No, we aren’t getting political here. But the issue at hand is just about as divisive as American religion and politics.
As Rob O’Regan puts it, “The historical divide between editorial (church) and advertising (state) has morphed from publishing’s sacred cow into a red herring – a way to deflect the discussion away from an entrenched culture that can’t let go of outdated, unsustainable ways of doing business.”
The debate is raging in the publishing world, where editors at Time are now reporting to business divisions and native advertising guidelines continue to soften the lines. CEOs speak of “strong partnerships” between business and editorial as essential not just to growth but survival.
“The pronouncement caused much angst among critics who promptly decried the death of the church/state divide or, heaven help us, of journalism altogether. Now it’s the New York Times’ turn under the microscope,” O’Regan writes.
At issue is the New York Times’ innovation report, which although technically an internal piece has gotten almost as much play as the Kardashians the past few weeks. The report takes the NYT to task for being slow to adapt to digital and encouraged “better collaboration between editorial teams and business functions that are focused on what they call the reader experience,” O’Regan reports.
The barrier between editorial and business has created an atmosphere in which the huge resources and creative talent — in design, analytics, product development and tech — on the far side of the room cannot be accessed for content creation in the editorial pens, and vice versa.
“The barrier often results in duplicate work or work with ‘limited utility’ for the newsroom – because designers and developers are simply guessing at editorial needs and priorities,” notes O’Regan.
“We can sit around and come up with ideas all day long up here, but they have no legs without editors,” Ian Adelman, digital design director at the Times says in the report.
(From the report) “We are not advocating a huge new bureaucracy, disruptive reorganization, or a newsroom takeover of these departments. We are simply recommending a policy shift that explicitly declares that Reader Experience roles should be treated as an extension of our digital newsroom – allowing for more communication, close collaboration and cross-departmental career paths.”
Yes, focusing on the reader experience can only improve performance across the system. If the Times can keep this level-headed approach to collaboration, so much the better for everyone.
The danger lies in more radical reorganizations, like the one proposed by Future’s CEO Zillah Bynbg-Maddick.
“Centralizing editorial staff for such a diverse portfolio of brands – Future has titles that span technology, cycling, crafts and cinema – is a bad idea in its own right. This type of streamlining/cost-cutting rarely (never?) improves the quality of the editorial content,” O’Regan points out.
“But adding marketing to the content mix will completely muddy the waters and erode any editorial independence that once existed. If Future heads down this path, expect its business to crumble as good journalists leave and readers lose faith and trust in the editorial product.”
Indeed, the market will sort itself out in just this way. If reader experience and editorial integrity remain priorities, a collaborative approach makes sense in the industry we have today. If those priorities slip, you better believe that, regardless of how the advertisers feel about being let in over the transom, customers will bail through the next open door.