About three years ago I decided that RBI should have a forum for journalists who wanted to become editors – it’s what I wanted to become but had failed at a couple of interviews to land an editorship. I approached then RBI board member responsible for editorial Iain Melville and he said it was a great idea and that I should go ahead and organise it.

After pulling off a list of people one or two steps away from an editorship – we had to be selective so the group was at a similar level of experience – I arranged the first meeting.

I felt a programme of six lunchtime sessions throughout the year would work well as everyone was short of time. I even got a lunch budget.

I thought the best way to kick off the group would be to define what the company was looking for in an editor so I asked HR director Nathan Cahill to talk about the skills and aptituteds the company expected from an editor. I also asked Karl Schneider, editorial development director to give his slant on what was expected from an editor as well as Trevor Parker, publishing director of Farmers Weekly, who talked about who he would recruit as an editor and why.

The session was a big hit in more than one way.

First, the delegates were able to quiz senior RBI managers on what they were looking for.

Second, they really got an honest view of what an editor was expected to do. I think delegates were quite shocked at how much they would have to achieve to land an editorship.

Third, Nathan got to see would-be editors and to get a feel of what talent was out there.

Fourth, the company now had a way of talking to aspiring editors, something it could never do in the past.

This is the write-up from the first event . . .

The changing role of the editor

11 May 2006

Karl Schneider, editorial development director, RBI

Talked about what he sees as the two key considerations for aspiring editors. These are leadership and how technology is driving change in the editor’s job.

Leadership

Used this quote to make the point about what leadership is: ‘The ability to make people follow you to places they wouldn’t normally go.’ – N Schwarzkopf.

Editors have to lead teams – it is a critical part of the job. As a leader you should ask the following two questions and your team should be able to answer them.

1 What will success look like in a year’s time?

2 What will part will you play in this success?

Online challenge

Technological developments are radically changing the way we write and deliver content. Karl gave the example of Electronicstalk.com to show how the fundamentals of journalism have been turned on their head. The content of the site is made up of news releases from manufacturers. This is what engineers want and the site has a large audience.
Structure is now just as important as content. Editors must understand how to get users to look at content. A challenge will be how to deliver content (magazines, online, podcasts, web casts etc) and how to manage the team to deliver this content.

In the next few years, editors will be expected to have understanding, knowledge and experience of how online works.

Trevor Parker, publishing director, Farmers WeeklyTrevor uses the RBI job profile and says candidates must be able to tick all the boxes on the profile, have attended relevant training, such as finance for non-financial managers and first-line management, demonstrate that they will make a difference to his business and also drive the business.

And this is Trevor’s approach to recruiting for an editor.

1 He takes craft skills largely for granted

– will be an experienced journalist who is able to write and understands editorial processes

2 Looks for differentiators in three key areas

Attitude – enthusiasm

– really wants the job, know why they have applied and is clear as to what they have to offer

– turn-offs include those that think ‘it is time for a change – I’ve been in my current post too long’.

3 Evidence of understanding of the editorial proposition

– How this fits within RBI and the wider publishing/commercial context

– Understanding the difference between news, features, data, product/directory etc

– Understanding different commercial models – paid vs controlled circulation, hard copy vs online

– Must be able to define a value proposition for the market /product applying for

4 Evidence of being able to manage people and develop teams

– Have the ability to build a team

– be able to develop a shared vision and direction for the team

– Motivate teams and individuals to deliver on objectives

– To work positively with the wider journal and RBI teams

In summary, these are the qualities Trevor looks for in an editor:

1 Attitude/ enthusiasm

2 Ability to understand value proposition, get inside readers’ minds

3 People management skills

Nathan Cahill, HR director, RBI

Nathan made the point that as job size expands so there is a decreasing emphasis on knowledge and skills but a big increase in importance of behaviours.

He highlighted the following behaviours as the ones that will need to be demonstrated at editor level. They are:

Achievement drive

Business awareness

Innovative thinking

Relationship building/networking

Team leadership

Talent development

Key messages from the meeting

Look up the editor job profile on the intranet and see what the company expects of an editor in terms of job role, knowledge and skills and behavioural competencies

Understand how technology is changing how we write and deliver content

Raise your own profile outside your immediate business unit

Get your manager to ‘sponsor’ your application for new jobs

Identify your weak areas and take the initiative in strengthening them

Take responsibility for driving your own career development, as no-one else is going to do it for you!