New media, new editor

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Time and again, I am told that as the head of a news website, I am corrupting the role of the editor as the one-man purveyor of internalised wisdom by relying on site analytics — the statistics that tell me what stories catch reader attention — to guide my decision-making.

I am also told that because everything on the web is happening in real time and my competitors are just a few clicks away, the online news space, much like television, is in danger of becoming a giant echo chamber, with editors forcing their staff to chase after and duplicate their competitor’s best story or blog to garner the same number of clicks, likes, tweets and shares. Everything is transparent online, so why not mimic the best, i.e., that which seems to attract the most public interest?

These are the challenges an editor faces in the online world. What must one do with the constant bombardment of feedback from your audience? However, this is also a reality which will inevitably force its way into the lives of editors working across all mediums, for the future is an online, interconnected one. A recent poll of nearly 800 editors by Editor & Publisher and Ebyline found that “Half said audience or traffic development will take [up] more of their time and more than a third think they will be on the hook for driving revenue soon”.

Additionally, 40.7 per cent of respondents said they spent more time monitoring other media than they did three years ago. While these same editors still believed that original reporting was far more important to a story’s success than its “shareability” or search engine optimisation, such a mindset will simply have to change.

More editors will be working online, and more importantly, reading, viewing and experiencing news online. They will be forced to admit (at least, in private) that there really is no point in their reporter slaving away weeks for a fantastic investigative report only to see it fail with a headline that does not contain all the keywords and a peg that does not connect the story to what readers have indicated they are interested in. Editors will begin to keep an eye on which of their stories attract more clicks and explore those issues further to possibly give them more column space or air time on TV. For example, take a look at how the efforts of online campaigning over the Burma violence successfully translated into news reports, columns and prime time TV news slots.

Is this the death of  ‘real’ journalism? What happens to the old editor, the one who spends the majority of his or her time counselling staff, setting the editorial policy, developing stories with reporters or just plain old vetting edited stories? Is he/she dead?

Well, some will be. This is the evolution of journalism and it is the editor’s job to take on all the challenges that come with becoming increasingly tangled with the audience we serve. If the internet is the only medium that allows for two-way feedback, it is the most important medium, even now, in its relative infancy in Pakistan. It is time for editors to learn how to listen to the audience. It is also time for editors to learn how to effectively market their content to the audience so that what people want or need to know is not lost in the information glut that defines our times. The public is king.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2012.


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