The editor of the future

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November 23, 2011

The editor of the future

Corinna Milborn of speaking on omnipresence, dialog capabilities and humility

"Publishing houses are slower than they need to be in meeting the requirements of today's new information societies". When Corinna Milborn, deputy editor in chief at the Austrian weekly magazine News chose these words to start her presentation on the topics of "Networked communication, reality, dream or nightmare" it was not her intention to sound the death knell on the profession of the editor, but far more, to advocate a new self understanding of journalistic work.

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Just like Gutenberg's invention of moveable letters and book printing changed communication fundamentally, the web and social media are creating a new communication landscape today. Today, a total of 1/3 of Austria's "reading" population is now on Facebook. And although the magazine "News" with some 750,000 readers covers one tenth of Austria's population, as the journalist Milborn relates, it is no longer the editors in chief who determine the topics that people will be talking about the next day, but far more the readers, the users themselves who determine this content: "Previously, it used to be enough to fill the pages with the breaking news from the news agencies. Today, every piece of news that a press agency releases is already outdated. […] Our journalism will have to change fundamentally, because it will otherwise quite simply cease to exist. […] Today, newspapers have to deliver exacting analyses and provide insightful commentaries."

Online is not print

For many media players and producers, including the News publishing group, print is still the driving business model. Naturally, there are accompanying web sites, but in most cases - as practiced by the Austrian publishing house - they are maintained with considerably less editorial input in comparison with the print products. Online offerings are not generating revenue, and advertising is often the only viable source of income here. Milborn sounds a stern warning in the direction of advertorial journalism: "Utmost care must be taken that journalism remains committed to readers and not to the advertising industry."

In addition, as the journalist underscores, the way in which editors work will have to change fundamentally. While editorial systems were originally conceived for print, there are technical systems available today that enable contents to be processed to suit the requirements of various media. In spite of this, many editors are still practicing cut and paste journalism in transporting contents from the print workflow to other channels. While the right technologies are available and at hand, print editors are not using them. And what is especially paradox: although many of their colleagues have long since adopted "cross-media" approaches, the print editors have not followed suit. A typical example: Social media, especially Twitter, is part of everyday life in today's editorial offices. Whether for tapping additional, diversified sources in addition to conventional media and agencies (useful tip: create lists), amplifying own news or engaging in real-time communication with users and colleagues.

Johannes F. Woll, strategy consultant at Schweizer Degen, Media & Publishing Consulting & XING expert on journalism and the publishing houses of the future dialogs with censhare.

In search of a new language!

Naturally, Twitter condenses information down to the famous 140 characters - while epic reports are still commonly encountered in print, and unfortunately also on the web. Here too, Milborn sounds a stern warning: "Narrative structures are changing. Epic reports no longer work. Journalists have to keep things shorter, and communicate in a more networked, pictorial manner - mosaic-like, as blogs are doing."

"News" plays a leading and exemplary role in the Austrian media landscape: the success of the magazine is based on the disclosure and exposure stories, as well as exclusive reports that are enriched with graphics and diagrams.

Truth or colportage?

Especially in this day and age of citizen journalism, professional journalism is once again becoming all the more important. Full-time professionals are called for here: sources must be investigated and verified. One of the key opportunities for newspapers is to act and be perceived as the guarantors of reliable secured information and facts. Corinna Milborn cites a salient example:

Barcelona police brutality

The picture was taken by a passer-by in the course of police clearing the streets of demonstrators in Barcelona. It was placed on where it was called up 800,000 times within three hours. Brutal police violence against a man in a wheelchair was the title of the picture that we also viewed with horror and contempt. It was only thanks to the "investigations" conducted by a "conventional" journalist that we discovered that it was not the man in wheel chair who was beaten, but a street fighter behind him. As the expert underscored, this kind of investigative research work "calls for professional journalists."


It is no longer sufficient to regard readers as pure recipients, as an audience. Instead, readers must be understood as dialog partners instead. Admittedly, not all readers will want to interact, but media companies must show their willingness to dialog, and above all, must learn to listen.

Journalists have to work in a more investigative manner again, do photo reports on location, deliver their own, independent analyses and impress with insightful, reflective commentaries.

Editors must reach out to readers and rebuild trust, time and time again. Journalistic brands also have to build up, developed and maintained.

And lastly, editorial offices will have to change the way they work, and must learn to think and work along cross-media lines.

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