Get rid off all the editors

August 21, 2008 by  

All editors are devils with scissors, aren't they? A drawing by reznor70 / StockXChngDo we need them any more in the digital age? Of course, no! Everybody hates editors and would feel a relief if they all go to hell.

Reporters hate – because editors sit the whole days at the office and do nothing but ask stupid questions to hard-working people on the beat.

Readers hate editors – because everybody can be a journalist now, but it is still harder to be an editor with a top-down authority!

Advertising sales-reps hate – as those bastards in the newsroom oppose all good deals the newspaper could make.

Promotions people hate – as editors never share their enthusiasm to the new give-away, or a contest, or a PR event and grumble about journalism and values.

Research people hate editors – as their drawers are full of readership surveys that have never been used.

Designers hate – as editors seem to have no artistic taste and prefer to publish just words, words, words…

Internet geeks hate print editors – as they don’t embrace the internet revolution as quickly and as much as they should: they underestimate bloggers, neglect user-generated-content and play Canute, trying to turn back the waves by opposing the web-first policy in publishing stories.

And last but not least publishers hate editors – as they oppose any cost cutting at newsrooms, are reluctant to any innovation in the paper (they call it ”gate-keeping”) and – of course – know nothing about their readers’ needs!

Is there anybody who loves those devils? Do we really need them?

A hypothetical newsroom by Jeff Jarvis

”Are not they a luxury that we could do without in the digital age?,” asks Jeff Jarvis, a former editor and internet evangelist, in his column at the UK Guardian?

”I took a hypothetical newsroom staff of 100 as a round number, then cut by 30% – not draconian by today’s precedents – and asked what the priorities should be when the cutbacks come. In my hypothetical newsroom, reporting is the highest priority. The more original journalism that is done, the higher the value of the paper and its web service, the better the opportunity to stand out in links and search. Breaking news is worthwhile, but I come down heavily on the side of beat reporting: journalists who are devoted to watchdogging an area.

When these reporters blog their beats – involving the community in suggesting and requesting stories, sometimes even in reporting, and certainly in correcting mistakes – then the community acts as the assignment desk, and the idea of editing every comma seems futile. My blog readers are my editors.”

Editor as a ”digital curator”?

However, Mr. Jarvis still sees the role for editors:

”There is a need to add context and fill holes in understanding – by using links. As we move from an economy of scarcity in media to one of abundance, there is a need to curate: to find the best and brightest from an infinite supply of witnesses, commentators, photographers and experts. As news becomes collaborative, editors will need to assemble networks from among staff and the public; that makes them community organisers. I also believe editors should play educator, helping to improve the work of the network.”

This thesis is not new. For example Valeria Maltoni, a blogger and a marketeer, has seen editors as ”digital curators” that offer ”intelligent guidance and selection” on the news websites.

Suw Charman-Anderson, a social software consultant and a writer, wrote in 2006:

We don’t need gatekeepers anymore. We don’t need people who stand between us and our stuff, deciding what to tell us about and what to ignore. We don’t need arbiters of taste. There are so many blogs out there reviewing software and web apps and films and books and every other sort of creativity that we don’t need to rely on the media’s old gatekeepers telling us what we should like.

We do, however, still need help. There’s just too much stuff around for us to know what’s out there, to keep up with what’s good, what works for us, what is worth investigation. What we need are curators. And we need them badly.

Meanwhile, some commentators of the BuzzMachine blog by Mr. Jarvis add some other roles:

  • Tom B. says: ”This next generation of editors should not only synthesize, but expand on bodies of work. They should translate it into other forms long and short, video and audio, so it reaches a broader audience. The community, theoretically, will have natural ‘editors’ among them.”
  • Dan Kennedy cannot imagine a major investigative series coming together without deep involvement on the part of skilled editors. ”I’m talking about leadership, the ability to find holes in stories and suggest ways to fill them, being ahead of the curve on what ought to be covered — all that good stuff. And, yes, inspire the troops.”

Our own experiences with multi-media, crowd-sourced and interactive journalism

Humane Birth: In 2006 we engaged Gazeta Wyborcza’s readers to review all the maternity wards in 413 Polish hospitals. Thanks to the internet we received 40 thousand reviews from young mothers who gave a birth there. We needed 170 people – editors, researchers, volunteers – to edit these reviews to make a reliable guide on hospitals!

Watch my presentation at the 2007 World Association of Newspapers Editors’ Forum about this project:

Save Rospuda: In 2007 we called people to save the wild river in North-Eastern Poland whose flora and fauna could be destroyed by a new highway. The year-long nation-wide campaign was led by our reporter. More than five editors were working on this project as ”media producers” similar to those in TV channels – planning features in print and online, running interactions, organising live events etc.

Here is my presentation about at this year’s WAN Young Readers Roundtable:

Seven choices of Lech Walesa: this July we told the biography of a legendary Solidarity movement leader Lech Walesa in a series of multi-media features about his seven most dramatic choices from 1970 to today. We were also collecting readers’ memories to produce an interactive biography. This editorial project involved a team of 26 people from Gazeta and hundreds of readers. We needed 6 editors in total to develop and run it under a 5-day-deadline’s pressure.

Read more about this project here.

So could we go without editors? I don’t think so.

Multi-media production, network building, community management needs in fact more editorial planning and leadership than ever before.

Some other links on the topic

Read posts written by Allan Mutter, a self-declared newsosaur, John Robinson, an US editor, Del Marbrook, an editor and mentor.

Join the debate

What is the role of editors at your newsroom? How has it changed recently? How do you see its future?


One Response to “Get rid off all the editors”

  1. Doom and gloom be damned | WeMedia on August 25th, 2008 7:21 pm

    [...] suggestion, in a column for The Guardian, that newspapers should get rid of editors. Piechota provided examples of three multi-media, crowdsourced and downright activist reporting projects produced by his [...]

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