US to UK journalism job title translations

As if it wasn’t hard enough trying to break into New York’s extremely nepotistic, insular media industry, the task is further compounded by the fact that it’s virtually impossible to find the best person to contact regarding either a story pitch or even an application.

The reason behind this is something I’ve heard called Vice-President Syndrome, a situation where everyone is given a ridiculous job title that makes them sound far more important than they actually are. Case in point, almost every member of staff on a magazine or website in the US sounds like they are senior staff. However, when you translate the inflated title down to something resembling the UK equivalent, you realize no one has responded to your constant emails because you’ve actually been sending them to a teenager whose editorial expertise seldom extends beyond 140 characters.

There are rarely Reporters, or Correspondents, or Staff Writers, or even Senior Staff Writers. No. Everyone and their dog is an Editor.

A rough translation goes along the lines of thus…

Copy Editor…sub-editor, unless they’re called an Editor or an Associate Editor or an Assistant Editor, which actually means the same thing
Editor…sub-editor, also contributors are frequently called Editor, so it can often refers to contract writers as well
Associate Editor…sub-editor, sometimes a deputy section editor is called Associate Editor, unless of course they’re called Assistant Editor
Assistant Editor…sub-editor mostly, unless they’re a deputy section editor
Senior Editor…I’m guessing a senior sub-editor, although we probably wouldn’t make the distinction of senior, they’d either be a sub-editor, deputy chief sub-editor, or chief sub-editor
Managing Editor…production editor, unless it means deputy editor, both are equally common
News Editor…can occasionally mean section head of news, but most frequently a sub-editor who happens to edit news. Often just one in a team of news sub-editors
Features Editor…unusually, most often actually means section head of features, however, can also mean a sub-editor who happens to edit features
Deputy Editor…one of only a few shared titles in this whole list, amazed they’re not called Marshal or Sheriff or something
Editor at Large…someone who occasionally contributes to the title, from a distance, generally doing very little. Similar in essence to the utterly pointless Guest Editor, that certain publications insist on from time to time
Editor in Chief…the actual editor. The boss, the head man, the top dog, the big cheese, head honcho…

I’ve pasted a screen grab of the Time Out New York masthead below, as an example. Now, the alert among you may already have picked up on a potential pickle. What we in the UK tend to call a masthead is usually the magazine logo at the top of the front cover and the page listing names and job titles is frequently referred to a “flannel panel”. Granted this is a bit of old-school Fleet Street slang, but it adds to the confusion when you find yourself having to look for the masthead on a US title.


I’ve blurred out the names because this isn’t any sort of attack on them, this is just meant to highlight how absurd the system is in the US. Plus I could probably get sued over here.

You’ll see that roles alternate and job titles change. For example, there’s a Film Editor and a Film Associate Editor. Then there’s a Food & Drink Editor and a Food & Drink Assistant Editor. Why does one have an Associate and the other have an Assistant? Then there’s the Deputy Content Editor, is that a deputy chief sub-editor..? Plus the Art Editor seems to double as an Editor-at-Large. Does that mean they’re contract and not actually staff..? Surely that would be a Contributing Editor?

Then directly under the Editor (interesting that it’s not Editor-in-Chief) we have a Managing Editor, but then, near the bottom there’s an Assistant Managing Editor. Is that a deputy deputy-editor? If they’re production-linked roles, why aren’t they listed together, along with the Copy Chief, Deputy Copy Chief and Copy Editor? There’s even a dedicated Production section under this Editorial one a little lower down on the same page, which begs the question why aren’t the sub-editors listed there.

And this is just a small example. You take the equivalent masthead from a much bigger glossy magazine like GQ or Departures and the nightmare is even worse. For instance, having to deal with a whole new headache: Executive Editor and then all the derivatives, including Executive Managing Editor, Deputy Executive Editor, Associate Executive Editor…and so on. And so forth.

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