Going Online: Be Brave (from 2008)
10 years I wrote something about restructuring editorial teams for digital, but lacked the courage to publish it. I should have found the courage.
One of the side-effects of my move to Ghost is that my (many) unfinished drafts are now displayed prominently in the interface, prompting me to tidy them up. Many, of course, have been binned. But this one — from nearly a decade ago — resonated enough for me to publish it.
For context, at the time I was RBI's head of blogging, but my role was already evolving towards a more general digital editorial development model.
Here’s our experience: incremental change doesn’t work.
If you create a web editor, but only give him part of various journalists’ time, they will concentrate on the paper publication. That’s their “real job” – the web stuff is just an annoying irrelevance pushed on them by the publishers. All you end up with is shovelware sites, with a burnt-out web editor doing it all themselves. This does not a good reader experience make. (I’ve seen this in print, too. Features Editors with no staff of their own, but only a partial call on other people’s time – time they could almost never get.)
Unless you restructure the team, and create a dedicated web-first group of journalists who aren’t pining for paper, then you’re only playing at the internet. And there’s no point in doing that. Either concentrate on making your print product grow in a declining market – if you feel you can meet that challenge – or put you paper publication into maintenance mode and create a serious web effort now. Don’t waste your staff’s time with some spineless hybrid.
What can work is blogging, because the journalist actually comes to feel some ownership of their blog. Then the print publication becomes the day job, and the blog is something for themselves. But that’s, at best, foundations-digging. At some point any organisation is going to have to bite the bullet and restructure properly to give yourselves a proper web team.
So what thing should you do now?
You have no choice. Face that fact, and move on.
It's pretty clear why I never published this: my corporate radar, even in 2008 when I was at my most aggressive about not giving a shit about corporate politics, suggested that too many people would be offended by this.
However, I think this holds up really well. Sure, the blogging piece feels archaic by today's standards, but the underlying message of giving people ownership and investment in their digital transformation was sound — and it's message I'm still communicating to clients now.
I wish I'd been braver a decade ago.
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