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The rise of content “pilots”

“In today’s mobile-driven environment, we need to concentrate on stories and follow them during the course of a news cycle.”

We will continue to see the accelerated tempo of transformation in newsrooms across the world in 2019.

Already, few editors and journalists question the importance of mobile devices, where large numbers of readers are consuming news and information. When I start my workshops in newsrooms globally, I begin by asking the question: How many of your subscribers are now reading your content on the smallest of platforms — the phone? Across four continents the number usually ranges from 65 to 85 percent. Indeed, this is significant and an eye opener when it comes to how editors should transform their newsrooms to become mobile first operations.

Enter the “content manager.”

Such transformation requires the presence of a content manager in the newsroom at all times. What is the role of the content manager? In my view, the content manager is a traffic cop who owns stories and decides how they will be played up from start to finish: Do we begin with a push notification? What are the social media components for promoting the story? How about updates? Finally, in a modern newsroom, the story will be workshopped across platforms, including print. But not all stories need to have a print component.

I characterize stories as having short or long legs. Stories with long legs may have a print component, and not necessarily the same day in which they appear online.

More importantly, and this will be key to success of publications in 2019, it is the content manager who works with reporters and editors to explore the linear, mobile, visual storytelling potential of stories. We read stories on mobile devices differently from how we read a story published for print (this was the subject of my prediction for 2018 and we have seen a rise in the number of stories that are now told in a linear style). When a story is presented in a linear manner, the text narrative and the visual images appear in a continuum, exactly the way we communicate when text messaging. We read and we see.

Content managers may have different names, such as assignment editor, or even “pilots,” a preferred term with German and Scandinavian editors. Regardless of what the name is, the function is one of identifying content early in the process, working with small teams to manage the story throughout the day and making sure that stories are updated regularly if applicable.

With the rise of the content manager comes a concept that I also believe will be quite popular in 2019: the idea of workshopping stories and not concentrating on editions. Traditional editors and journalists are trained to work on editions that have a closing moment — as in tomorrow’s newspaper, or this afternoon’s news broadcast. In today’s mobile-driven environment, we need to concentrate on stories and follow them during the course of a news cycle. There is no planning of an edition as such. Content managers manage three to five stories at a time, which is the reason that a newsroom needs to train as many content managers as possible.

Without a doubt, the content manager will be the person to hire, to train and to give authority in the newsroom for 2019 and beyond. It will be difficult to claim that a newsroom is in the process of transformation without this key person changing the way content is selected and presented in a multi-platform news environment.

Mario García is CEO of García Media and senior adviser on news design and adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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