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There is a new formula for success for content publishers and it’s moving editorial collaboration from physical newsrooms to online newsrooms.

The new formula, developed by digital innovators like Gawker and The Huffington Post, involves a leaner editorial team, a larger pool of outside contributors, and a dramatically higher volume of content; whereas a print magazine might publish 10 articles per week, their online successors are now routinely producing 15 posts a day.

As the web spawns more and more publications on myriad topics, successful content creators have to “own” their niche. A fashion site, for example, can’t simply cover the royal wedding; they need to publish dozens of posts, in various media formats, analyzing the outfits of Westminster’s celebrity guests.

The efficient digital HuffPo/Gawker model is moving from web pioneers to traditional media publishers and even brands – who are applying it to their content marketing efforts (see American Express’ Open Forum or Amazon’s Backstory).

But while this efficient digital model is great for publishers, editorial teams are bearing the brunt of the stress.

The editor’s dilemma

The reality of the new digital publishing world is that fewer people have to manage the creation of more content by more contributors who are increasingly scattered around the world.

The result is that editors are being overwhelmed by logistics and don’t have the time they need to think about their audience and their content.

Editorial teams have looked to technology to overcome this challenge and boost productivity. But while the big-name sites have invested millions in custom software to manage their operations, the majority of publishers – operating on a shoestring – are limited by the free tools available to them: e-mail, IM, Google Docs and generic project management software.

So the typical online newsroom looks something like this:

  • a Google spreadsheet to keep track of pitches
  • a Google spreadsheet or Google Calendar to keep track of an editorial calendar
  • a Google spreadsheet to keep track of payments owed to contributors
  • a Google spreadsheet to keep track of metrics on how contributors are performing
  • an e-mail inbox filled with invoices, pitches, various drafts, and other messages

Designing a new newsroom

The newsroom has finally made the leap from paper and whiteboards to digital, but it’s still tremendously disorganized and difficult to manage.

Information is duplicated across various documents, collaboration is limited by an editor’s inability to granularly control who can edit what on a document, and every action still needs to be followed up by an e-mail so everyone is on the same page.

While these new cloud-based tools have helped, most online editors still find themselves drowning in logistics and serving more as a traffic cop than an editor.

Much is changing in the new era of digital content. But the primary functions of an editor – analyzing audience, curating content, verifying accuracy, selecting contributors, refining articles – are as important, or more important, than ever.

It’s time to design online newsrooms that reflect the new realities of online publishing and allow editors to devote their time and energy to, well, editing.