The Path of a New York Editor

By Mike Haglund

Ever wonder what it is like to be an editor in the Big Apple? David Haglund is an online literary editor for The New Yorker, a graduate of the University of Chicago, who then moved on to study at Oxford University. For over a decade he has been writing and editing for several different outlets. Before his current job at The New Yorker, he worked for Slate Magazine as the senior editor. David, who happens to be my cousin, was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to let me interview him about what it’s like being a big time editor.

What made you want to get into journalism?

David: I always enjoyed reading and writing. In college, I came to really enjoy criticism — writing about books and, later, movies. After I started writing reviews, I began interviewing people from time to time, another part of the job that I’ve come to like.

How did you get to your current position with The New Yorker?

David: My first editing job was with a small literary magazine that came out twice a year. I was the managing editor. While I was there I wrote book reviews for other publications, and every few months I would write a piece for the online magazine Slate, usually about movies. Eventually, a job opened up at Slate running their culture blog — a mix of writing and editing short pieces about movies, TV, music, and so on. I did that for three and a half years before a job with The New Yorker’s website opened up. A friend from Slate told me about the job and put in a good word for me.

Who has been your favorite person you’ve interviewed and why?

David: My favorite story of those I’ve written is about the basketball player Delonte West. I had been a fan of Delonte’s since he was drafted by the Boston Celtics, and I knew that he had struggled with mental health issues. I wanted both to write about Delonte and to better understand how professional sports leagues address mental illness. I first spoke to Delonte in a minor league locker room in Dallas, just for a few minutes. Later we spoke on the phone for about an hour when he was in China playing for a team there. It took another several months before he finally agreed to an interview in person. I spent the afternoon at his house in Maryland and we talked for a long time. I felt as though I had come to understand his point of view, and had also learned something about the larger issues he had dealt with and that his teams faced. It was a very hard story to write but I was happy with it.

Describe your typical day in your current job.

David: I get into the office around 9:45 and try to plan my day — figure out which stories I need to edit, which stories are supposed to be published that day, who I need to email or speak with in person. After that I spend most of the day editing stories and answering emails, with occasional meetings, usually about story ideas or about job candidates when there are positions to fill. Often I’ll have coffee or lunch with a writer or with another editor at the magazine. And I read a lot — to see what other magazines are publishing, to keep up with what we’re publishing, and to find writers who might write for us.

What are some struggles you now face as the literary editor?

David: The biggest struggle for me is finding enough time in the work day. I spend a lot of time on each story I edit, and it can be a challenge to keep up — I usually publish a couple of stories a day on the website, and occasionally write stories myself or do stories for The New Yorker’s weekly radio show. Every story can get better with more time, more editing, more revision — and so figuring out when a piece is good enough is a challenge, too. Sometimes you know something’s good, but often you want to keep working on it, to make it at least a little bit better.

What is your favorite part about being an editor?

David: My favorite part is finishing a story that both the writer and I are happy with — and then publishing it, and seeing readers enjoy it, too. I like helping good writers get recognition, and furthering their careers. I’m especially glad when writers I’ve edited are happy with the stories we’ve worked on together — when they think that I’ve helped make their stories better, and are proud of them. That’s a good feeling.