Creator of The Editor’s Inbox podcast Stephen Lepitak wanted to learn more about how to be an editor. Here he shares his thoughts on how editors are thinking about their audiences and how they deliver their editorial and content to fit based on the conversations from series one.
There is still a view that a newspaper (or magazine) editor is someone who sits at a desk in an office all day with a red pen grumbling to themselves. But it is a job with so many different facets in the modern age, no longer is it just about sifting through the copy of the day or barking orders at journalists (well not always.)
The Editor’s Inbox podcast came about because I wanted to hear and learn more from the editors working in media. I wondered how they thought about news and feature stories, how they commissioned, how they ran their teams, and most importantly, how they recognised what to run and what to spike-based on their understanding of their audience. How did they decide when a story was important to their platform and how they operated on a day-to-day basis?
In my experience, one of the major changes taking place in journalism today is the introduction of real-time data, which can help us understand the content being consumed and make life easier to commission around. However, I’ve been wondering if that takes away from the decision-making power of the editor, who may have an angle they want to explore, whether the data backs them up or not. Reach, the Canary Wharf headquartered publisher, has spent years undergoing major digital transformation, but it was curious to hear The Mirror’s editor Alison Phillips talk about how she views the role of analytics and her belief that data reinforced an editor’s instinct rather than steering it.
“A strange thing about the data you get in digital is that very rarely are you astounded by it,” she said. “Interesting stories are read by a lot of people while less interesting stories aren’t. So yes, the data is great but generally, you get that data after you’ve already made the decision over which story to run with. So, you are still relying on gut instinct a lot of the time.”
When it comes to considering the audience (that means you, dear reader) and the content that is distributed for their consumption, it is still one of the most crucial decisions being made each day by an editor. The success of those pieces can be considered using various methods of engagement to understand the desires of that audience, which change and grow as media expands and fragments with new platforms continually emerging.
“The modern world of social media means that we can have a very instantaneous relationship with our audience,” explained Claire Sanderson, editor-in-chief of Women’s Health. She went on to outline how she chooses cover stars for her magazine by posting an article on Instagram about a particular person to gauge the engagement.
“It’s a very quick, cheap, dirty way of getting the immediate response of our audience,” she admits before moving onto the use of reader surveys, allowing readers to feedback their feelings and share their experiences on topics such as loneliness or body positivity.
As to how audience engagement is being monitored, the days of page views have largely passed with publishers now beginning to look at different metrics in recent years.
Oliver Duff, editor-in-chief of the i, explains that day-to-day, unique visitors on the website are now a focus as well as looking at trends within the subscription base over a longer period.
He revealed that the news brand plans to introduce a new engagement measuring system: “We moved from an environment where there was a focus on page views and programmatic while staying true to the brand… we’re trying to come up with a slightly more sophisticated set of metrics that look at our more loyal readers and people who read our journalism most habitually… and obviously that can then influence behaviour in your newsroom. What is it that persuades someone to open a newsletter? What is it that persuades someone to register for your site? Then you are starting to understand a bit more of the behaviour of your habitual readers and that for me is a really interesting place to be.”
The publications that are often very close to their readers are local newspapers. These titles are lifelines for their communities and the editor is often a prominent local figurehead as a result. This winter, Katie French was named editor of Newsquest-owned locals, the Basingstoke Gazette, and Andover Advertiser.
“The role [of the editor] is now just as important than ever before, if not more important because the stakes are so much higher now,” she told me. “We are reckoning with social media, we need to be holding people to account with fewer resources to do that, so it’s very much an important role but it’s probably not as luxurious as it once was,” shared French.
It’s been fascinating hearing the experiences of these individuals during our conversations and understanding that they are each very different personalities with different ways of operating while aiming for largely the same outcome – to inform and grow the audiences of their media brands.
As the next series unfolds, I aim to explore how editors operate their newsrooms and how closely they get involved in the various operations when there are now so many facets to publishing through digital channels.
I do hope you join us.
The Editor’s Inbox podcast episodes with Alison Phillips, Oly Duff, and Katie French are available now.