The role of the editor has become as diverse as the revenue streams in the industry in which we work. Today journalists are marketing gurus, audience development specialists and innovators. Smart editors are adapting by learning new skills and taking initiative — and smart publishers are encouraging them to do so.
In my brief career thus far, I've taken on many roles I didn't learn in journalism school (when Facebook was still only a portal for party photos), which is both challenging and exciting
. I recently had a Skype chat with a journalism class at my alma mater, Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism
, during which we discussed innovative online revenue models
and what they mean for editors. That's the first sign about how journalism is changing: In a magazine production class, future magazine editors and creative directors are also learning about business models.
Here are four ways new digital revenue models are changing the role of the editor.
The importance of content marketing
Editors and reporters are far beyond just content artists. We also have to understand how to market our content and brand beyond a newsstand, to an audience observable on a granular level. At the most basic level this means having Web analytics, SEO and social media skills. It also means having an eye to package content most appropriate for the medium and the metrics we want to achieve. (For instance, as I write this post, I'm not aiming just for pageviews — but I hope I can engage you with all of these informative links and maybe even get you to subscribe
to our newsletter.)
Some journalists will also need to understand how to market products and services, beyond a newsletter or event. It's becoming particularly important at enthusiast publications where commerce is a big part of their business (like F+W Publications
). Though the blurring line of content and commerce
is uncomfortable for traditional journalists, some editors will need to understand how to bridge this divide.
New jobs in brand journalism
It probably comes as no surprise that many of the friends I met in journalism school are not working as editors or writers at media organizations (though many of them are). There are still “traditional,” editorial-focused jobs at news wires and newspapers — though journalists need new skills in those positions, too. There are also non-traditional editorial jobs quickly becoming traditional (such as my position here at a digital-only publication).
But there's also more and more marketing jobs requiring editorial skills. It's nothing new that many journalists will move into PR or marketing — but now journalists have an even wider range of choices between news stories and press releases. As brands create more content operations, they need people trained in creating good content. Furthermore, as publishers beef up custom publishing
operations, they need content producers with an understanding of marketing.
This isn't a sign of the detriment of journalism as a public service; it's a sign of new opportunities for content. It would only be scary for the public good if the police were funding police reporting. A magazine with fashion tips sponsored by a designer isn't scary for the public good. It just is what it is — which is more jobs for content people.
Diverse business models
In the old days the revenue model could operate outside of the newsroom, but as revenue models get more diverse, it's not as easy to say “advertising is over there and editorial is over here.” The barrier between church and state is still relevant and taken seriously, but church doesn't need to live in a bubble.
That bubble has popped for some, thanks to digital innovations and revenue challenges to the media industry in the last few years. Amid the recession, every area of a media organization — including editorial — has been thrust into figuring out how to plug leaks in the media business model. It's kind of like how we didn't want the mortgage crisis to happen, but on the upside, we understand the housing market a lot better now.
, who has worked at both traditional news organizations (most recently at the Journal Register Company) and the start-up TBD, told an Online News Association audience that this new understanding of the business model is a good thing for journalists. “Nobody is suggesting that journalists should go write a story and then sell an ad, but I think they should understand — like every other employee in every other company in the world — how the company they works for makes money,” he said. “I think good journalism and good business can easily coexist.”
Here at the small headquarters of eMedia Vitals, our cubicles are clearly marked as church and state (as seen below). While the divide is clear, I strive to understand how the business works on the other side of my cubicle wall and the role I play in keeping the wheels running.
A focus on entrepreneurship
The really good news about all of the above trends is that editors can be purveyors of new ideas and produce better content than ever before. Instead of just naively proposing an expensive project and getting turned down, editors have the knowledge and tools to launch a feature that fits their audience and the business objectives
of their companies.
I remember only a few years ago sitting in budget meetings for the student newspaper, arguing about what should go on the front page. We were operating in a vacuum, only able to use our conflicting judgment about what was important to our audience.
Now journalists have so much more than gray space to work with, including an ever-expanding number of tools and platforms to inform and produce journalism. We can suggest new media and methods to produce content (multimedia, curation
), we can interact with our readers on Twitter, and we can even suggest new content products like gamification
Yes, it's easy to feel wary about how complicated this makes life as a journalist. But I would argue there's never been a better time for creative minds in this field.