In many ways, it seems like the iPad was plopped down on the desks of editors and production staff with a note that said, “Congratulations! Please factor this into what you're already doing.”
While support for mobile devices has added to the production plate, many publishers have found it difficult to justify budgeting for dedicated mobile staff
when the medium remains such a small percentage of revenue. But we're beginning to signs of more mobile-related hiring as publishers realize that mobile is becoming a more important channel for content delivery.
On a day-to-day basis, mobile workflow varies widely depending on the type of publication (newspaper vs. magazine) and frequency (daily vs. weekly vs. monthly). It also matters whether the publisher develops the app internally or externally
and whether the app includes unique or repurposed content.
For many publishers, editorial is one area that requires significant workflow modifications to support mobile, according to Bill Tallent, CEO of Mercury Intermedia
, which creates iPad apps for newspapers such as USA Today. Mercury's larger clients have hired full-time mobile staffs, Tallent said at a recent conference hosted by the Reynolds Journalism Institute
. (USA Today reorganized
last year, putting a bigger emphasis on mobile.)
Tallent advised publishers not to skimp on editorial attention in mobile. "It's tough to do this because I know that there are staff cuts constantly in the editorial department, but when you put out an app that has typos and mistakes in the copy, customers will ding you," he said. "We've seen quite a few apps out there where the quality of the presentation, the quality of the copy in an application doesn't even approximate what it is in the paper itself."
A new kind of editor for mobile
A perusal of job boards surfaced a hodgepodge of media jobs focused on mobile. Like the Web, content and production jobs blur in the mobile space. In the last couple of months, The New York Post advertised for a “part-time iPad news editor” and Consumer Reports was looking to hire someone in "iPad production." The Washington Post recently advertised for a “mobile engagement producer
.” This hire will manage content on the mobile site and apps, Mobile Editor Anjuman Ali told Poynter.
Mobile content positions that blur editorial and digital production roles is a natural evolution, said Kate Byrne, vice president of the technology group at Future US, Inc. The publisher's free Mac|Life app, launched this summer, has seen about 460,000 downloads, and the recently launched paid version has received about 12,000 downloads.
While developing for mobile, Byrne quickly spotted a gap between editorial and development workflow that needed to be filled. She said publishers increasingly require editorial staffers to be more nimble with activities like coding in addition to content — a request she likened to asking those “who are poets by nature to become quants.”
Byrne's solution, which is already budgeted into the publisher's 2011 headcount, is to create the role of a digital producer who resides in editorial but acts as a liaison between development and editorial. Keeping the job editorially focused is important because the technical side lacks an overarching understanding of all the moving parts, such as how editorial works with the business side, she noted.
“Eventually, I think this is what the next-generation editor-in-chief will be, though we’re not there yet,” she said.
Byrne envisions the digital producer being able to determine what content appears where, depending on the screen size or distribution channel. It could mean bringing more people with broadcast backgrounds into the print world, particularly because video has become a core piece of digital and mobile, she said.
Some publishers acknowledge that they don't know exactly how mobile workflow will work until they start trying it out. The American Lawyer publisher ALM
, which plans to launch several apps this year, is taking a wait-and-see approach to determine any workflow or staffing changes.
Staffing needs could depend, for example, on the type of content in the mobile app. Currently ALM is trying not to beef up staff, using outside developers and beginning with repurposed content, Jill Windwer, vice president of digital products and Law.com for ALM, explained in a recent interview. Creating unique content for the app would require additional staff, she said.
"Like anything else, if it starts to make money, I can hire whomever I want,” she added.
Layered on top
Across much of the magazine world, creating digital editions for mobile devices has been layered on top of the regular production workflow.
For instance, with Condé Nast's highly publicized Wired app
, editors and designers on the print side worked side by side to determine additional content to enhance storytelling for the iPad.
“It's a concurrent workflow,” Scott Dadich, executive director of digital magazine development at Condé Nast, said at the American Magazine Conference last fall. At the time, Wired had not assigned additional full-time staff to app production but had hired freelancers for additional projects, such as video work, as needed, he said.
On the other hand, Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated
decided to hire extra staff to keep up with the weekly pace of putting out an iPad app on top of a magazine.
“We've had to add two people just from the sheer workload,” Chris Hercik, creative director of Sports Illustrated Group, said at AMC. Like Wired, the staffs seamlessly move from print and mobile.
Moving mobile in-house
These skeleton mobile staffs may begin to grow as mobile becomes more integrated into the organization, particularly on the technology side. While relying on external technology vendors can lessen the load, many publishers are still finding that developing an app can be labor-intensive for in-house staff.
Cox Media Group
's app for the Dayton Daily News
was developed by Mercury, but still required a concentrated amount of internal staff before launch. Speaking at the Reynolds Journalism Institute conference, Ray Marcano, director of digital strategy for Cox Media Group Ohio, said newspapers with a circulation of 150,000 to 200,000 should plan on having about a dozen people working on an app ― from marketing to circulation.
Smaller publishers are finding ways to do it for less. Greenspun Media Group
launched a location-based app for Las Vegas Weekly
without relying on external vendors. Rob Curley, the publisher's senior editor of digital, said the editorial and technology staff work closely to maintain the app and website.
Eventually more publishers may take their app development in-house. Despite working for a firm that develops apps for publishers, Mercury's Tallent believes publishers should eventually plan on developing mobile apps internally, just as they do for their websites. Hiring app developers, however, isn't cheap. “It's going to take at least three years for supply and demand to equalize in the labor market for app developers,” he said.
So publishers face a bit of a Catch-22: They need to create successful apps with limited resources in order to have revenue to invest back into them. Executives admit they're going through a learning process. Speaking at the Business Insider conference recently, Kevin Krim, global head of web properties at Bloomberg, acknowledged that iPad development is difficult to integrate into an organization: “Anyone who tells you it's been easy has been lying to you.”