Critical Thinking: Should the Role of Editor and Publisher Be Combined as a Cost-Saving Measure?


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?


Courtney Fishman copy Courtney Fishman, 21, senior, Drake University (Des Moines, Iowa)

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.


Jon Hunter copyJon Hunter, 56, publisher, Madison Daily Leader (Madison, S.D.)

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.

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5 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: Should the Role of Editor and Publisher Be Combined as a Cost-Saving Measure?

  • May 12, 2016 at 5:17 am

    You need to be careful combing these roles. The Publisher has become the key sales person, cheerleader and chief PR agent in most newspapers. This in incompatible with the role of Editor. Publishers are constantly bombard by clients and key industry people with story ideas. It is imperative that there be an ethical filter to pass these ideas through which an independent editor can provide.

  • May 12, 2016 at 7:06 am

    The business (moneyed interests) have too much sway in today’s “news”rooms as it is. The free, independent and responsible press of the past has been gobbled up, in far too many instances, by the bought-and-paid-for mentality of chains and conglomerates more concerned with selling merchandise than informing the public.
    Of course, it’s cheaper to combine the editor and publisher functions, just as it’s cheaper to hire young journalists at the lowest possible salaries and keep staff levels low. But we get what media barons pay for (or don’t). Sad! Anybody talking about the Hutchins Commission these days?

    • July 1, 2019 at 8:00 am

      Newspapers are not profitable by the standards of 20 years ago; some are not profitable at all. I don’t disagree about business interests having too much sway, but it’s a case of “pick your poison” in many markets.
      Do we merge roles and allow corporate interests to have a stronger foothold while acknowledging that those corporate interests pay the bills, or do we let “journalism” reign all the way to the diminishing bottom line and a future shuttered business? For a growing number of newspapers, the choice is that stark.
      The newsrooms of the past have been gobbled up; that’s true. But if they were profitable in the first place, they’d still be there. Point is, no one trashes a strong business model. Hearkening back to the newsrooms of yore is denying economic reality. No company can afford to lose money into perpetuity in order to ensure communities have quality journalism.

  • May 12, 2016 at 10:58 am

    No, they SHOULD not be combined. But they will be. Profit is the main ethic in the business world and newspapers, of course, live in the service/ideology/and, indispensably business world. Getting your news from Facebook, email, twitter, and — maybe — online publications is today’s reality. Add to that Fox, MSNBC, FSTV, and the networks and local TV news shows, most of which (except MSNBC) are ridiculously lame. I keep hoping there will be a backlash, and I did read an article a day or two ago indicating that people were getting tired of shallow information gathering (ala Huffington, USA Today and most broadcast news) and were starting to revert to print. I don’t believe that will last, though. A nation that could elect Trump as a party’s presumptive nominee is not one which is interested in substance. And so, the dual role of editor/publisher? Well, what next? I’m not surprised. One more step towards total and complete oligarchy. I shudder to think what the newspapers I worked on would have been like if the publisher also had been the editor. Chilling thought.

  • May 12, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    I have worked as editor for a total of 40 years, but during that time I also became the owner, publisher and editor. It works, you just have to work at it perhaps a little harder as there is no one in these small newspapers to take your place. Also if you have two high paid positions it does cost more. In a small operation, everyone pretty well knows the job of the other, and are in on the controversy either way, or whatever is going on. Discussion about how to handle it takes less time when you are doing it on your own as editor and publisher, because you know the ins and outs even of the possible advertising involved. BUT if you are a free press as we are supposed to be, you will continue to give the reader both sides of the story as nearly as possible. My pet peeve is not taking the editorial comment to the editorial page and trying to fit it into the story. That is a no, no, for sure, but it often happens with the disconnect of editors and publishers of today. The hard cold facts may not be a style of writing that appears in many columns of news stories, because to some they are termed uninteresting when you stick to the who,why,what,where, when, and how, but even – – especially in small papers, it is absolutely essential. Take your comments to the editorial page, always.


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