picture, too. Respect your own deadlines and don’t make the mistake of thinking a diva-like attitude is the only way to achieve excellence.

This is tough to answer — a single event doesn’t jump out. I’ve had the good fortune to work as a copy editor, managing editor and editor for many years at several wonderful publications. And I still enjoy what I’m doing!

I can’t think of a magazine I’m familiar with that’s doing an outstanding job at the moment. Many are good, a few are excellent, but none fits into the “outstanding” category as I define it. I say this with regret and with the risk of sounding harsh.

Unfortunately, shrinking budgets, a lack of direction, a devaluation of content and a reluctance to take risks (settling for formulaic content and design) compromise too many of today’s magazines. Many publishers/owners aren’t as patient as they once were; they’re unwilling to wait for a magazine to build momentum, and earn and retain reader loyalty. I understand why: it’s an expensive business, the economy is fragile and advertising dollars are going elsewhere — or nowhere.

Now that I’ve gotten that rant out of my system, I’ll add that I do savour House Beautiful. Under Stephen Drucker, the magazine combined cheekiness and elegance to great effect. Good display copy and packaging, too. Drucker is no longer with HB, but the magazine still makes a good impression.

Garden Making website:
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
A weekly roundup of job-hunting tips, career advice and interesting articles relevant to the magazine industry and being an editor.

"Why Tina Brown, Chris Anderson, David Remnick and Others Are Upbeat Despite Media Tumult" by Matthew Creamer on  AdAge. Finally, people are starting to talk positively and recognize opportunities, instead of whining about the death of print.

"FOLIO:'s 2011 13 Under 30." For those thinking they'll be 50 before they get to be editor, here are 13 young folks in top positions to inspire you.

"How to Bounce Back From a Big Mistake" by John Caddell on The 99%. You're going to make mistakes; how you handle them is what matters.
About Me
Corinna vanGerwen


Corinna vanGerwen is a freelance editor and writer. She has worked as senior editor at Style at Home, senior design editor at Cottage Life and is the former Canadian Director of Ed2010. She has also held the position of operations manager at a boutique PR agency, where she handled strategic planning and daily operations.

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