Editorial skill sets

Welcome to our first publishing workflows special, an extended feature taking an in-depth look at all aspects of the content creation process. All of the insights and opinions come from leading suppliers of publishing software and from senior editors at UK publishing companies.

By James Evelegh

Editorial skill sets
Photograph: MD Duran on Unsplash.

This Publishing Workflows Special consists of nine separate sections:

Content: the broad trends

Content commissioning & creation

Content input

Content design / layout

Content editing & approval

Content publishing & distribution

Company / departmental structure

Editorial skill sets

Suppliers Spotlight

What skill sets are needed and where, typically, are strengths & weaknesses to be found within editorial teams?

Phil Arnold, managing director, censhare (UK): “By far the biggest challenge faced by publishers today is not technical. There are many platforms and tools that can help with all of the technical challenges outlined above. The far bigger challenge is change management which can affect every corner of the business.

Any changes introduced must be driven by real business transformation need and clearly explained to all users to ensure understanding and adoption. Involving users early in the decision making process and having champions in all business areas will help ensure compliance.”

Sean Briggs, managing director, Creative Workflows: “Production management roles are more important than ever. Being able to identify problems early and manage the workloads is increasingly complex. People that can use technical systems but communicate well in simple human terms should be at the heart of your workflows.

To find and retain an audience, publishers must remember their strengths. For decades we have been skilled in bringing the best writing along with the best images together and presenting it in a perfectly designed format that both informs and entertains. The internet is very good at each of these individually but not collectively. This gives publishing a quality advantage that we should not underestimate or fail to draw attention to.”

Geoff Marsh, online director, Daily Express: “I think we’ll see two distinct trends in newsrooms in the coming years: A shift from generalists to specialists and the rapid acceleration of insight-driven intelligent decision making. Editorial teams which are structured to feed fast, actionable insight to specialists to maximise audience and commercial opportunities will gain more and more traction. Those which stay tied to the structures of the past will struggle – as they already are. Journalists and editors that understand the emerging macro trends and adapt to the ever-changing landscape, without complaining about it, will thrive.”

Adrian Barrick, group editorial director, Incisive Media: “It’s worth stating that the core journalistic skills still count – interviewing, reporting, writing, editing. Well-trained and highly-skilled journalists stand out a mile these days, now that training opportunities are not what they were. Increasingly, though, journalists – and especially editors – also need to be accomplished presenters. They are going to be spending more and more time in front of cameras and behind a mic. This won’t suit everyone, so the ones who lack those skills need another outlet – deep-dive research skills, for example, or being accomplished at data visualisation. Or… something else. What’s the next big thing?”

Catherine Westwood, group editor-in-chief, Future: “Many younger staff exhibit amazing ambition, drive and desire for promotion after a few months in a job. This is both a strength and a weakness. While all these are excellent qualities, there does need to be due diligence undertaken to ensure they are ready for the next step.

It is important to identify that ‘ambition over ability’ shouldn’t lead to a promotion they really aren’t ready for.

Over promotion isn’t fair on anyone. Their staff struggle as their new leader lacks management skills, their superiors become frustrated when standards aren’t met and the newly-promoted person feels overwhelmed.

In my experience, publishers can also often be guilty of ‘rewarding’ good writers with promotion to managers, which is a completely different role, and one not suited to everyone.

The tragedy then is that we lose a good content creator to become a poor manager – and yet very often this is not identified until it’s too late.

Attention spans appear to be shortening among writers, which is a weakness. And as a result, diligence is essential when writing, but seems often to be the first thing that gets forgotten.

This means: accurate copy, correct spelling and fact checking.

On the plus side, many writers are now adept at writing cross platform which, as we know, is the way forward.”

Paul Driscoll, publishing director, Media Systems Limited: “The whole publishing process should be treated as a continuum from commissioning through to output, and not be seen as a series of loosely connected activities, with silos of people almost unaware of each other’s existence, as is the case with some of the larger publishers. ‘Content Orchestration’ needs to be the mantra – people and tools working seamlessly together to plan, create, manage and distribute content.”

Christopher Ludwig, editor-in-chief, Ultima Media: “Digital skills are of course critical. That includes SEO and web management, as well as a good grasp of web analytics and engagement KPIs. Editorial teams also increasingly require knowledge of multi-media tools: video and audio editing, image editing. Increasingly, journalists and editors are presenters and broadcasters too, whether in regular programmes or events – increasing the importance of presenting and moderating skills, as well as the ability to develop scripts.

Harder web coding and design skills are inevitably valuable too and may come to play a bigger role depending on the organisation.

But none of these requirements should remove the core skill set of journalists, in terms of clear and concise writing, good reporting and fact checking – as well as the ability to structure a clear and compelling narrative.

For many, adapting to digital pace and flexibility can be a challenge and even overwhelming. But that is why strong planning and organisational skills are important to help prioritise content and product focus.”

Ross Paterson, CEO, WoodWing: “When it comes to skill sets, the biggest challenge is to be mentally able to adjust to the various challenges. We use the term ‘Content Orchestration’. It is an approach that emphasises the importance of using software to create content effectively. Human resources can be freed up from repetitive tasks, so they can add value through creativity and collaboration.”

Interested in finding out more about any of the suppliers quoted in this article? Check out the Supplier Spotlight section.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.