Tribune Publishing recently restructured their leadership, merging the roles of their top editors into publishers. Should the role of editor and publisher be combined as a cost-saving measure?
Fishman is a magazines and public relations major. She is currently an editorial apprentice for Better Homes and Gardens.
Let’s face it—newsrooms are in a perpetual state of adaption. Shuffling around the masthead is no new concept, and Tribune Publishing’s restructured staff model is indicative of this.
Blame the adaption on the push for revenue or digital growth; regardless, plenty has stayed the same. For years, news mediums, especially small local publications, have tackled the editor/publisher hybrid. Larger companies like The Huffington Post and Politico have executed this balance as well. Is it always the ideal situation? No, in many cases the dual-title walks the ethical line, but these positions are often time already cross-functional.
It’s important to note that the model isn’t one-size-fits-all. Combining the role is only beneficial if someone is capable of filling both shoes. Cost-saving measures, though increasingly important in today’s publishing climate, need to be side-tabled when deciding a candidate’s qualifications to achieve both goals.
And still, there needs to be checks and balances in place to maintain the principles publications were built on. As the line between editorial and business blurs, it’s increasingly important for readers to stay astute and hold publications accountable for its actions. While advertising has always played a key role in journalism mediums, relatively new to the arena is native advertising, which challenges reader’s abilities to differentiate between business and editorial content, and perpetuates this concern.
Transparency is the solution. News outlets are explicitly stating when they use sponsored content, and this newly-formed editor/publisher role needs to be public knowledge as well. The more informed a reader is, the more likely newspaper leadership will maintain journalism ethics. Publications can’t pull the wool over reader’s eyes. They will notice and take action.
No one said it was easy to be both the cheerleader and the watchdog, but the combination could be, and has been, successful. Newspapers are a numbers game, and as the newsroom continues to shrink, we also must consider how a cost-saving role can refuel the chain of command.
Hunter is a third-generation publisher, succeeding his father in 1990. He has twice served on the board of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, including a term as president in 1996-97.
Tribune Publishing announced it is combining the role of editor and publisher across its portfolio of newspapers. Two reasons seem apparent. First, it’s a cost-savings move, as editors and publishers are among the higher-paid people at a newspaper. Second, rapidly changing conditions in the industry are causing us to question traditional separation of duties.
A little perspective: The issue of combining any positions is first a function of size. At a small weekly newspaper, the publisher is also the editor, as well as the ad salesman, bookkeeper and person who takes the papers to the post office. Naturally, the larger the newspaper, expanded duties require more people. More stories, advertisements, bookkeeping—and more revenue—means more people.
But now, after a century or so of increasing circulation and advertising, many large, urban dailies are getting smaller. It’s much harder to reduce the number of people at a newspaper by laying off valuable, long-term employees than it would be if the paper had never been large in the first place.
If layoffs are inevitable, it may make sense to eliminate one higher-paid position near the top while keeping two or three front-line reporters who generate content that drives readership.
The second issue concerns separation of duties. Big newspapers have often taken pains to separate the roles of editor and publisher to improve content. The idea is that editors should focus entirely on stories—even controversial ones involving advertisers—while publishers should worry about the big picture of news, advertising, production and distribution, while making ends meet.
In practical terms, the two positions aren’t as far apart as they appear. Publishers want great content as much as editors. Editors live in the real world, too, and recognize realities of a newspaper’s business.
If the editor and publisher positions are combined, the organization needs good people at the next levels. The news team needs to have hour-to-hour leadership by someone other than the publisher/editor.
We believe the positions of editor and publisher can be combined, with one caveat: You need to pick the right person.