THE role of editor came under the microscope during a lively and wide-ranging panel discussion at the Society of Editors’ 20th anniversary conference, chaired by Editorial Director of BBC News, Kamal Ahmed.
Introducing the session at a packed Stationers’ Hall in London, he recalled the traditional view of the editor when he began his own career: “When I started in journalism the editor was the power in the land – the editor was a sort of God. But how much of that has changed?”
A high-powered panel was on hand to help answer the question: Chris Evans, Editor, Daily Telegraph; Alessandra Galloni, Global Managing Editor for Reuters; Vic Motune, Head of News at The Voice; Alison Phillips, Editor of the Daily Mirror; and Nancy Fielder, Editor of the Sheffield Star.
Their conclusion is that the ivory tower of old has been exchanged for a more collegiate, co-ordinating role.
Chris Evans feels recruitment and encouragement are key elements for editorial teams in any news operation. “Give them the tools to do the job, the right environment in which to flourish, and, in particular, to create a culture of ideas, ideas, ideas, in which they can do great work,” he said.
Alison Phillips sees her role as being the readers’ representative in the newsroom, taking a step back to assess the approach being taken to a story, and whether it fits the bill: “It is the editor’s responsibility to come up with the best news balance,” she said.
Vic Motune of The Voice said that although the operational landscape of the newsroom has changed dramatically, many of the core responsibilities remain. “You’re checking copy, you’re thinking about headlines and designs, but the role of an editor is not unlike being a football manager, in the sense that what you are often doing is drawing out the voice of the writers and developing their story-telling ability and news judgement.”
Editors are now well used to dealing with the challenges facing smaller, multi-skilled teams producing content across different platforms, but for Nancy Fielder of the Sheffield Star the key was finding the right team. “We have got absolutely brilliant staff, and they really do rise to the occasion,” she said.
Her paper’s focus is firmly on speaking up for the city, but she readily acknowledges this can often mean very different things to different people, and it is down to the editor to keep things on track.
Journalists are now less resistant to user-generated content (UGC), but it still needs to be used responsibly. Reuters’ Alessandra Galloni explained the organisation – which has 2,300 journalists around the world – now views it as a valid source. “UGC has become more acceptable,” she said. “We created a dedicated team that checks it every day, and we try to call the person who has shot the video, and fact check it. It’s an important part of our coverage now.”
The panel also touched on traditional tensions between editorial and advertising. One of the biggest shifts has been an improved awareness of the importance of brand, and a readiness to work closely with sales and marketing in promoting journalism. But the old red line remains drawn at any presentation of content that could be confused with news output. Alison Phillips said: “I remember Piers Morgan banned commercial people from the floor. Nowadays, we have a very good relationship with our commercial department, but when it comes to that line between journalism, and commercial content pretending to be journalism, that is unacceptable. You have to protect your brand value; you should not diminish it by doing things you shouldn’t do.”
Looking to the future, it is clear there are still plenty of mountains to climb: continuing to pursue viable revenue streams and audience growth, countering the impact of giant social media platforms, and working towards diverse newsrooms that properly reflect the target audience they aim to serve.
Picture (credit: Nick Carter): Nancy Fielder, Vic Motune, Kamal Ahmed, Alessandra Galloni, Alison Phillips, Chris Evans.