Editors stand up and be counted – and start counting

Editors, and especially Editors in Chief, it’s time to embark on the most important piece of data journalism you’ll ever do, it’s going to take you way outside your comfort zone and to land this story you’ll have to learn some new skills.

The protagonist or hero of your story is you and the suggested headline is “How an editor became a business leader and saved his newsroom”.

I was lucky enough last week to be invited to speak at Wan-Ifra‘s Publish Asia conference and I met some pretty cool entrepreneurs and some determined professionals in the industry but I still came away concerned that the challenges of the industry are not being met by the people at the top (except you Pat, you know who you are).

The most guilty are us, the editors, the chief journalists who sit in our editorial ivory towers and refuse to grubby our hands with matters such as advertising income whether print, digital or programmatic (hands up all editors who know what this actually is).

We are prepared to write about the unfairness of Google and Facebook’s rise to power, how despicable it is of them to come up with a winning formula and actually go to market with it, but what are we – the editors – doing to fix it?

What is your strategy oh brother or sister editor of mine to tackle the ‘frenemy‘?

Well it’s time for us to go back to business school and learn how to do the CEO’s job, then the advertising manager’s job, and then the circulation manager’s job, and then the HR director’s job and then the social media manager’s job so on and so on.

“That’s not my job'” you might say, “I’m far too busy,” but I guess that comes down to how you define your role as Editor.

To me journalism has always been a calling, not just a job but a way of life that can’t be neatly defined by hours or duties (much to my wife’s frustration). Rising to be an editor was a lifelong dream but I got there in changing times.

Any expectation that I would simply be the most important journalist, the guy that calls the shots on the stories and occasionally shouts ‘Hold the presses’ (do we do that anymore? is it too expensive now?), that disappeared fast.

Now I define the role of Editor as the guardian of the newsroom’s future, whatever the format and however it’s distributed, in print, social, online or video (or VR, AR…), because our responsibility is to the audience (readers, viewers, followers, unique users).

To fight for my future, for my journalists’ future and for the future of content, how can I turn the tide of cost-cutting,  resist the pressures on budgets, or even understand how editorial operations can contribute to the financial well-being of the company, if I don’t have all of the facts?

And if we as editors aren’t interested in getting the facts about our business, rather than this politician or that celebrity, then we are pretty poor journalists in reality.

This is not about removing the ‘Church and State’ divide that should exist between editorial and commercial concerns, this about about truly understanding both Church and State simultaneously so you can walk the wire and plot a way forward.

It’s time to stop crying about the bean counters and beat them at their own game.

At Publish Asia, Juan Señor, partner in Innovation Media, turned the stage into a pulpit delivering a stern and strong sermon about how the industry was waiting for Godot, procrastinating while it hoped for a ‘digital salvation’ that will never come.

He’s right, the answers won’t come from on high, either from heaven or the C-suite, we have to find the solutions ourselves. Juan also said that ‘Innovation starts at the top, but is delivered at the bottom.’

He’s right again, innovation starts at the top, so let us begin, my fellow editors, by innovating ourselves.

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