“Publishing is, or should be, a quiet operation, and it was Fleischmann’s talent to make it almost inaudible. From the first, he was convinced that the separation of the editorial and the business sides of the magazine had to be complete: no disingenuous management requests for editorial mention of an important advertiser’s product, no publisher’s protests against an article that might offend a prominent client—no pressures, overt or hidden.”
That quote came from a 1969 appreciation in The New Yorker written by Gardner Botsford for Raoul Fleischmann who in 1925 with Harold Ross as his editor published the first issue of The New Yorker. (My mother started subscribing around 20 years later and never stopped.)
That would make church and state at least 100 years old, and it’s probably much older than that.
At last week’s INMA World Congress of News Media in New York, former editor-in-chief of USA Today Nicole Carroll changed the title of her event from “how editors are embracing the business of news” to “how editors are leading the business of news.” “I promise all the CEOs and publishers, we get it!” she announced. Most people drenched in editorial responsibilities do still mean business. Here are some examples.
In the INMA story, Carroll says she wanted editorial to become more fluent in business, specifically analytics and data. Here are more ideas from editorial folks about their business acumen:
Focus on data. “We’re data fluent,” Carroll said. “We’re bilingual in both news judgment and data analysis. Data isn’t something we’re looking at in just that morning meeting. It’s something that’s always running in the back of our minds as we make every decision.”
Hear more about data and analytics at AMPLIFY 2023, June 27-28 in Washington. Industry Dive’s Sondra Hadden and Davide Savenije will share audience engagement strategies, techniques, and case studies from their analytics-reliant newsroom in a Main Stage talk titled The Fast-Evolving Guide to Audience Engagement.
Be transparent. Editorial director of Bonnier News Lotta Edling makes data easily accessible to her newsroom, INMA reports. Specific goals and performance are always shown on dashboards and available for reporters. She prefers they be “datainformed” and not “datadriven” to avoid in-house competition. They also support editors with “task forces” on content development. Cross-functional teams (editorial, reader revenue, product) experiment with new initiatives and reaching new target groups.
Ask questions. Every editorial meeting, Carroll asked questions about the impact of their stories from an editorial AND business perspective. Where are we to subscription goals by day, month, quarter? How can we help readers today? How many readers hit a roadblock and left? How many readers subscribed at a particular story?
Use freelancers when necessary. One B2B content marketing director informed me that they prefer to use freelancers to write copy for their sponsored reports to keep their editorial staff pure, so to speak.
Activate editorial. Diversified Communications’ Brian Cuthbert once told me that he required editors to talk to five renewals, five new leads and five cancelled members every month. “We’ve picked up 3% of cancelled members by doing this,” Cuthbert said at the time. “If I can save 5-10 members a month, that’s thousands of dollars.”
Have a purpose. “We believed in a purpose-led company,” Anne Holland told me after she sold the company she co-founded—MJBiz—to Emerald for $120 million “We wanted to be in business to help people—kind of a cataclysm of the conscience. Companies that have a purpose also tend to be more profitable. People stick with them.” There was also an immediate focus on content and keeping the “church-and-state” philosophy. Chris Walsh, whose background was as a business journalist, was their first hire as CEO.
Survey. One of the first things Holland and co-founder Cassandra Farrington did was survey businesses in the field. What did people really want from an information company? “They didn’t want to know how to run a dispensary better,” Holland said. “They wanted a free daily news website that connected them to the cannabis industry across the country; they desperately needed business and financial benchmarks, and industry numbers. And they wanted a conference, with other mavericks who were running dispensaries.”
Involve sponsors. When Matt Ausloos of the American Health Law Association was formulating their podcast, he found that the sponsors could have an impact on content as well as revenue. “It’s kind of what works for your organization within your content strategy…” he said. “Our sponsors actually work with us as content partners and developers. We allow them to develop what the topic is and go out and get the speakers that they want subject to our approval. I work with them to guide the process and set the standards. But I do give our sponsors and our speakers a lot of leeway because they’re the experts in the field.”