As the business evolves, magazine publishers are constantly faced with new and unfamiliar challenges. Traditional revenue sources remain vital, but with new technology comes new opportunities and the need for individuals with disciplines and skill sets that may have been irrelevant a decade ago. We checked in with high-ranking executives at four major consumer and B2B publishers to learn which kinds of new positions are popping up in the magazine world, and which are fading away. 

Dealing with Big Data

Throughout the industry, data seems to be at the forefront of nearly every conversation about how publishers can best position themselves for the future. Glimpses into audience behavior, desires and interests are readily available like never before, giving rise to an unprecedented need for professionals who can not only collect that data, but draw out valuable insights to inform both editorial and business strategy.

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 9.44.27 AM

When Kate Spellman joined Penton as SVP of marketing in 2013, the company’s circulation department was highly focused on fulfillment and auditing. The department has since been relabeled “user marketing,” with an emphasis on carefully engaging with audiences using highly-targeted and data-informed strategies.

“That’s a completely different skillset,” Spellman says. “We’ve hired data analysts and data scientists to look at behavior and where people are going— what are they engaged in?”

Of course, along with all of this new data curation comes the need for people who can effectively apply it to editorial strategy. 

“I really think what you’re starting to look at is a whole other level of data scientists that have entered the newsroom, and a whole other level of business intelligence,” says Lewis DVorkin, chief product officer at Forbes Media. “All of those data reporting tools only collect the data. Someone needs to take all of these data points and come out with insights.”

Penton has implemented a company-wide marketing automation program aimed at harnessing newly-available analytics to discover and identify areas where the company has room for growth. This has led to the need for new technologists—people who aren’t strangers to building data cubes or pivot tables.

“We’ve never had this kind of data before. It pulls together so many disciplines,” adds Spellman.

At Forbes Media, the solution has been integrating these analysts directly into the newsroom. Audiences are better served when careful analysis of their behaviors, consumption patterns and desires are shared with the newsroom, says DVorkin, and the idea is not purely altruistic; it also helps generate new audience streams and thus, more revenue. 

New Disciplines for New Editors

With the shift to online content, particularly on mobile devices, another digitally-oriented newcomer is the multimedia editor.

“We’re bringing in people who sit astride the intersection of journalism, coding, and design,” says The Atlantic president Bob Cohn. “Maybe not all three of those skillsets in equal parts, but people who know something about all three: the editor who can code, the designer who can write, or the coder who has an idea about what makes a good story. The blend of those skills has turned into a new type of interdisciplinary journalist.”

The ever-increasing number of people who access magazines via mobile devices is another factor affecting the types of content producers being brought in.

“I think there’s a new breed of mobile content creator that is being developed,” says DVorkin. “The story paradigm of the last 100 years is not going to go away, but there needs to be a new kind of story format that is less structured and not put together like a narrative. We are bringing on people who think like that. It’s a different kind of role from the graphic editor or the writer.”

It’s not about adapting existing print or digital content for mobile; magazine publishers are now seeing the need to create content that is designed for mobile devices from the very beginning. Forbes has even gone so far as to introduce a “mobile acceleration team” devoted to prototyping mobile-specific formats, says DVorkin.

Audiences expect more from digital journalism, says Cohn, and where print entailed a once-a-month type of experience, perpetually active websites need people who can build things quickly—and it’s not all focused on quick-hit posts and Snapchat Discover stories.

“There is a new-found interest in hiring digital journalists who can edit complex, long-form stories,” Cohn adds. “That is a growth area which some people may find surprising. There was a period when all digital hires were fast-twitch writers of today’s news and topics. I think what you’re seeing now is the demand for that skillset which had previously been associated with print.” 

Looking Beyond the Printed Page

As companies make unprecedented investments in digital, the ripple effects aren’t confined to editorial teams. TEN (The Enthusiast Network) has undergone a company-wide shift of identity from publisher to producer, says CEO Scott Dickey.

“We eliminated the title of publisher and focused our business leaders on being accountable for the performance of all brands in all channels,” Dickey says, citing the newly-launched Motor Trend OnDemand subscription video service. “In this case, we are asking our existing consumer marketing team, which was focused primarily on driving print and digital subscriptions to our legacy magazine brands, to now think about driving subscriptions to video content.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 9.48.04 AMEndangered Species

Naturally, when new disciplines arise, others fade away. Even where positions have not been eliminated, job functions are shifting or broadening their focus. Publishers are producers. Circulation specialists are user marketers. Roles are becoming more nuanced and complex. This all begs the question: Which disciplines, if any, have lost utility in recent years?

“I officially declare the role of the general assignment reporter dead,” says DVorkin. “The world of internet consumption is about people filtering their searches right down to their specific interests. In order to satisfy those interests, they’re looking for the most knowledgeable people they can find, an expert in that one area.” Among specific positions, fact checkers and copy editors appear to be the most commonly-cited endangered species in the magazine world.

“We’re a digital publishing operation that still also runs a big monthly magazine,” says Cohn. “But if you look broadly at the journalistic horizon, you see relatively fewer jobs in fact-checking and copy editing than you may have seen ten, twenty or even five years ago.”

While fact-checking will likely always exist, economic constraints and the desire for maximized efficiency have driven those responsibilities into the hands of writers and editors themselves.

“It’s the economics of it—newsrooms have to find ways to be more efficient—but it also provides a training ground for the new non-general assignment reporter, i.e. the new vertical or niche reporter,” DVorkin says.

While every print article at The Atlantic still passes through the fact-check and copy-edit desks, according to Cohn, only a handful of digital ones do. Instead, reporters and story editors on the digital side are often asked to handle those duties.

Another victim of the times is the archivist. With digital databases that take up little physical space and can be easily accessed from anywhere, the need to curate and maintain physical libraries has diminished greatly.

“I don’t think magazines have the libraries they once had and the people working in them, doing clip searches and that type of thing,” says Cohn. “When I started my career at Newsweek, I could walk into the Washington bureau library, say what we were working on and several employees would deliver me files and clips. Those days are over.”

Successful publishers have been quick to embrace the rapid expansion into the digital world. Companies have streamlined staffs in the quest to eliminate redundancies, and many in the industry have been asked to take on additional job functions, whether formerly reserved for a dedicated individual or simply a new skillset that never existed before.

“Our CEO has been very focused on our strategy moving forward, which is digital, events, and data,” says Spellman. “That doesn’t mean there’s not a place for print, it just means in that portfolio, everything is very even. We’re really following what the users want.” 

Association Media Advanced Leadership Program
Check out this related session at The Folio: Show, November 1-2 in NYC!

The complex reality of association media is that you work in the context of a larger (sometimes conflicting) mission: Furthering…