In praise of Digital Editors

Sitting on a goldmine? (picture from Flickr)

I’m in sunny London tomorrow to sit on a panel talking digital with digital editors from Trinity mirror newspapers. So I’ve been giving some thought to the lot of a digital editor.

You could see the digital editor as the interface between the newsroom and your digital audience. You’d be right. But do that wrong and there is a danger that they are your only interface – the rest of the newsroom ‘hide’ behind them.

There is also a danger that a digital editor becomes a digital production sub. They are the ones that make the content that’s produced in the newsroom ‘web friendly’. They are the ones that find the links, pictures and (more often than not) add the tags to journalists content that not only make stuff SEO friendly (along with those headlines they re-write) but also ensure that all the related stuff hidden in the archives is magically made visible.

There is also an expectation that your digital editor would be the one trying out all the new stuff – video, data and all of that kind of thing. Making it happen.

On top of that they’ll be ‘managing community’; keeping the readers comments under control and posting to Facebook.

Whatever their lot, there’s a lot of it!

The nice thing is that (most) newsroooms are more enlightened places. They don’t sideline the digital editor to simply be the web monkey who sits in the corner (right?). The input of journalists, who can see the value to their own journalistic identity, is the norm rather than the exception (right?). Which got me thinking a little.

The outward facing nature of a digital in newsrooms is vital. No doubt about that. Reaching out to community and offering ways in to the newsroom and news process is really important. All those things like crowdsourcing etc (the stuff that relies on that shifting relationship) is empowered and powered by them. Digital editors are frontline staff. But what about the other direction?

In this ‘digital first’ world, especially in organisations where end-to-end production systems are making all content digital, the digital editor may be sitting on the most complete map of expertise and interests in your newsroom outside your editors head. Archived, tagged ready to go.

When we crowdsource, we make an effort to find the interested and informed parties in our audience and get them to work with the newsroom. But what about the interested and informed in the newsroom? Aren’t they a crowd worth pulling together as well?

A newsrooms, especially newspaper newsrooms, have a (long) collected history and knowledge built on the individuals who work there. Maybe in the rush to push things out and engage on multiple platforms, we miss what’s right in front of us.

Maybe this thinking harks back to the days of librarians – the human databases that could connect your story to an article 20 years ago. I’m not suggesting that digital editors are librarians but maybe, in a world where digital is the thing that ties newsrooms together, they are sitting on all the data that gives places the material you put out there in context.

So perhaps it isn’t just about finding out about what your audience is clicking. Maybe your digital ed could also be telling you what your journalists are writing about? When and how often?

15 thoughts on “In praise of Digital Editors”

  1. Great piece Andy. One further question I would pose: Can the digital editor be a blocker to change? Hoarding knowledge from the newsroom so that they are indispensable?

    1. Thanks Mark. I suppose so. Absolute power etc etc. But I think that would be down to the individual rather than the post. Put it this way I don’t see the next bond villain being a webed.

      Thinking about it I suppose the newsroom structure and the support (or lack of it) that gives to an online ed might engender a siege mentality. But entrenched views, well, that’s a newsroom wide issue.

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