America’s Editors: Story Still Rules but Social, Audience, and Revenue Loom

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By: Susan Johnston | Ebyline

Don’t believe the cri de coeur you’re hearing from American newsrooms that posting to Facebook has replaced creating the story that’s being posted in the first place. Assigning and crafting articles still takes up the bulk of editors’ time in the news media, according to a poll conducted last week by Editor & Publisher and Ebyline. In fact, editors ranked planning, assigning and line editing stories as the tasks they spend the most time on, followed by copy editing and coordinating with others in the newsroom. Still, that’s likely to change, editors believe: newsroom personnel are already spending more and more time monitoring the competition and the group ranks social media, online traffic, and revenue as the three responsibilities most likely to increase.

The results of the survey reflect the tug of war many editors are experiencing between newer responsibilities online and the core duties of directing news coverage, said Arnie Robbins, executive director of the American Society of NewsEditors (ASNE) and former editor of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “A lot of editors I talk to still try to carve [out] that time to do those kinds of things, but I think that’s more challenging now. Most organizations are now on four platforms: print, tablets, phones and desktops, and laptops.”

Social media also took a backseat in editors’ determination of what makes an article successful. Survey respondents ranked old-school values such as original reporting, subject expertise, and exclusivity as the top three factors in the creation of great content, placing social shareability near the bottom and search engine optimization dead last.

The Editor & Publisher/Ebyline 2012 Editors Poll was sent to editors at a wide range of print and digital media but primarily focused on newspapers, magazines, trade publications, and websites (we hope to include more broadcast next year). Of the 771 respondents, trade publications/magazines was the largest segment, followed by websites/blogs. Editors could check more than one medium that they edited.

Among the poll’s key findings:

  • 40.7% of respondents listed monitoring other media as the task they’re spending more time on than they did three years ago, which suggests that the journalism landscape is only getting more competitive. Less than a fifth of editors named curation/aggregation as the task taking up more of their time. 
  • Original reporting, depth/expertise, and exclusivity topped the list of content success factors followed by publication title and presentation. Least important to creating successful stories: social media value, author byline, and SEO. “Original content is something that makes readers and viewers come to you,” ASNE’s Robbins said. “We all want distinctive voices.”
  • Though editors ranked planning, assigning, and line editing stories as their top time investment, nearly 8 out of 10 said they will have more responsibility for social media or online presence in the future. Around half said audience or traffic development will take more of their time, and more than a third think they will be on the hook for driving revenue soon.
  • The media are often portrayed as an echo chamber, but editors said their own audience has the most influence on coverage decisions: 44% of respondents said audience/reader suggestions influenced their news coverage, with newspapers a distant second. Broadcast and advertiser suggestions ranked dead last, with blogs ranking almost as low as broadcast, even among website editors.

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