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Editors Suffer from Recession Cuts

Posted on Monday, August 24, 2009 at 2:16 PM

...Now it's time for them to go on the offensive to protect their careers and their publications.

By William Dunkerley

These days when editors speak of "future tense" they're not talking about grammar.

Publication editors are apprehensive over what's ahead. They're seeing their colleagues' jobs terminated. Their own jobs are on the line. Raises are cancelled and sometimes salaries are cut. Workloads are up. Morale is down.

And what did editors do to deserve all that? Nothing. Most have been doing their jobs well. The reason they've been receiving the brunt of this recession is because their companies or organizations have been experiencing revenue shortfalls. As a result, many top managers go looking through the budget for things that can be cut.

Why Cut Editorial?

The usual view is that if sales-related jobs are cut, revenues will decline further. That brings the focus over to the cost of producing the publication. Editorial and production are major expenses. Therefore, it's tempting to make some cuts there. Many publishing CEOs believe if they tighten the belt on editorial and production now, it can always be let out again later when sales improve.

But, the real problem isn't that editorial has been costing too much. The problem is that there is insufficient revenue. Publishers can experience inadequate income during normal economic times, too. It's not only a product of a recession. Whenever it happens, though, many publishers have a knee-jerk response to cut editorial expense.

Does This Make Sense?

Actually, it usually does not make sense to slash editorial budgets. There's a real downside. For one thing, it can decimate an editorial staff. If an editorial department has been producing a good editorial product and operating with an esprit de corps, that all can be threatened. When morale sinks, even the best of employees can develop a negative attitude. Once such attitudes develop, they can feed themselves and become entrenched. That can be a hard place to recover from, even when revenues finally improve.

Another factor is the impact on the quality of your editorial product. When fewer resources go into developing content, this inevitably leads to compromises in quality. They may not be sufficient to produce a readership revolt. But if left unchecked, content that's been degraded will drag down the brand image of your publication. That will make it harder to sell copies, subscriptions, and advertising.

Unnecessary Cuts

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of excessive editorial cuts, however, is that they may be totally unnecessary in the first place. Let me explain why...

In addition to being an editor, I'm also a business consultant to magazine, newspaper, and newsletter publishers, print and online. In that role, I get involved in helping to boost advertising sales and improve the effectiveness of a publishing operation overall. And, in all candor, after having worked with hundreds of publishing organizations, I've yet to see one where revenues couldn't be improved. In some cases, the business model has serious, unrecognized flaws. In other instances, sales performance is less than optimal. When properly addressed, both of these areas can yield significant improvement in revenues.

That's why the editorial cuts are often unnecessary. It should be possible to boost revenues by increasing the effectiveness of business operations. And with the attendant increased revenues, there's no need to cut editorial.

When the economy is normal, it may be tolerable to neglect business inefficiencies and just coast along. But when there's a recession, that's a luxury that doesn't exist anymore. That means it's now time to address these long-standing issues and finally optimize the organization and optimize the revenues.

If that sounds easier said than done, you are right. There's a common trap that appears when the economy plunges. It is to believe that lower sales are a fait accompli. That belief can kill any incentive to improve the revenue picture. What's more, many organizations tend to be change-averse. Optimizing revenues may mean that management and sales will have to face up to making a number of painful changes in how they work. That in turn adds to the allure of accepting the inevitability of poor sales in tough times. So they opt to wait out the recession and cut editorial expense to make ends meet.

Time to Move Forward

It truly is time for editors to stop taking all this lying down. Why not gear up for action? Start a dialog with your publisher on how revenues can be stimulated. He or she may not have any instant ideas on how improve sales. But, if you can engage in out-of-the-box thinking, it should be possible to make some progress.

Even in a recession, the companies that have been your advertisers want to sell their products and services. In fact, probably more so now. The need for effective advertising doesn't diminish in a recession. It's the ineffectual advertising that gets trimmed. If your publication can bring business to the advertisers, it's a no-brainer that they're going to want to advertise with you. Figure out how to get them more business. Can you attract new readers who have money to spend? Can your articles justly inspire the confidence of your readers and lead them to make purchases?

Editors can play a powerful role here. This isn't any time to let an unnecessary fate cut away at your jobs, your morale, and your future. It's time that editors take a more proactive stance and nudge their organizations to move forward!

William Dunkerley is editor of Editors Only.

Add your comment


"I think what you're saying is true, up to a point. When the publisher is making the decisions based on bottom line pressures, it's tough to talk him out of making news share its load. Still, editors can do a great deal without involving their publishers, particularly by focusing on what the newsroom does well and promoting it." --John Robinson, News and Record, Greensboro, NC.


"The recession is only a part of our woes as editors. It happens to be hitting at a time when people are realizing they can get the information they need online and free, and advertisers are realizing they can buy online advertising for less cost. With collaboration, brainstorming, and taking advantage of your strong brand online, you may be in a better position to weather the storm." --Tyler Reed, The Editor's Playbook

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