Editorial Content needs Editors!

Posted by: Paul Keers, White Light Media

The first thing needed for good editorial content is a good Editor. Yet how many times have we heard clients insist that the Editor of a project will be someone from their own staff?

It's not a question of control - we accept that approval and sign-off ultimately rest with the client. I think it has to do with status, and a misunderstanding of the title, Editor.

In the past, I think clients were frightened by the media's own image of magazine editors. Corporate lifers, who had never worked with editorial teams, knew only what they had seen on film and TV. And there they saw images of Editors making absurd demands, incurring vast expenses, and ruling their publications as unquestioned grandees - both irresistible forces and immovable objects.

They were largely myth, of course; from Maggie Prescott in Funny Face, through Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, to Clayton Harding, the fictionalised representation of Graydon Carter. To say nothing of editors on TV, like Daniel Meade in Ugly Betty, and Magda, Patsy's magazine editor as played by Kathy Burke, in Absolutely Fabulous.

(And that's without the antics of real-life characters, seen in documentaries like The September Issue, or the Diana Vreeland biopic, The Eye Has To Travel.)

Extraordinary figures all of them - but as representative of our industry as Gordon Gekko is of shareholders.

The matter hasn't been helped by magazines which give celebrities "guest editor" status for an issue. That may gain brief publicity, but it devalues the actual work of Editors - and further reinforces the notion that the title is some kind of honorific.

Of course, we know what Editors actually do, from creative conception through editorial structure and commissioning to the nitty-gritty of work on copy. And we know how significant the title is, in terms of recruitment, to those who have earnt it. But the notion persists among some clients that the title simply reflects control, power and status - and that it's therefore a title they must retain for themselves.

Yet I wonder now whether the changes in media have made it possible for us to reclaim the title for those who really do the job. For good or ill, magazines have ceased to be what those grand editors of the past used to helm - what media commentator Michael Wolff once described as "the kind of zeitgeist-shaping, buzz-creating, cocktail-party-fueling package that the media has, for so long, been built around." And if magazines no longer have that social significance, nor can their editors.

At the same time, new media is changing our notion of editors. On the web, editors are usually hands-on journalists, working and responding at a pace which keeps them out of power restaurants and PR events. In print, they are running smaller teams and taking on much more work themselves. And in both, they're acutely aware of running a brand, with all of its extensions, opportunities and constraints. It's a far closer echo of the way in which Editors work in content marketing.

So perhaps we now have a chance to take back the title. My instinct is that, because of their technical demands, it's easier to persuade clients from the outset that a new tablet publication, or a website, requires someone at the agency with the title of Editor. The next step is to explain why it's also true for our magazines.

Paul Keers, London Bureau Chief, White Light Media

Posted in CMA blog
12thJun 2013

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