Changing editors’ mind-set

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It may be discussed in hushed tones, but it is a frequent topic when b-to-b media executives get together: What happens to printcentric editors as the business model becomes more online-driven?

Can the current editors make the transition and, if so, what resources do they need? Do some or all of them need to be replaced with people who already have online skills?

Tom Cintorino, senior VP-digital media at PennWell Corp., framed the issue this way: "If you're changing your mix of media to meet audience needs, you have to wrap your organization around how you choose to meet those needs." In other words, management must make sure the organization can perform the functions that are needed today, regardless of what was required in the past. The editorial team, like every other department, must be evaluated against the business needs, he said.

Paul Conley, a blogger and consultant to b-to-b media companies, takes a hard line with regard to journalists who have not taken it upon themselves to develop new skills. "The b-to-b media have always functioned with a sink-or-swim mentality," he said. Conley went on to say that editors who have online skills will keep their jobs and progress in their careers. Even though some of the others may be willing to learn, management must weigh the cost of training them against other options, he said.

In contrast, Gary Rubin, chief publishing and e-media officer at the Society for Human Resource Management, said it's a mistake to try to treat editorial people like salespeople. "I don't think people can be creative at the point of a gun," he said.

Rubin has developed some tactics to help ease the transition. "For example, I bought four or five midpriced video cameras. I told people to take them and use them any way they wanted. The only requirement was that they edit the video into some sort of story," he said. "We wanted them to pick up the basics skills without the pressure of a performance evaluation."

Jeff DeBalko, chief Internet officer for Reed Business International and president of Reed Business Interactive, said: "It's an economic reality that you can't directly translate the business model from print to the business model for online. So the organizational structure, the resources, the culture and the skill sets can't remain the same."

DeBalko recently took on responsibility for Reed's TV group, where he is beginning to transform the editorial structure.

"There are three brands in the group—Multichannel News, Broadcasting & Cable and TWICE—and we've recently begun to manage them like a portfolio rather than separate silos," he said. "So we've taken all the functions that don't need to be done at the brand level, such as copy editing, and we're consolidating them for the group. This has freed up head count to create more online-specific resources."

Yet DeBalko, like Rubin, remains willing to invest a certain amount of time and effort to help editors move from a print to an onlinecentric model. "I am a strong believer that leadership by the editors at the brand level will drive our successful transformation into an onlinecentric media company," he said. "However, at some point the refusal to embrace this change becomes a barrier to rapid growth, and you need to address that."

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