Q&A with Karen Martwick, editor at Travel Portland

Karen Martwick is an editor at Travel Portland in Oregon. She’s also worked as a book editor and at Oregonlive.com. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Martwick talks about her job, working with freelancers and the role of non-newspaper editors in the American Copy Editors Society.

Q. Describe your job at Travel Portland. What is your typical day like?

Part of what I love about my job is that there isn’t really a typical day. My work varies depending on the time of year and the needs of the organization.

We produce two magazines a year: one for the leisure travel market and one for meeting and event planners. The production cycle for the visitors guide, our flagship publication, runs from August-March; the meeting planners guide has a shorter cycle, September-November. During production on these two pieces, my tasks include story development, writer assignment and direction, consulting on art and design, line and copy editing, and, finally, reviewing layouts and proofs.

In addition to the magazines, I do a lot of other editing and writing on a daily basis. This includes writing and editing e-mails (both long-form editorial newsletters and one-off invitations and announcements); other electronic copy (Twitter and Facebook posts, promotional home page touts, other Web pages); and print pieces (event programs, advertisements, displays, etc.).

I also develop additional publications (brochures, one-sheets) as dictated by departmental needs and budgets. These projects vary widely, from writing, editing and producing a brochure for the European leisure travel market to working with a freelance writer to create a brochure for the domestic lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) market.

My next print project is updating a public art brochure in partnership with the Portland area’s Regional Arts & Culture Council. I’m also in the midst of a full content overhaul of Travel Portland’s 200-page website.

Q. You often work with the writing of freelancers. What are some of the challenges of editing their work?

A. Working with freelancers poses a number of challenges. The first is obvious, but pervasive — a lot of professional writers just aren’t very good. I try to get references from editors who’ve seen the writers’ work before it went into print, but it still takes a certain amount of trial and error to find good freelancers.

The other challenges I face are getting freelancers to write in a voice that fits Travel Portland’s brand and identity, and making their writing relevant and accessible to the given audience. For instance, most of our writers are based in Portland, and I frequently must remind them that our readers don’t live here and won’t understand “insider” references to local landmarks or personalities. In terms of voice, most of our writers successfully produce copy that falls within our brand guidelines, but I sometimes need to offer guidance when copy sounds too promotional or stilted.

Q. You worked in news at OregonLive.com. What are some of the differences of editing there compared with your work now?

A. I became a producer at OregonLive.com right out of college and worked there for six years (1998-2004). My B.A. was in English, with a minor in professional writing. In other words, I wasn’t a journalist and didn’t exactly plan to work for a news organization. That said, I was really interested in the Internet and loved the idea of actually applying my degree and writing and editing on a daily basis.

Working at OregonLive.com, I honed my headline-writing skills through packaging stories and content for the home page and e-newsletters; did a lot of research, compiling online resources on Oregon nonprofits and elections; multitasked and worked on tight deadlines, producing three unique home pages per day; edited a wide variety of blogs; and even did some real, live reporting (high school dance and football championships). I also taught myself HTML and learned a lot about information architecture and user interface design.

In my current job, I still use a lot of those online editing skills, but I also get to work on longer-term print projects, which I really enjoy. Going from Web to print may seem like taking a step backward, but I’ve found my passion in working on magazines. I also love the variety of my work and love to help non-writers produce great copy. (A good bedside manner is indispensable.)

Q. You’re a member of the American Copy Editors Society. Where do you see the place of editors like yourself in an organization that got its start with a newspaper focus?

The 2009 ACES conference was my first experience with the organization, and I really didn’t know what to expect — I just knew that I craved interaction with other editors. I came away energized, filled with practical tips and new ideas, and feeling like I’d found my people. The editors I’ve met through ACES are all intelligent, inquisitive, engaged and hilarious — just like me, if I do say so myself!

While the day-to-day work of an editor on a magazine or at a nonprofit tourism organization (talk about niche), may be quite different from that of a newspaper copy editor, we all speak the same language. We are problem-solvers. We multitask like the dickens. We have opinions on the serial comma. We thrive on deadlines. And we are passionately committed to clear communication.

I am so thankful that ACES had the foresight to include non-newspaper editors in its fold. We all have a lot to learn from each other, and the productive and inspiring 2010 conference just underscored that fact for me.