Editorial Miracle Working Will Get Harder
The ability to deliver a steady flow of high-value editorial content has always been a miraculous skill. For evidence of such miracles, you need look no further than to those many publications where full-time staffs of just one or two editors have against all odds consistently produced great publications.
But as if such miracles weren’t already hard enough to achieve, the last two decades have raised the hurdles even higher. Since the advent of online media, editorial job descriptions, already challenging, have grown even more demanding. And it appears this trend will continue in the years to come.
This hazy but ominous wave of the future has been heralded recently by a number of workshops and articles predicting that editors will need to embrace broadening responsibilities. One outstanding example from 2018 was an ASBPE webinar, What Publishers Really Want from Editors. Featured speaker Kilian Schalk, founder of consulting firm PurpleGray, listed 19 expectations that editors will have to satisfy in the near future.
Of late, confusion has set in due to an onset of mixed messages. On the one hand, editors are told that they must get on board with a “doing more with less” mandate. On the other, publishers are advised that increased editorial investment must become the order of the day, as in this recent article by Twenty-First Digital CEO Melissa Chowning: Content Begets Audience: Publishers Need to Keep Investing in Editorial.
Preparing for Reduced Resources
While there is a strong argument to be made for increasing editorial investment, the economy may have other plans. That is the gist of a perceptive editorial outlook recently offered by Editors Only newsletter publisher William Dunkerley. Of special interest to me in his article, Recession Fears A Threat to Editorial Budgets?, was a long quote from consultant Robin Sherman.
A former editorial director as well as a member of ASBPE management, Sherman is a favorite go-to guy for me when critical editorial issues require examination. Upon request, he provided this updated version of the thoughts he expressed in Dunkerley’s article:
With so many publishing mergers/acquisitions over so many pre- and post-digital eras, editorial and design resources—especially print—have been dramatically cut and must be increased.
Editorial and design staffers, who used to work 50 hours a week before digital, now seem to work 60+ hours to accommodate doing the additional digital work on email newsletters, websites and social media. Moreover, they’re faced with smaller staffs and fewer monetary resources for reader research, freelancers, continuing education, and even for rewriting press releases to incorporate original reporting and additional news sources.
Thus, the quality of our products has decreased substantively in too many instances. I see this when I judge journalism excellence contests, and I’ve judged many over the years. So many submissions lack journalism and design fundamentals. Even in business-to-business journalism, where anecdotally at least publishers feel they have the trust of readers, the lower overall quality damages the trust. Trust cannot be taken for granted.
Bear in mind that some of the lower quality is the result of editors and designers not knowing to think like the other (i.e., editors must understand design, designers must know about journalism). Furthermore, not knowing precisely what their readers need and want, and how to package the content for accessibility, understanding and usefulness is a critical related issue. Many editors and designers simply don’t know how to engage the reader.
We’re all chasing technology, too, as it changes every three months. It’s all we can do just to get the publication out. We are our own worst enemy much too often. All the above, taken together, does not bode well for journalism, the success of news publications, its constitutional role as a watchdog, as well as its mission not only to inform and analyze, but to provide solutions to issues faced by voters, government, businesses, and nonprofits.
Rate your miracle worker status
Throughout the management upheaval described above, the never-ending reality confronting editors has been ability to fulfill multiple roles. When reaction to this concern was coming to a head in the late 1990s, I introduced an “Editorial Miracle Worker Self-Scoring Profile.” The list of hats that editors were expected to wear successfully in that era is at least as long today. If you agree, how are you making out? The accompanying exercise may reflect possible need for improvement.
For each of the roles in this list, rate your performance on a scale of 1 to 10. If your total score is less than 85, you may want to review the roles where you can improve your rating and consider how you can do so.
- Magician: Constantly delivers top-quality content, even though frequently saddled by a restricted budget.
- Assassin: Candidly assesses editorial strength/weakness versus the competition, then provides evaluation results to the marketing group.
- Marketing Wizard: Periodically recommends projects/supplements that offer solid ad potential for marketing purposes.
- Technology Expert: Rarely baffled by computer and website glitches.
- Graphics Guru: Conjures up snazzy layout ideas. Also battles proposed designs that are esthetically interesting but less than reader friendly.
- Show Business Pro: Always a star performer before audiences and constantly in demand as a speaker.
- Teacher: Personally involved in training and providing feedback to staff members. Embraces reality of training as a never-ending task.
- Industry Maven/Statistician: Data-adept in terms of creating, interpreting, and publishing surveys that address groundbreaking issues.
- Customer Service Specialist: Adheres to a written policy describing optional ways to resolve editorial complaints.
- Visible Editorial Contributor: This role is especially critical for editors-in-chief. If your contribution per issue rarely goes beyond an editorial column, you are falling short. Maximum score on this factor is possible only for editorial managers who consistently by-line timely features.
If you find this exercise useful, my book for B2B editors, Get Serious About Editorial Management, includes six other self-scoring profiles covering field-editor presence, complaint handling, feature writing, avoiding job burnout, trade show coverage, and maintaining a strong marketing arsenal.