Interview conducted by Jennifer D. Foster
A career as an editor is often a solo adventure, especially if you’re a freelancer. So we thought one way to better connect with fellow editors was to ask them the W5: who, what, where, when, and why. Read on for some thought-provoking, enlightening tidbits from those of us who choose to work with words to earn our keep.
Rehana, please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do (where you live), and how long you’ve been an editor.
A couple of decades ago, an internship turned into my first paying job as an editorial assistant at Homemakers Magazine, a women’s lifestyle magazine. I had the pleasure of working with a group of brilliant women who inspired me to change course from being an aspiring news reporter to pursuing a career in magazine editing. I stayed on that course for about 10 years, working at Canadian Home Workshop and launching a freelance writer/editor career. As a freelancer, I was able to peddle my magazine journalism skills all the way to Cape Town, South Africa, where a stint at Best Life, a men’s lifestyle publication, allowed me to interview sources from the sandy beaches of Llandudno. The freelance experience strengthened my belief that journalism nurtures an insatiable curiosity and clued me into what I wanted to focus on in the next leg of my career. When I returned to Toronto in 2008, I decided to pursue a master of journalism degree as a way to foster my interest in business-to-business (B2B) publishing. But the program did not offer business reporting at the time and I had to find a role that would give me hands-on experience. I accepted a contract role as the editor at Benefits Canada, a B2B publication formerly owned by Rogers Media, which was an excellent inroad into the world of finance and institutional investments. From there, I was offered an opportunity at Annex Business Media, where I would edit a couple of maintenance and engineering publications. My role at Annex has been more of a content manager than magazine editor because my multi-platform portfolio includes managing the content of two magazines, two websites, and newsletters, as well as developing events such as webinars, round tables, and video production. It’s a busy desk, but I have still managed to complete an MBA with a project management specialization in my spare time. Staying relevant has been pivotal in ensuring personal satisfaction and career longevity in today’s content farm environment.
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
Malcolm Gladwell, for sure. His ability to unpack academic research and breathe new life into the esoteric is astounding. Making theoretical or technical information palatable to a broad readership is a skill I am trying to master. He can help with that.
What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
I like the em dash because it allows me to add an additional thought without starting a new sentence or without implying that the following information is an afterthought.
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
My work takes me to interesting places and provides an unobstructed view of what happens inside power generation plants, underground mines, and industrial facilities. This year, I travelled to Montreal, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Paris, Los Angeles, Saskatchewan, and Singapore. In general, I like to work in coffee shops, anywhere in the world. There’s something rhythmic about having a buzz around me with the added assurance that no one will disturb me—unless I have overstayed my welcome. In the office, there is always a chance that a co-worker will interrupt the very minute I hit my stride.
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
Not seriously. I currently work on a publication that covers maintenance and engineering. Occasionally, when I am at industry conferences, my connections assume that I am part of the engineering community and I have to remind them I work in publishing. One of the reasons I continue to enjoy my work as an editor is that I can immerse myself into other communities through project collaborations and storytelling. Journalism is for the most part articulated in the written or spoken word, but I have never regarded that as its essence. The essence is in the hard work, research, and substance that go into synthesizing information and making it easy for audiences to consume. I enjoy researching topics and the challenge of distilling complex information never gets old.
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
After dropping out of law school in my late 20s, I was stuck in a rut and worked retail jobs with no real prospects. Journalism was a stepping stone to finding my forever job. I was hooked by the possibilities and liked that I could specialize in more than one area of interest. I’ve covered women’s lifestyle, men’s lifestyle, food, health, and fitness, as well as engineering and finance. What’s next? Hmm… .
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
Practice makes perfect. (Some people were born to craft; I work hard at it.)
Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto-based freelance editor and writer, specializing in book and custom publishing, magazines, and marketing and communications. She is also chair of Editors Toronto and administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series.
This article was copy edited by Olga Sushinsky.