The Editor vs. the Product Manager

This is in response to a line by Jay Rosen in his recent blog post on Press Think.  The post is worth reading in its entirety mainly because he covers years of online media learning in a few short paragraphs.

He writes, “Being ignorant and uninvolved in “the business side” has been a disaster for the newsroom. For all its strengths, separation of church and state also meant no seat at the table when the big decisions were made. Anyone who doesn’t want to know what the numbers say should not be trusted with editorial decisions. Listening to demand is smart journalism, so is giving people what they have no way to demand because they don’t know about it yet. If you are good at one, the other goes better.”

Being involved in the business side isn’t the only way to listen to demand, but it is true that the editors of yesteryear were woefully out of touch with their readers and pretty smug about it, to boot. The smugness has gone out the window.

The highly measurable, results-driven world of online “content” has closed the traditional gap between the consumers and producers of media. Being able to listen to demand is a key skill for any editor looking to launch a digital “product,” and more orgs seem to want editors who can think like product managers.

If an editor looks after a set of stories, the product manager traditionally looks at the business side of any particular offering.  He/she tracks the evolution of a product over time and adjusts commercial strategy in response.  A product manager is concerned with profit maximization, yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing the integrity of a brand or selling out to advertisers. Rather, it means evolving a strong monetization strategy that takes, as a starting point, the strengths and purpose of the particular content being considered.

Of course, good journalism shouldn’t be measured solely in terms of Profit & Loss.  But an understanding of what these terms mean, and their importance, will (as Rosen says) give editors the necessary tools to continue to fight for stories that need telling.

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