The Editor

The editor directs content of a publication, influences the working environment, and develops staff members’ skills. In this guide we focus on lessons we can learn from the life of Ben Bradlee, the legendary editor of The Washington Post, and the job of scholastic editors.
Primary Disciplines 
Download Classroom Worksheets (PDF) 


The editor leads the staff in content decisions, establishes standards and expectations, and creates the working atmosphere. We were reminded on October 21 when legendary editor Ben Bradlee, who “presided over The Washington Post newsroom for 26 years and guided The Post’s transformation into one of the world’s leading newspapers,” died.


Robert Kaiser, The Post’s former managing editor, provided examples and insights into how Mr. Bradlee created “an important newspaper that would go far beyond the traditional model of a metropolitan daily,” that faced First Amendment challenges and practiced the highest principles. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein add personal insight into being young reporters who are kept on a police story and how they learned guiding standards. So many other talented Washington Post past and present writers and editors shared their memories of him and give lessons for today’s journalists.


In addition to lessons to be learned from Mr. Bradlee’s leadership and life, this guide includes strategies for success from Josh White, Post education editor. White has been both reporter and editor in high school, college and professional settings.


Editorial job descriptions for editors at three area high schools that have print and Web presence are included in The Student Editor resource guide. Student activities give guidelines for pitching and creating a word cloud.


November 2014

On Editing
Resource Graphic 

Remember Ben Bradlee
Journalism, Media Arts, Social Studies, U.S. History

Legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee died of natural causes on October 21. He was 93. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote “The Truth-Seeker” and former Washington Post Managing Editor Robert Kaiser wrote “An editor of legendary impact.” They knew him as editor and colleague, as a charismatic and principled leader.

Read and discuss what you learn. Discussion questions would include:
• Find axioms of Ben Bradlee. Select one of them to discuss.
• Bradlee set standards — honest, objective, meticulous reporting. Give examples of reporters who followed these standards. Give examples of reporters who are observing these standards today.
• The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press. Give an example of The Washington Post exercising this freedom.
• What is the significance of the government trying to stop The Washington Post and The New York Times from publishing papers and other information?
• Ben Bradlee made some mistakes as editor. Find examples. What did he fail to do? What lessons do today’s journalists learn from one of these examples?


Read More About Ben Bradlee
Journalism, Media Arts, News Literary, U.S. History

The Washington Post has collected articles, videoes and remembrances at Ben Bradlee | 1921-2014. The role of the editor in making content decisions and the story behind major decisions to publish can be studied through these pieces. What role does an editor have in determining content? In establishing the atmosphere of the newsroom? In setting expections?


Annotate the Craft
English, Journalism, News Literacy, Reading

Some of The Post’s best reporters and editors remembered the editor who influenced them professionally and personally in "The Truth-Seeker," "An editor of legendary impact" and Ben Bradlee | 1921-2014. They take readers behind the scenes, into the newsroom. Review their works for the following. Discuss how each works to complete the picture of a complex individual.
• Quoting from interviews, memoirs and records
• Inclusion of principles
• Anecdotes
• Actions of Ben Bradlee and those around him
• Examples
• Analogies

Develop Vocabulary
English, Journalism, Reading

In the Know is composed of two lists of 20 words each. The terms are found in two Washington Post articles. Before reading each story, review the vocabulary. Students could be asked to locate each word in the story, then define the term as it is used by the writer.

Reread the Editorial Cartoon
Art, English, Journalism, Media Arts

After “reading” Tom Toles’ October 23 editorial cartoon, ask students to discuss what is taking place. Read the visual commentary again with the five questions guiding the review.


Reflect Arfully
Art, English, Journalism, Media Arts

•• In Photographs
Photographs help to convey the story of Ben Bradlee — as an editor, an advocate for the truth and person. Many writers reflected on his big Ben smile, his charisma, his stylish shirts and love of laughter. Dana Priest said “[h]is visits were an instant elixir” as he walked through the national staff.

Review the photographs accompaning “The Truth-Seeker” and “An editor of legendary impact.” What do these images reflect of his personality and interactions? In which of the scenes captured would you like to have been present? Why?


•• Through Collage
"In His Own Words” is illustrated with a college that is based on a photograph.  The image is composed of black and white pages of The Washington Post with key words from stores that were published during the editorial leadership of Ben Bradley.
• Is the use of black and white effective? Appropriate?
• After reading reflections on the life of Ben Bradlee, why might spot color have been reflective of his character and editorial style?
• What shirt would you have him wearing?


Select a photograph that is published in this week’s Washington Post. Use it as the basis for a collage. Select words from headlines, articles and captions that reflect the tone, context and facts of the story. Students can create shadows through black markers, black paper or heavy typeface.


•• In an Illustrated Narrative
Michael Cavna, a Washington Post editor and writer of Comic Riffs blog, is a visual storyteller. On October 22 he posted an illustrated tribute to Ben Bradlee. Read “RIP, BEN BRADLEE: Drawing on my favorite conversation with The Post legend.” 

Discussion questions might include:
• He refers to being at an event featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman (Maus) the same night that Bradlee passed away. How does he connect the two events?
• Discuss the techniques that Michael Cavna uses in each frame?
• He repeats certain images. Does this work with his storyline?
• How many different time periods are presented in the short narrative? How is this more than “the story of one afternoon”?
•  In what ways do the captions and illustrations enchance each other?


•• In Videos
Post TV has a collection of videos from Ben Bradlee’s funeral service, Bradlee interviews, honors and reminisces. Review and listen to selected items from the Playlist.

Remembering Ben C. Bradlee
Resource Graphic 

Learn From Ben Bradlee
Civics, Journalism, Media Arts, News Literacy

Marc Fisher, a senior editor, wrote: “A great editor is a unique blend of spine, smarts, mystique and mission. Bradlee broke the barometer on all of those qualities.”

Read articles by Woodward, Bernstein and Kaiser and additional in appreciation pieces:
• David Remnick on Ben Bradlee: ‘He was the most alive presence
• President Obama on Ben Bradlee: ‘A true newspaperman

What lessons do they provide for today’s professional and scholastic writers and editors?

Look at the stories on the first page of each section of The Post.
• What subjects do they cover? Are they news stories?
• Are any profiles?
• Are any investigative in nature?
• In what ways do the articles inform the reader?
• In what ways do the articles encourage dialogue about issues, actions and community?

Read the Editorial
English, Journalism, Language Arts, Media Arts

Read The Post editorial of October 21, 2014.  Editorials must be succinct, viewing a point of view briefly. Compare and contrast the information about Ben Bradley that is gained in the six paragraphs of the editorial with that found in "The Truth-Seeker" and "An editor of legendary impact." Does the editorial convey the essential information? What is lost in brevity?

Evaluate Principles in Practice
Ethics, Journalism, Media Arts, News Literacy

The best media practice a code of ethics and journalistic standards.
• Review today’s Style section. In what ways does it fulfill Bradley’s vision for it? In what ways does it fail to fulfill its purpose?
• Read Metro columnist Robert McCartnery’s “Why Ben Bradlee’s legacy of accountability should guide our digital news age.” Discuss the examples he gives. Do you read examples of accountability and challenging the powerful in the pages of today’s Post?

Transition to Editing
Career Education, Journalism, Media Arts

Washington Post Education Editor Josh White writes about his experience as a high school, college and professional reporter and editor. Read “Transitioning from Reporter to Editor.”


Today’s student editor as well as those contemplating a career in journalism can gain insight from this essay. For example, discuss these three ideas presented by White:
• “As an editor, you are no longer focused on the one story you’re following”
• “It [being an editor] provides an opportunity to have more of an impact on your organization’s daily work.”
• “Editors and reporters are all on the same team, trying to accomplish the same goal.”


Compare Job Descriptions
Career Education, Journalism, Media Arts

Editors seek to improve the quality of the written and oral communication in print and broadcast products. The editor-in-chief, executive editor and managing editors are also leaders who are honing the skills, expanding the experience and shaping the leadership of their staffs.


Staffs at three high schools in D.C., Virginia and Maryland provide editorial job descriptions from their staff manuals. Review, compare and contrast the expectations of editors at Woodrow Wilson, Harrisonburg and Rockville high schools. Note different editorial positions as well as the job descriptions.


Advisers at these three schools also provide advice to advisers and the job description of the adviser.

Read About Ben Bradlee

Visualize Importance
Art, Journalism, Mathematics

You see them on websites, on magazine pages and even in advertising. They are word clouds. Give students “Say It in a Word Cloud” which explains and illustrates a word cloud.


The word cloud that appears on this activity page was created using the first paragraph of explanation. Ask students to read the first paragraph and underline “word” every time it appears. Circle every time “visual” is used in the paragraph. This should help students to understand why “word” is in the largest font size in the illustration. This is an example of a grid pattern word cloud.


Review the assignment list on “Say It in a Word Cloud” for possible topics. Select a topic. Brainstorm ideas they believe about the topic.


There are online generators of word clouds, but have students create their own. Review the guidelines. Create “a word cloud of responsibility” in which students relate the importance and relative significance of qualities related to their topic. Those of lesser importance appear smaller and the most important is the largest word.


Teachers may use the word cloud to help organize an essay. Using the word clouds they created, ask students to select the three terms in the largest font sizes. Write a short essay on the topic, organizing the ideas from third, to second, to most important idea as visualized in the word cloud.


Send your students’ best original word clouds to Christopher Janson at We would like to publish them on our Newspaper in Education page.



Pitch Your Idea
Debate, Journalism, Media Arts

In journalistic vernacular, “pitch” means to present a proposal or idea for a story, column, segment of a program or a new show. To be successful, the reporter needs to be prepared and persuasive. Read and discuss “Pitch It.”


This activity can be done with everyone playing the role of the reporter making a pitch. Students could also take turns being the editor or editorial board that hears and gives feedback on the proposal. The latter is good practice in being tactful, recognizing the potential in ideas and making productive suggestions. If this is not a journalism or broadcast production class, the best ideas might be pitched to the editors of your school’s student media.


Another way to hone the pitch is to give an “elevator pitch.” After students have prepared and before they give their pitch, have them give a concise 20-second pitch that could be given to an editor on an elevator ride. This exercise will help students to verbalize their idea and key points of support in short sentences.


Edit Text
English, Journalism, Media Arts

Provide students with a short article written for your school’s student media. Ask students to read through the copy on their own and annotate: Place question marks in the margin where the meaning is unclear, “wd. ch.” by the line where diction could be improved, circles around spelling errors and arrows to indicate where text might be moved. Don’t worry about punctuation. Form groups of three students to share reactions to the article. Have the same portions of text been marked? What would students advise the writer modify, add or delete to produce a stronger article? Is an interview with a source needed?


If there is time, each student group could revise the article. Be sure to add a group byline. Share the articles with their classmates to see the different forms the article has taken.

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

From "The Truth-Seeker"   From "An editor of legendary impact"
Acolyte Argot
Analogy Chronicler
Bombard Contemporaries
Contend Correspondent
Denunciation Disaffected
Deturred Dispatch
Elan Eminence
Essence Impeccable
Incredulous Injunction
Inimitable Mediocre
Interrogation Minutiae
Legacy Ombudsman
Locution Quash
Memoir Renowned
Operative Tangible
Palpable Tenure
Rancor Unabashed
Sensitive Valedictory
Skeptical Vernacular
Subpoenas Viscera

ANSWERS. Tom Toles | October 23, 2014
1. Former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee who passed away on October 21, 2014.

2. The desk and high-back chair represent Bradlee's executive position. The slightly reclining the chair might indicate he should be at rest, but it is clear that he is still on the job.

3. Alliteration changes The Washington Post to Paradise Post, a reference to heavenly realms. Toles leaves no questions: Ben Bradlee is the editor. Following Watergate so many scandals added the suffix "gate."  Entering the pearly gates, a known cultural reference, allows one last "-gate." Likewise, 40 years to the year that President Richard Nixon resigned office, another authority figure is forced to resign.

4. "Been there, done that" is the phrase in the vernacular. Toles skillfully plays on sounds for word play: Ben There (Ben has passed through the pearly gates; he is there), Doing That (Bradley is still actively engaged in seeking the truth, or as he said in talks, the truth would eventually be known).

5. The use of -30- indicates the end of a story. 

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

Social Studies. Students distinguish fact from opinion in historical narratives and stories. They know facts are true statements because they are supported by reliable evidence and can cease to be facts if new evidence renders previous evidence wrong or unreliable. (Historical and Social Sciences Analysis Skills, Grades 6 through 8, 10)


Social Studies. Students assess the credibility of primary and secondary sources, draw sound conclusions from them, and cite sources appropriately. (Historical and Social Sciences Analysis Skills, Grades 6 through 8, 12)


Distirct of Columbia Academic Content Standards are found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Social Studies.  Use strategies to demonstrate understanding of the text (after reading).

1) Identify and explain what is directly stated in the text
2) Identify, paraphrase, or summarize the main idea of the text
3) Determine and explain the author’s purpose
4) Distinguish between facts and opinions
5) Draw conclusions and make generalizations based on the text, multiple texts, and/or prior knowledge (6.0  Social Studies Skills and Processes)

Social Studies. Identify primary and secondary sources of information that relate to the topic/situation/problem being studied

b. Read and obtain information from texts representing diversity in content, culture, authorship, and perspective

c. Locate and gather data and information from appropriate non-print sources such as photographs, illustrations, political cartoons and interviews. (6.0  Social Studies Skills and Processes)


Maryland Academic Content Standards are found at

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Civics and Economics. The student will develop the social studies skills responsible citizenship requires, including the ability to

a)   examine and interpret primary and secondary source documents;

c)   analyze political cartoons, political advertisements, pictures, and other graphic media;

d)   distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information;

e)   review information for accuracy, separating fact from opinion; (CE.1)


Civics and Economics. The student will demonstrate knowledge of personal finance and career opportunities by

a)  identifying talents, interests, and aspirations that influence career choice;

b)  identifying attitudes and behaviors that strengthen the individual work ethic and promote career success; (CE 14)


Virginia Academic Content Standards are found at

Common Core Standards 

Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose. (Craft and Structure, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.6


Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue. (Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.7)


Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem. (Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.7)

Common Core Standards are found at