It's time for new people—and a new culture—in publishing

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We need to stop hiring the same kind of people to fill the same old jobs at our magazines. The next time you have a staff vacancy to fill in your newsroom—or in your sales, marketing or circulation departments, for that matter—consider not hiring an experienced print veteran. Consider, instead, hiring someone well-versed in the ways of the digital world, even if they have very little experience with print.

Consider, in other words, shaking up your culture entirely in preparation for the future.

If you're the typical b-to-b publisher, there's no question you're already being buffeted by fundamental changes. Print publishing stands in relation to the Internet right now in the same way the big music labels did in the late 1990s—about to be swept up in the cyclone.

In your newsroom, your editors are no longer holding their scoops for print; they're breaking news online as soon as it's confirmed—and trying to reconcile this daily output with the traditional print product. In circulation, paid subscribers are getting harder to sign up or renew, as readers increasingly turn to the Web for their news and information. Sales is battling the loss of classified ads to online sources. And many longtime print advertisers are getting more aggressive with their nonprint marketing.

None of this is news, and most publishers already know, in theory, what to do about it. Build your Web business, add new digital products and multiple platforms such as events and custom publishing. Become more engaged and interactive with your community of readers. And so on: yada, yada, yada.

The trick is how to get there. The problem is that we're all very good at doing print—we're the experts on that—but not so great yet on the Web. And that's largely because, institutionally, we still see it as a side business to our print publications, which, emphatically, it is not. It's a totally different medium that requires its own experts to manage properly.

Think about how we've mastered our print domain. We've tracked our readers' eyeballs as they skim across the pages. We can print almost anything an agency can imagine. We can change front pages five times in a day as the news demands—our people understand all of that. It's our business.

On the Web: Eh, not so much. Ask yourself: Do you have a developer or coder in your newsroom, or better yet, your Web department? A graphics person conversant with Flash and other Web design? A Web producer who can take your big stories and totally transform them for your online audience, doing database mash-ups and Web animations and linking it all to a variety of useful resources across the Internet?

Well, you should. You should also consider seeding your circulation, sales and marketing staffs with people who truly understand search engine optimization, blogs and viral marketing, social network technologies, and alliance building among related Web sites and businesses.

The immediate problem we face as we follow our audience across the great digital divide is how to change our publishing culture from one that is so enormously printcentric (a 19th century technology at its heart) to one that has just as much instinctive expertise in Web publishing.

Two caveats: First, I am by no means saying that we don't need all our print expertise to continue growing. Print publishing is a healthy business that will continue for years to be the main driver of profits. But not forever. In an informal poll of our own 30 some-odd publishers here at Crain Communications Inc., the consensus was that in 10 years, more than 50% of their revenue would come from online products. And that might be a conservative time line.

Second, I don't mean to imply that this will be easy. There's a reason for the expression "culture shock." As soon as you start adding new skill sets or hierarchies to your staff, there'll be resistance. Just try telling your editor that you need the reporters to start shooting video on some of their interviews and see how well that goes over. Nonetheless, we have to find a way to get there.

The best way to adapt to this new world is to fully adopt it. It's not going away, and our current skill sets aren't the correct match. Let your HR department know now: You need to start looking for new kinds of people to fill new kinds of jobs.

David Klein is VP-publishing and editorial director of the Ad Age Group at Crain Communications Inc. He can be reached at [email protected].

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