‘Employee of the future': Bridging media’s church-state divide

As The New York Times’ Innovation report recently highlighted, the changing realities of the industry demands that publishers rethink the church-state divide. But a new breed of cross-departmental employee who openly straddles news and business is already emerging at other publishing companies.

Time Inc. has a number of people whose duties cross departmental lines. At Time magazine, Susanna Schrobsdorff is a journalist who oversees lifestyle stories but does double duty as liaison to the business side, making sure online advertisers got what they paid for. Director of digital innovation Callie Schweitzer reports to editorial but spends half her time on what were traditionally business-side functions, like IT, business and audience development. In one example, she recently handled a Twitter partnership to promote Time’s Person of the Year.

“All these functions that used to be others’ departments are integral to what we do as journalists,” said Edward Felsenthal, Time.com’s managing editor. “Promoting your own content, developing your audience, is not something to be outsourced.”

Sibling brand Entertainment Weekly has followed Time’s example, naming digital product vet Eric Goeres as director of innovation. Goeres spends about a third of his time working with the ad side to make sure EW’s digital products meet advertisers’ wants. When EW’s “Game of Thrones” newsletter took off with readers, he worked with the business side to use the newsletter to market magazine subscriptions.

EW editor Matt Bean called roles like Goeres’ the “position of the future.”

“It represents a sea change in how our businesses are evolving,” he said. “I don’t think that having siloed fiefdoms represents the kinds of products we’re creating. The realization is, now, if you have someone who’s guiding that conversation, you can create something you’re happy with on the edit side that advertisers think really represents their brand well.”

With the growing importance of reader analytics, the old siloed approach does seem to makes less sense. At The New Republic, Noah Chestnut, who has the quirky title director of labs, reports to editorial but equally helps out the business side.

“As the business grew toward having a larger audience, I began focusing on the analytics of the site, which serves both sides of the house,” said Chestnut, who has a background in content and social media consulting. “I’m open to anything.”

At Hearst, Kate Lewis is vp of content operations and editorial director at Hearst Digital, but she spends about one-tenth of her time on sales-side activities. Often, that takes the form of helping advertisers craft their native ad messages for individual sites, even assigning Hearst editorial staffers to write stories for the campaigns. The Washington Post has a senior digital editor, Cory Haik, who works with sales to translate new editorial presentations for advertisers’ use. The Times has started to get in on this trend, too, with a video exec who reports to the business and editorial sides.

Tasks that once would have been anathema to a journalist are now described as a blessing and mutually beneficial, so far without appearing to undermine the publishers’ journalistic integrity. As Dennis Interactive managing director Pete Wootton recently said, the publisher has rewritten writer contracts at the company to include the requirement to produce commercial content.

“What we found best is when the [sponsor] content is produced by the existing editorial teams,” he said. “A lot of people keep it separate. That’s missing the point.”

As much as it benefits advertisers to have access to the company’s editors, Hearst’s Lewis said, “It’s an advantage to editors because we want readers to have the best experience. We can’t let traditional advertising tarnish that.”

But as job descriptions blur, will questions be raised about how to assign employees’ salary costs? Time’s Felsenthal, for one, thinks that issue is a long way off. “You have to assume it all evens out in the end to the betterment of what we produce.”