Put the online editor in charge?

Man popping out of a boxSteve Outing is a great out-of-the-box thinker and his latest online journalism column for Editor & Publisher is bound to get the hair on the back of your necks to stand up.

In his column he shares responses from readers on what’s wrong with journalism these days and how to fix it. Among the boldest of suggestions is to change the role of the editor-in-chief. As most of us realize (and love) our teaching of journalism is print based. Learn it here and you can apply it elsewhere. Being the dinosaur I am, I still believe that, though I clearly show the effects of that new media Kool-Aid I’ve been sipping.

A theme from his readers was:

A huge part of the problem is that newspaper companies are still being run, mostly, by people from the print side — and who, though they may attempt to understand interactive media and the needs and media habits of young people, aren’t effective at moving their organizations in a radically different, and necessary, direction.

which led to the outrageous suggestion:

It argues for putting online at the top of an organization, with the print edition being but one delivery channel for the company’s editorial and advertising content, and thus underneath a central news operation that is responsible for “the news” and distributing it out to various channels.

Whoa! Put the online editor in charge of the print edition. That takes some digesting.

But when you think about it, it does make some sense. And Outing’s column continues to explain why. Meanwhile, Bryan Murley over at Reinventing College Media has suggested that we consider bringing the concept to our campuses. He ponders whether our online editors should become the managing editors of our entire operation and put the print edition editor UNDER the online editor. I’m thirsty, anyone got any extra Kool-Aid?

As wild as the idea sounds at first blush, there is clearly a logic to the idea and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of us moving that direction before too long.

  • We’ve broken the barrier of getting online –at least four out of five JACC community colleges have, the other 20 percent need to catch up.
  • Most of us still continue to see the online edition as a mirror of our print editions –my students still see the lead front page news feature on the print edition as the lead story for the online edition, as though the readers of the online edition are the same as the print edition.
  • But a few of JACC member schools are breaking out by posting breaking stories mid-issue, putting full stories online and shorter summaries in print and looking for original online exclusive content (sometimes in new story forms, such as blogs, podcasts, photo galleries, video, etc.)

Of course, the implications of such a move are staggering. First, start with training of editors. While College Publisher allows our online operation to run without a techie, some HTML training eventually takes place for the online editor for any publication wanting to move beyond shovelware. Perhaps more is needed for the entire staff … and the adviser. Start thinking about it now, folks. Three years from now will be too late.

Related thoughts:

  • Chabot’s Bill Johnson reacted strongly on the JACC-FAC listserve recently to the elimination of the on-the-spot headline writing competition for JACC. (See JACC Broadens Contest Scope). He makes a good point that headlines are really important to newspapers. I’d agree and add that they are perhaps even more important to online publications that want to be taken seriously. Oftentimes, your front page of an online edition is mostly headlines. I know as an instructor I’m guilty of not teaching headline writing as effectively as I should. And who teaches counting of headlines any more? I don’t, and I’m not sure I should. But I know I write better headlines because I understand the principles of counting units behind them. I sat through the JACC board’s discussion of why to eliminate the contest at this time and agreed with the thinking. Board president Paul DeBolt summarized that reasoning well in a followup post to the listserve. It is not that headlines are not important, but that we need to evaluate what we’re testing with contests and see if there is another way to do it. Keep the faith, Bill. Think tomorrow instead of yesterday.
  • Steve Outing would be a great speaker for a JACC conference, Tim Harrower great.

One response to “Put the online editor in charge?

  1. Perhaps more is needed for the entire staff … and the adviser.

    That’s what we’re trying to do here. And I’d be happy to visit California any time you folks need some consulting. 🙂

    You can delete this if it sounds too much like spam, but it’s become something of a passion of mine to get this new media party started sooner rather than later.

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