Who Should You Hire? Journalists or Market Pros?
When the American Institute of Public Accountants announced that it was relocating its operations from the New York/New Jersey area to North Carolina (a move that will save $100 million under its new lease, according to the association), the editorial staff of the association magazine;Journal of Accountancy;opted not to make the move. That left the association with 12 open positions and only a few months to fill them.
The association selected a search firm, hired several editors and expects to be fully staffed by the end of this month, according to publishing director George Pickard. "We're looking for people who are experienced in working for a publication that is member-driven;this is not a complicated business," he says.
However, some observers say the association has had difficulty finding new editors with appropriate business backgrounds, something Pickard denies. Hiring good editors has never been an easy job and today it's gotten more complicated as the demand for editorial versatility has gone up and increased competition gives audiences the choice to be less forgiving of press-release quality journalism. While recruiting writers and editors from the market a publisher serves is nothing new, it does seem to be gaining traction.
When you have someone from the industry writing on the industry, you are able, as a publication, to develop a more credible voice, according to Tig Tillinghast, publisher at MarketingVox. "We are in the process of getting on board some additional help for one of our online trade magazines and are looking specifically at writers who themselves come from the online marketing industry, our main topic."
A Changing Skill Set
Taunton Press' Fine Homebuilding has recruited writers and editors from the construction and carpentry fields for much of its 25-year history. "We're a serious technical magazine, we need people with a background in the subject area," says editor Kevin Ireton.
Editors come from two different areas: Professional builders who have a background and passion for writing or professional journalists but they have to have a "demonstrable passion" for building;such as having renovated their whole house. "We've had just as much luck taking a professional carpenter and teaching him to be a journalist as we have the other way around," says Ireton.
But don't go over the readers' heads. "Part of the problem when hiring an editor with a background in the subject area is there's a danger of assuming too much knowledge on the part of the reader," says Ireton. "We try to make our editorial approachable to a wide audience."
ALM and Prism Business Media's Telephony both have hired former professionals as editors, but see it more as opportunistic than a committed strategy. "One of our writers used to work for a vendor," says Mark Hickey, publisher of Telephony. "Having worked in central offices, he brings a unique perspective."
While ALM has many "recovering lawyers" on staff, they aren't something the publisher seeks, according to editorial director Aric Press. "Everyone who works for us works as a journalist, not as a lawyer pretending to be a journalist," he adds. "Former lawyers tend to be analytical, smart and used to working hard;all three attributes our people here need. Typically, law school is not good for writing and sometimes that can take a while to correct. Not to mention the amazing pay cut."
Blogs: The New Classifieds?
To find professionals who are interested in writing about their industry, look online, particularly at self-publishers, such as bloggers. "The honeypot for finding these folks is, not surprisingly, the Web," says Tillinghast. "We get a sense of their expertise and writing ability, although blogs are quite a distance from journalism most times."
That may require re-training. "Bloggers have very annoying habits," Tillinghast adds. "If they're not using the first person, they're spouting unsubstantiated conclusions. But one thing they do better though, is have a sense of story, audience, voice and narrative. If editors intend to ļ¾train' this out of them, they might as well start with the vacuous liberal-arts undergrads like everyone else."
While finding a top-flight editor can be difficult, finding ways to winnow down the flood of resumes is easy. In a recent search for a managing editor for Fine Homebuilding's Web site, editor Kevin Ireton received applications from sources such as the New York Times, MediaBistro and Monster.com, but says 90 percent were not qualified. "I can't tell you the number of resumes we got online with no cover letter or looked horrible when you printed it out," he adds. "If I get a resume without a cover letter, I don't even look at it. I'm way more interested in the cover letter because I'm looking for someone who can write."
Ireton advises applicants to tone down the self-promotion. "If someone goes on and on about why I should hire them and says nothing about why they want to work here, that's pretty much an automatic rejection," he says. "I want to know why somebody wants to work here. I'm sure there are books telling them to stress that they're a team player. I don't want care. I want to know if they know how to use language. Tell me a story. Catch my attention."