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Things Are Looking Up for Editors

Posted on Wednesday, December 30, 2015 at 4:17 PM

Top editors reflect upon 2015 and look ahead to 2016.

By William Dunkerley

Past EO articles have reported a lot of doom and gloom among editors in the wake of the Great Recession. Now we're pleased to give forum to the effusive optimism of some editors. We invited a cross-section of readers to comment on how 2015 treated them, and on their plans for the new year. The feedback they provided should be an inspiration to any editor.

Surging Editorial Morale in 2015

A mere six years ago it was hard to find anyone expressing much satisfaction with how things were going. Optimism about the future was in short supply. In 2009 we ran a story lead that said:

"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."

Contrast that with this comment from Rick Pullen about 2015: "It'd be hard to top what we did editorially or advertising sales wise. The economy is coming back. Next year we're looking for more of the same, and are hoping to broaden our digital efforts with a new hire." Rick is editor-in-chief at Leader's Edge magazine.

Meredith May, editorial director and publisher at The Tasting Panel, scored 2015 a 5 on a scale of 1 to 5. For 2016 she wants to give high priority to streamlining the publication's related events business. "It's growing exponentially," she says.

At the PMMI Media Group, senior editor Anne Marie Mohan enthusiastically reported, "2015 was definitely a 5 for us. We had an unbelievably great year, in part because of our expanding digital offerings as well as the innovation of our staff.

"We were purchased in late 2014 by a non-profit association with deep pockets and a desire to let us continue to do what we do best. We still maintain a monthly print issue (that continues to grow), but our digital business has really taken off.

"I believe that publications that don't embrace digital will be left in the dust. This doesn't mean print is dead, but readers are looking for information in a number of ways today, and if you can't give them what they want you are doomed."

As for 2016, she says: "For print, we will continue to pursue timely trends and issues and strive to cover the newest technologies. For digital, we are always looking to push the envelope. Our goal is to connect the end users of packaging materials and services with the suppliers of these products."

Why Are Editors So Optimistic?

What's responsible for all this abundance of satisfaction and optimism? Are publications just riding an economic upturn?

Not so, says one editor who requested anonymity. He said, "2015 was very good for us, but not for our market. Six magazines constitute our main competition. They were monthlies. But in 2015 one went mainly digital (with a very thin quarterly print issue), and another went 7x (averaging just 40 pages). We picked up most of the slack, with our folios often exceeding 100 pages. Our digital was flat but still very profitable. Growth was in print."

So instead of a rising tide raising all ships, it seems that each publication's ability to adapt itself to emergent opportunities is key. For some this may mean capturing greater market share in print. For others the answer may be technically more specific. For instance, "Working on more data journalism projects" is a 2016 objective for Bob Brown at Network World.

Patti Harman, editor-in-chief of Claims magazine, commenting on 2015, said, "It was one of the best in several years from an advertising standpoint, and we regained some of the market share we'd lost to competitors. We also increased our visibility in our industry through a number of speaking engagements. Our 2016 goal is to capitalize on these gains and continue to expand our exposure in the insurance industry. While our focus is still on our print magazine, we are also focusing on our online channel and social media to expand our exposure and engage readers."

Adriano Piattelli, editor-in-chief at the Journal of Osseointegration, joined the chorus that found 2015 to be a good year. His top priority for 2016 is maintaining high editorial standards and keeping up-to-date scientifically. He also wants to enhance the peer review process "as a method for assessing scientific quality."

Editorial excellence is important to Dan Cohen, managing editor at the Association of Defense Communities, too. He remarked, "The one thing I can control is quality. I'd like to believe it has remained consistent." That helped make 2015 a good year for him.

Plastics News editor Don Loepp concluded:

"2015 was a 4 out of 5 in my opinion. A very good year. But I've been around long enough to remember the really booming years of 1999 and 2000, when we had a larger staff and produced lots of pages. Financially 2015 was a solid year, profitable, our editorial staff was stable, and we did good work.

"My top priority for 2016 is to do excellent editorial work. I want to make sure we're focused on good writing, good reporting, and making the best use of all the technology that's at our disposal to provide readers with a product that they continue to feel is must-have information."

A Bright Outlook for 2016

What impressed me most about all the foregoing is that everyone who responded to our invitation to comment had positive things to say. It used to be that giving editors a chance to describe how things were going was greeted as an opportunity to complain eagerly. There was a hop-on-the-bandwagon ring to it.

But not now. And that's good.

We're no longer facing what seemed like a losing battle. We know we can do better and succeed. But it may take abandoning what have now become outmoded concepts about our business. Today's challenges call for us all to be adaptive and opportunistic in the face of technological advances and corresponding changes in how readers prefer to access information.

Happy 2016!

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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