Last night at NYC’s ilili restaurant, several top senior-level female editors met for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in a scaled back version of Mediabistro’s long-running "Dinner & Discourse" event. Comedian, writer and radio talk show host Sara Benincasa moderated the discussion, where five senior-level female editors—ContentNext’s Caroline Little, Lonny magazine’s Michelle Adams, Newser’s Caroline Miller, Glam Media’s Jennifer Salant and Hearst Magazine’s Nicole Stagg (founding editor of Hearst’s new RealBeauty.com) weighed in on the future of digital strategy and online content development.
According to the editors, one of the most egregious mistakes that publishers can make online is offering digital magazines that are direct replicas of their print product. “Some companies are moving too quickly and opting for quantity over quality,” Hearst Magazines’ director of content and product strategy Stagg explained. Another gripe in the same vein was an “unfriendly” digital edition format. “Personally, I hate what The New Yorker has done,” said Caroline Miller. Both the tricky layout and format and inability to share a story don’t bode well with her, particularly since the magazine charges for its digital edition.
Miller, who is co-founder and editor-in-chief of online news site Newser, offered a take that resounded with print veterans. “It’s like we’ve gone full circle,” she said. “Thirty years ago a friend and I started our own newspaper—and we literally did everything, from writing the stories, copy editing, layout, design, and physically driving them to the printer…. Now, that’s part of the thrill of working online, that kind of do-it-yourself environment.”
While online may set the standard for scrappy, jack-of-all-trades journalists, both panelists and attendees questioned whether advertisers will eventually pay more for digital’s guaranteed metrics, which will then allow online sites to pay writers higher rates. “One of my darkest thoughts of the future is that print ads are a big con,” said Miller in a slightly pessimistic moment. “There are metrics to connect print ads to buys, but there’s no proof. Now, with digital, we’re in the business of counting eyeballs.”
Of course, the changing environment means that editors must rely on a different skill set. When hiring new talent, Stagg looks for dot.com experience, with crunching numbers a close second. “You need to be able to analyze data in order to understand what’s working and what’s not when it comes to online,” she said. When moderator Benincasa asked panelists if provocative bloggers and writers are a hallmark of an online product, most agreed. Stagg, though, offered a different take: the definition of “provocative is different depending on the audience. “Recently, there was a raging discussion on Good Housekeeping on how to make eggs…to our readers, this is an important, heated topic,” she said.
Check out some photos from the event here.