David Arkin's blog

8 things the best editors do today

Above is a screen shot of Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) editor Dennis Anderson's Twitter account. Dennis is one of many GateHouse editors who is very engaged on social media.
Above is a screen shot of Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) editor Dennis Anderson’s Twitter account. Dennis is one of many GateHouse editors who is very engaged on social media.

This blog could have been headlined, 88 things the best editors do today. Times sure are busy and a little crazy for editors today as they navigate digital, work to drive more and better in-depth news, and manage the financial pressures of the job.

An editor’s job has obviously evolved from the days of worrying just about the print report to now a very analytical, cross-platform, community engagement role.

The best editors are priority jugglers, great managers and collaborators across departments. The job description is very encompassing today.

But you know what? While their jobs are more challenging, they are also more exciting than ever before.

Every day, I get the opportunity to witness some truly amazing work happening in our newsrooms, led by incredibly talented editors and journalists.  I see editors who are doing all of the right things. They are obsessing over analytics and then acting on them, planning digitally and leading as an example on social media. It’s inspiring.

I have captured the best of the best below. These are eight things I believe the best editors do today:

1. Know your analytics: It’s not someone else’s job to understand your page views, unique visitors and social media insights. It’s the newsroom leader’s job. It’s the top editor’s job to grow the newspaper’s audience, and that all starts with knowing and understanding your traffic and being able to clearly articulate digital trends in your market and steps you’re taking to increase your audience.

2. Plan it: What is this Sunday’s centerpiece? Can you tell me right now what the story is about? What your main photo is going to be? What about next Sunday? You should at least have a sense of what the topic is for the next two as well. Great planning turns into great reporting, photography and design. Without it, it’s just another day of covering stuff and not surprising readers. But planning can’t just be a print thing. Every day your staff should be able to clearly see your digital plan. That plan should plot out coverage throughout the day — on all platforms — and the specific digital tools reporters will use.

3. Know how to use the CMS: Not understanding how to use your content management system means you don’t understand your newsroom’s workflow. It also means when newsrooms express concerns about technology challenges, you don’t understand them. You shouldn’t be expected to live in it six hours a day, but you need to use it and understand what it does. This really goes for any piece of technology used in the newsroom.

4. Be active on social media: You have to have a Facebook and Twitter account. And you should be following every member of your staff, folks in the community and in the industry. You also should be posting to the account and engaging. Being passive isn’t enough. Lead by example. Let’s stop having to have this argument on why editors need to be on social media. It’s 2015.

5. Develop your staff: In these changing times, making sure your staff is developing the necessary skill sets, is critical. Tap into training opportunities (those offered in the industry and also by your parent company). Hold monthly brown bags. Have someone on your staff lead it or bring folks from the community in. Give feedback. Constantly. That can come in one-on-one meetings, notes and public acknowledgment. Staff development also gets to newsroom organization. Paying attention to who you have and whether people are in the right positions is critical to helping you evolve your operation. Don’t be afraid to change your organization.

6. Attend every planning meeting you have. Lead them: I once ran into an executive editor who said they didn’t attend the daily planning meetings because they wanted their editors to be able to run the show. Editors must make the meetings open and collaborative but they must drive them and attend them. It’s your job to ensure that your planning meetings aren’t all about print but more about coverage throughout the day. Lead the conversation in planning digital elements for projects, suggesting digital layers for breaking news and referring to digital extras from print. Make sure that when you leave you are satisfied with the print and digital plan. Own it.

7. Drive new and better products: Editors have to think with their product hat on all of the time. For example, how can your coverage of a college football team that has a strong following be developed into a standalone section that will deliver more value to your readers? Understand the revenue opportunities for key content categories and work with your advertising department to drive those products. Lines between advertising and news are important, but more often than not, what advertising departments want to be able to sell is great content and experiences. Help them deliver that. Help your newspaper’s bottom line.

8. Engage with the community: There are lots of ways to do this. Just do something. Belong to a community organization and get involved. Run a reader advisory board and communicate to all of your readers on what’s being discussed during the board meetings. Run a forum on a critical community issue. Be the face of your newspaper. Get out of your office.

BONUS: Try stuff. Experiment. Play with new tools. Fail. Succeed. Try again. Develop a culture that encourages bringing new ideas to the table. Find champions who can run with those ideas. Raise those individuals up.

Many of GateHouse Media’s editors are doing many of these things and doing them very well.

Editors have to transition from leaders who ran a daily news report to product experts who are working to grow and engage audiences every minute of every day.

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