This post starts a series for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms. Some of the advice might be good for veteran editors, too, and for editors in other companies.
Listening should be one of an editor’s most important skills and priorities.
Editors needed to be good listeners when I started in the news business more than 40 years ago, when we were still melting lead to set type. Listening was essential when I first became editor of the Minot Daily News in 1992, when the digital revolution for newsrooms was just around the next bend. And it was even more important when I became editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 2008, as social media was causing a second (or third; I think I’m losing track) digital revolution for newsrooms. It still remains one of an editor’s most important jobs, but we have some great listening tools that weren’t available before.
A good editor listens to the staff and to the community. You don’t necessarily follow all the advice you hear or act on all the complaints you hear (or bask in the praise), but you need to hear what the community and the staff are saying. You need to know what your staff thinks about your leadership and your decisions. You need to know what the community thinks of your content. You need to know what your staff is proud of and embarrassed of and concerned about. You need to know what your community is laughing at and angry about.
You don’t just need to know what the community is saying about you and your news products, though. You need to know what people are saying about the news and community affairs. Has a story that’s hot in the coffee shops and Facebook discussions escaped your staff’s notice because it doesn’t fit in your beat structure (or because someone is not covering a beat well)? Is your community confused about an issue you are reporting or should be reporting? Has the community grown tired of an issue? You should know. (more…)