FO°’s Saturday Editorial Workshop Is a Vibrant New Community

As Fair Observer’s interns learn the ropes of editing, they are forging a community defined by curiosity, debate, discussion, insight and collaborative achievement.

February 28, 2024 21:58 EDT
Dear FO° Reader,

You may have noticed that our recent article, published February 17, 2024, had an unusual credit line: [Fair Observer’s interns, working as a team, edited this piece.]

A few months ago, this line would have nearly always borne my name. Lately, it has expanded to include people like Ali Omar Forozish, Lee Thompson-Kolar, Cheyenne Torres, India Nye Wenner. As you can see from the new names popping up under our pieces, our team is growing. These talented young people work closely with the core editorial team to fact-check and edit our pieces. Increasingly, they are also reaching out to potential authors whom they request to publish on the pressing issues of our times. Some of these young people have also written articles and FO° Wednesdays for us.

kreat /

Note that these young people get credit for all the work they do. During their time at Fair Observer, they create a portfolio of work that speaks for itself. “Show, don’t tell” is a dictum we have taken to heart.

FO°’s young team members also get a free education. Every Saturday morning, we get together for an hour and a half. Around 15 people show up on Google Meet from as far west as Guam and as far east as Chennai. Naturally, we greet each other with a chorus of good mornings, good afternoons and good evenings at the beginning of each session. Then, we get to work.

The article of the day is typically a recent submission. We read, discuss, debate and edit together. Sometimes, an experienced author will need only light work, and we learn about things like style, punctuation and formatting — because everyone needs at least a few commas moved around. But Fair Observer is not a publication just for experienced authors and journalists. We welcome submissions from all around the world, and we ask only for fact-based and well-reasoned perspectives. We receive many contributions from inexperienced authors, perhaps writing for the first time; from scholarly authors, who may not be familiar with journalism; and from authors whose first or even second language may not be English. So, the work of presenting things clearly and in a format that is accessible to an international audience falls to us.

Logic is the soul of writing

The first thing our interns learn is that clarity is more important than eloquence, even though, at times, it may be far less visible. We teach our editors that the bedrock of clear writing is clear thinking. Every article has an argument to make. Sometimes, an article proceeds from one event to another. At other times, it proceeds from a set of facts to an analysis or a recommendation. Whatever the form of the article, the sentences, paragraphs and constituent parts must have logical connections. No article can lose the thread of its core argument, which inexperienced authors often bury beneath a mountain of facts or unnecessary verbiage. So, even when the topic is history or politics, we pose a philosophical question right at the outset: What is the argument?

Nathan Holland /

Once we establish the argument, everything else follows. The argument inspires the outline, and the outline organizes the article. The presentation of the facts, the narration that ties together these facts and the inferences that lead from that narrative to the analysis come together to form a coherent piece.

Sometimes, context is critical to understand an argument. During one session some weeks ago, most of the 90 minutes were consumed by a crash course in Middle Eastern history. Atul, our Editor-in-Chief, and I showed our young team members maps of the Ottoman Empire, of the British and French mandates and modern Arab states. Then, we proceeded to show them maps of the region that captured religious affiliations and ethnic identities. You may ask, why were we pulling up so many maps?

Left: The Ottoman Empire. Right: Major ethnic groups of the Middle East.

The answer is simple. One cannot tell a story without introducing its characters. When it comes to the Middle East, that is essential. After all, it is important to know that Iraq has Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs. Similarly, states like Lebanon and Syria are complex mosaics of different religious denominations and ethnic identities. As you can see, far from being just editing workshops, the Saturday morning meetings have become a masterclass in writing, logic, critical thinking, history, geopolitics and economics. One of our former interns even called them a “crash master’s degree in international relations.” Naturally, I like to think the interns are getting their time’s worth. Atul says that, if they remember us when they are 80, we will have done our job.

Working as a team

Speaking of doing our job, we would do most of the editing ourselves in the earlier workshops. Now, things have changed. Benjamin Canyon Gass submitted the article I mentioned at the start of this piece. When I tabled Gass’s article in our Saturday workshop, it created a flurry of discussion. Gass was full of ideas, many of them provocative, and made allusions both to history and fiction. Not all of his ideas made it into the final cut because the writing was choppy, some allusions were overblown and the argument was unclear. Yet what united all the material of this provocative first draft was the author’s ethical vision. He had a clear concept of what he wanted to communicate.

During our session, our young editors had many concerns, and not all of them were the same. We spoke, discussed and edited for the entire session. Some concerns pertained to individual word choices or sentences, but editors also critiqued whole sections and many of Gass’s arguments. In the end, we filled a Google Document with comments and drafted an outline for the author. We decided to type out an outline because we had left so many comments that we did not want Gass to drown in a cacophony of details.

To his credit, our author had the patience and candor to address every comment with good cheer. Gass clarified some things for us, added extra material in other places and rephrased certain passages to address our doubts. We looked at the piece together again in a second session and proceeded in the same way. After the author sent back his responses, I conducted the final redaction.

The process of editing Gass was more extensive than our typical editing process. Not every piece goes through two rounds of editing, and very few are reviewed by 18 pairs of eyes. Part of the reason the editing took so long was because such a large group editing together takes time. The fact that our young editors come from widely different backgrounds and around the world also made editing complicated. So, I must thank the author for not complaining even once.

Yet, for all the complexity and delay in the editing process, the end product was much improved thanks to the teamwork of such a large group. Gass’s piece benefited from the editing of a community working and speaking together, not disconnected editors going through the motions in their respective silos.

I am well aware that not every piece can, or indeed should, be edited in this way. A 90-minute weekly workshop could hardly hope to handle all the editing necessary for an outlet with nearly 3,000 authors. Yet all of us learn something more about writing in our Saturday sessions and we then apply these lessons to Fair Observer’s editorial process. I am sure that these lessons will stand us in good stead in our future careers. 

I want to leave you with one clear takeaway. Our assistant editors form a team that is working, learning and growing together. Unlike many other organizations, young people in FO° do not fetch coffee or do grunt work in the basement. We put them where they will learn and really benefit. In fact, many older people and even some donors have been attending our Saturday workshops. Now, we aim to expand our program.

As I end this piece, I request you to help us expand this program. You can sponsor the program or donate a small amount monthly or annually. If you are a professor or teacher, ask your students to apply to be an assistant editor. Unlike Ivy League schools, we are doing these workshops for free. Many of these young people who “graduate” from Fair Observer will go on to become journalists, professors, diplomats, business professionals, future leaders and citizens of the world. So, back the future, back us!

With gratitude to all of you,

Anton Schauble
Assistant Editor and Chief of Staff to the Editor-in-Chief

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