Playing your hand: Challenges and opportunities for editors
Managing in our industry has become akin to playing 52 pickup with an infinite number of card decks raining down on us.
Against this backdrop, editorial leaders have two main challenges:
- Define and execute on a strategy that serves their audience
- Communicate how that strategy serves the business of which they are a part and what that strategy requires of the editorial professional
I recently asked four questions about editorial challenges and opportunities to several highly respected editors. I’ve shared some of their thoughts here.
What is the biggest challenge facing editorial professionals right now?
- Lack of definition of roles
- The need to perform multiple functions (write, acquire and "curate" content, take and edit photos and video, get in front of the camera, blog and Twitter...) is a challenge for all the people who were trained in doing just one or two things: write and edit.
- The tension between “quality journalism” and the kind of sensational stories that get online page views.
- The shift of the news/information industry from top-down, mass media, quasi-monopolies to a distributed communications paradigm that includes social networks and other online forums. Not only does this shift require different business models, but it also requires far different editorial skill sets.
- The ongoing transition from print to online. How do you engage the audience in ways that take advantage of the platform? Where do social media and user-generated content fit? How do you go from a one-way broadcast model to two-way interaction? How do you continue producing quality journalism given the financial and deadline constraints online right now?
What is the biggest opportunity for editorial professionals right now?
- Editors should be acquiring business and technical skills to make themselves valuable to 21st century organizations. The editorial role is evolving; editors must evolve or they will be forced out.
- To exploit Web 2.0 capabilities to produce better stories and better presentation of those stories.
- To reinvent themselves.
- This is the most exciting time to be a journalist if you care about the intersection of technology and journalism, and how to leverage new ways of informing people.
What one thing, if changed, would make the biggest difference in editorial's ability to contribute to the business?
- Editorial needs to be cross-trained and then engaged as an equal partner in product development discussions. Without proper creative and content support, products born solely out of business or sales objectives with only technical input are doomed to fail.
- There’s an inherent flaw in this question. Editorial shouldn't be thinking about how they contribute to the business. Editorial should be thinking about how they serve readers, period (within the constraints of business realities, of course). Given how dramatically the media is changing, that's a tall enough order in itself.
- For the first time in a long time, journalists have to recognize that they ARE involved in a business — careful about ethics but less adversarial towards the business.
- Journalists themselves need to become entrepreneurial (whether they’re part of a media company or a lone wolf), or at least “think entrepreneurial.”
- Not forgetting our audiences. Creating or improving products that truly meet their needs.
- If you work for a business, you are a businessperson. That does not mean everything's for sale. … Editors are afraid to communicate with business leaders using business language because they think it's a slippery slope. It is not a slope at all. It does not change your ethics or actions.
Our greatest strengths can often be our greatest weakness in that we tend to use our strengths "automatically" or be overly dependent on or beholden to them. What editorial "strength" may indeed be its greatest weakness in terms of contributing to the changing media landscape?
- Traditional editorial separation from the business. New media requires a closer relationship and partnership between editors and the business, not further separation.
- Clinging to tradition. Keep some core principles, but also learn to adapt to new realities or risk becoming dinosaurs.
- The idea that old models for reporting, interpreting and describing the news are automatically superior to new models.
- Being “the expert” can make it difficult for some as journalism turns into more of a collaborative field with the audience.
Putting it into your own words
As editorial professionals wend their way through the obstacles and opportunities that face our industry, here are some questions and actions to consider:
- What is the biggest challenge facing you and your team right now? How might that challenge be framed in terms of impact on the business?
- What is the biggest opportunity available to you or your staff right now? What are three actions you might take to make that opportunity a reality?
- What one thing, if changed, would make the biggest difference in your or your team’s ability to contribute to organizational goals? What can you do to catalyze that change?
- What is your or your team’s greatest strength? In what ways might that strength be detracting from your ability to contribute fully to the reader, the audience, to business goals or to the editorial profession?
What we seem to have here is an unprecedented, unrelenting, exhausting and exhilarating chance of a lifetime. But as Kenny Rogers once sang: “the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep."
Previous Julie Lynch columns:
- This job would be great if it weren't for the people
- State of alert: How your brain reacts to job-related stress
- Tall ships, speedboats, and managing change
- The mind-numbing problem of organizational structure
Julie Lynch is principal of Uncommon Consulting, which helps companies drive change, boost productivity and engage employees. Julie's 14 years leading management development and strategic human resources teams at International Data Group, where she is currently Director of IDG’s Global Knowledge Exchange, has fostered an unbridled enthusiasm about the evolution of contemporary media. Reach her at email@example.com.