Get Your Multimedia House in Order
Managing the change from being print-centric to becoming a multiplatform deliverer of information can be difficult for a publishing company of any size. With no definitive road map to guide the way, publishers today are learning as they go when it comes to preparing their staffs for the conversion that continues to take place throughout the industry.
Some larger media companies, with the resources to maintain separate departments for print and Web, opt for a division of the workload. However, many companies—no matter their size—have trained their staffs to be more diversified.
Reps from some of the top b-to-b and consumer magazine publishers spoke with Publishing Executive and shared their insights into navigating the dimly lit road toward the unknown future of Web publishing. Some tips contradict each other because of the differing experiences each publisher has had. What unifies them all is that they agree a change is not only imminent, but is already here.
Michael Federle, group publisher for the Time Inc. Business and Finance Network
1. Just do it.
“Go for it,” Federle says. “You’ve got to. Everything’s changing so fast. It’s going to continue to evolve online. Recognize they’re different mediums. Don’t try to replicate what you’re doing in print. Instead, provide the sort of information [that] users that are going to a Web site want.”
2. Just being there is half the job.
“What’s going to happen is you’re never going to get … a perfect model of your Web site,” he says. “It’s more about getting into the game and evolving whatever model you’ve set up. You have to keep changing the model and find the best way to deliver the information. I think that applies to small publishers as well.”
3. Don’t worry about getting writers and contributors to embrace the new technology—the opportunity to get their words out there will compel them to go with the flow.
“Writers and journalists want to get feedback and get a reader’s response to what they’re writing. They’re all pitching their stories, but there’s only so many stories that can make it in the print magazine. [The Web] gives them a much bigger outlet and bigger audience.”
4. Video, video, video.
“Video is gigantic,” he says. “The model we’ve been doing is less [focused] on the journalist and their ability to be good on camera. It’s good to have print journalists who are good on camera, but the emphasis is more on the people we’re writing about—capturing the CEOs and business leaders that come by our offices. But any editor with capability on camera—their stock is going up.”
5. Separate—for now.
Although Federle’s group at Time Inc. features a separate department for the Business and Finance Network print magazines and their Internet home, CNNMoney.com, he sees the space between the two closing.
“We do have distinct functions, but it’s collaborative,” he says. “You’ll keep seeing it blend more and more over time. They’re going to want to work back and forth.”
Hanley Wood Business Media
Alec Dann, general manager for magazine Web sites
6. It’s time—either you’re in or you're out.
The time is over to debate whether or not your Web site will be a revenue generator.
“Generally, most people now understand the fact that online is an important medium for magazines,” Dann says. “I think my one big takeaway is the days you had to explain this are over. They all get it. It’s whether they’re staffed or not.”
7. Don’t overwhelm existing employees with too much of everything.
Knowing that there’s no looking back, many publishers have jumped on-board, repeating the mantra of the Web throughout their companies. Some, however, may not have taken into account the additional workload.
“I’ve seen a number of different organizations where people are completely maxed out,” Dann says. “It sort of depends how much resources there are. If you don’t add resources, you run the risk your talented people will leave.”
8. Hire an in-house coordinator to help. Editors need to be trained to understand the work they’re doing will most likely appear across multiple platforms.
“I think you need to have the editors know there are many ways of packaging content,” he says. “A Web editor needs to be someone in the company who can help the editors to begin to think about the brand—where the content may be appearing in multiple media. In terms of training, it’s important for editors to understand what underlies the design of a Web site, understand architectural, navigation, how people use the Web.
Eric Shanfelt, senior vice president of e-media strategy and development
9. Look to create an Internet-savvy print staff.
Retrofitting a print staff to handle the new demands of becoming a multiplatform content provider can be daunting. Aim for the editorial team to be knowledgeable, but don’t expect to create technological wizards.
“Our goal for the company is for our entire staffs to be just as Internet-savvy as print-savvy,” says Shanfelt. “That doesn’t mean they need to know every technical nuance.”
10. Train and hire Web departments to build your brand, but don’t let the print product guide all decisions.
“Design your Web site as if you didn’t have a print publication,” Shanfelt says. “Do not worry about competing with yourself, because if you’re able to go online and compete with yourself in print, then anyone can.”
11. Train the company to embrace the theory of “Web. 2.0.”
“Don’t just focus on traditional editorial,” Shanfelt says. “The biggest
nontraditional editorial is happening in community development and databases. They are large-scale, peer-to-peer. It fosters a dialogue and interaction instead of a monologue.”
Paul Maidment, editor of Forbes.com, executive editor of Forbes
12. The essence of your product is not really changing. However, the way you distribute it is.
According to Maidment, the Forbes family realized early on that the Web was going to be the central platform of all their growth. He says whether the delivery is made through the printed page, wireless handheld devices or the Internet, the Forbes product is still what people are looking for.
“It’s all about creating your journalism and distributing it in the way the audience wants it,” he says. “But a Forbes.com is not a Forbes magazine story online.”
13. The Web is more than just a place to put repurposed content.
In its push to transform from a single-title print publisher to a multiplatform publisher, Forbes Media realized that the Web is its own animal.
“This is one of the real fundamental things of a Web site—it is a publication in its own right,” he says. “We’re not another medium online. The analogy is, don’t make television ‘radio with pictures.’ They tried to make print online.”
14. Hire journalists—but raise the bar in terms of the skills you’re looking for.
“People coming in for jobs come in with a very full quiver of abilities,” he says. “They need them. We live in a multimedia world now, and you have to be able to tell your story in the ways the media is most suited for them.”
15. Strong corporate leadership is key.
“You have to have strong leadership that reinforces that the Web is an important part in the future of the company,” Maidment says. “And you need hand-holding at the lower end.”
16. There are no one-size-fits-all scenarios.
“All those approaches are right depending on the size of the publisher and the point they're at in the process,” he says.
Tom Cintereno, senior VP, digital media
17. Look for a passion for new technologies in the eyes of a new candidate.
According to Cintereno, all job descriptions have changed. That means what you look for in new employees should change as well.
“Experience aside, resume aside, the right people for the position have a real interest for the Internet—they have to love it,” Cintereno says.
18. Don't disconnect the print staff from the staff working on the digital product.
Even if there are two separate staffs, it’s smart to have them working in close proximity to facilitate sharing.
“If you separate the editorial staffs, you miss out on building a single knowledge-base within the team,” he says.
Keith Blanchard, executive director, online, of Rolling Stone, US Weekly and Men’s Journal Web sites
19. Sound the alarm.
“The squidging of ink onto thinly sliced trees and trucking it around as a wayof distributing information is a funny nostalgic story you will tell, not to your great grandkids, but to your children,” Blanchard says. “Did you notice how many teen magazines quietly shuttered this year? If that doesn’t alarm you as a publisher, you’d better snap the hell out of it.”
20. Leverage your history in print.
“What online offers for a print brand is that you don’t have to define yourself and shout your brand like a carnival barker online, which is the usual expensive strategy online,” he says. “Everybody knows what Rolling Stone means, and as long as what it really means online isn’t too far from what people think it means online, you’re on solid footing.”
21. Everyone on staff has to be able to wear four or five hats.
“We brought in different staffs to run the online properties,” he says. “I think there was a window where you could set up a content management system and have magazine editors running the Web site with a bit of tech help, but those days are drawing to a close. If a site’s going to compete, you’ve got to know how to embed video, design for multiple platforms, track your numbers, etc. … all those n-dimensional Web skills. Editing copy is a very difficult and very important skill, but editors who can only edit copy, however impressively they do it, are of no use to me on the Web.”
22. You’re talking to a new audience. Develop your edit, design and production to acknowledge how demanding this audience is.
“Readers today want a place they can get in touch with you, rate your stories, e-mail them around, link to related stories, chat with each other about how much you suck, meet other people who agree how much you suck,” Blanchard says. “Readers? Users? Players? What do we call them now? [They] used to be intrigued by these tools, then they grew to love them, and now they demand them.
23. Don’t worry. The kinks are still being worked out.
“From a functional standpoint it makes a lot of sense to separate [production of print and Web products]. They’re accomplishing different things; they have different tools and goals; the people have different skill sets. But when they’re truly separate, communication becomes the biggest problem, because one hand doesn’t know what the other’s doing, and you get turf battles and so on. So this is something working itself out. There may be contextual solutions, where production is centralized for a brand, and they tell the same stories, but the design and fine tuning are medium-specific. Who knows—that oyster hasn’t been cracked yet.”
Anatole Burkin, publisher,
24. If there’s a staff of dedicated Web editors, integrate them with the print staff.
“Now that we’ve integrated, print editors have a more active role in the online product,” Burkin says. “For one, we discuss article ideas at the concept stage with both print and the Web in mind. The Web is not an afterthought. Our job is to produce content and choose the best medium for its delivery.”
Burkin says it’s important at the outset for print and Web to work collaboratively.
25. Bring in outside help to design the initial site.
Although Burkin wasn’t involved with the beginning of the Web site’s development, he says developing something as ambitious as FineWoodworking.com required outside help.
“In doing so, we learned a lot, and have since been hiring the right kind of staff so that going forward we can create and modify our online products in-house.”
26. A candidate with a diverse palette of skills is gaining in desirability.
Hiring a wordsmith once was the goal when hiring a new editorial staff member. Now, a jack-of-all-trades is quickly becoming a more desired candidate.
“You also have to bring in new talent, people who grew up with the Web, are trained in that discipline, are comfortable with the tools. It is a different way of thinking about information delivery.”
27. To master the Web, you have to know how to manipulate it—but it’s a learning experience.
“For us to be able to deliver content to our audience, we have to be comfortable with the tools of this medium, and I believe we are,” he says. “We are all learning as we go, and that keeps it interesting.”
28. It’s important at the outset for the staff to understand this is where the future of their profession is heading.
“You will meet some resistance at first,” he says. “But there really is no choice in the matter. We are in the information business. The delivery system is different, and somewhat alien at first, but in the end, the task is the same: delivering compelling content.”
Keith Larson, group publisher, VP of content
29. Hire Web experts to work within editorial groups.
To best guide the editorial teams of the company’s six monthly magazines and other various custom publishing projects, Larson says, “We’ve done a hybrid approach. Two years ago, we hired dedicated Web editors to work with properties. They work with the core editorial team to repurpose content.”
30. Invest back into your infrastructure.
Don’t just take resources—put money back into what you’re doing on the Internet.
“We went from a relatively little portion of our revenue to about 20 percent of our revenue from our Web product,” Larson says. “We’re putting it back into technology, investing in the future. Invest in training.”
31. Incorporate art talents within your IT department.
Having someone on-hand to tackle the ever-present need to create graphics for the Web cuts out a lot of hassle.
“We’ve got a graphic artist that lives in the IT space.”
32. Hire someone who can produce content online, not just stories online.
With the increased ability to create video and audio on Web sites, you need a staff who can produce not just words, but video and blogs, and other content spe
ifically for the Web.
“Editors placed more emphasis in the past on the wordsmithing,” says Larson. “We’re starting to appreciate the subtlety that comes in creating Web sites.”