Media jobs: editors need to become commercial players

This article first appeared in Press Gazette

How commercially-minded are you?

If that question brings you out in a rash, take a deep breath. With B2B publishers fighting for every penny, journalists need to think broadly about media jobs, they need to be to able make a real-terms contribution. They are expected to create supplements, roundtables, and conferences, and work with advertising sales to maximise revenue opportunities. So what does this mean for editorial integrity?

Every business I have worked with jealously guards its editorial against influence. Of course, advertisers often try to bring pressure to bear, but media owners will always support a story that stands up. Kit Gould, MD of IDG UK, puts it neatly: “If advertisers hold a gun to my head, I say ‘Pull the trigger’”. He estimates that he gets 10 – 12 calls each year from advertisers seeking leverage: the response is always the same.

However, he recognises that the role of the journalist has changed – partly as a result of technology. “In the old days, content equalled editorial and vice versa. Now, editorial is a subset of content.” Readers and users expect much more: editorial, yes; but also vendor information, briefing documents, industry surveys, data, user comment – and advertising. The internet has changed user expectations and advertising models. “Publishers used to make money by creating an audience; now they are paid by how much you can make that audience interact with the client.”

The knock-on effect is that journalists and editors are often required to use their skills to bring audiences to their advertisers. In the way that editorial teams have always put together sponsored supplements or special reports, they may now be required to provide content for microsites or advertorials. But there are rules here, too: any paid-for content is clearly marked; and if advertisers want it to carry the authority of the title, and its name, then they can have no say over the editorial process.

There is also a positive aspect to this erosion of the boundaries between church and state. Clive Horwood, Editor of Euromoney, is happy to talk to his counterparts in advertising: “Experienced sales people understand the market,” he says. “If they come and say ‘there is a lot of interest about this product at the moment’, there may be a story in it. The interests of advertising and editorial are not mutually exclusive.” Unlike in consumer publishing, B2B readers, subjects, and advertisers are often the same people; their interests are likely to coincide.

In the end, says Horwood, you need to understand the expectations of your employer, and make your own position clear. “It is a question of setting the ground rules and being a grown up.” And while he is comfortable with the commercial imperatives of the business, his reaction to the suggestion that a story might be spiked for non-editorial considerations is reassuringly old-fashioned. “I would leave on the spot,” he says. And amen to that.