LOMAX | As Colorado newsrooms rebuild, don’t forget the editors

Author: Simon Lomax - April 30, 2018 - Updated: April 30, 2018

Simon Lomax

For about 15 years, I worked in newsrooms in Australia and the United States, before a mass layoff effectively ended my career as a reporter and editor. It was a tough time for my family, but things eventually turned out for the best. I was ready for a new challenge and have greatly enjoyed working as an advocate, adviser and column writer in the years since then.

That said, it’s hard to watch other newsrooms being hollowed out, especially at the Denver Post and other publications in the same newspaper chain. I have the same concerns as any citizen, of course, about the impact of lower quality or non-existent news coverage on local, state and national public policy. But given my own experience, it hits an emotional nerve as well.

I am hopeful the news business in Colorado will turn the corner. In fact, the rebuilding process has already begun – investments by Colorado Politics and its parent, Clarity Media, are an excellent example. Meanwhile, a group of Colorado investors are trying to raise enough capital to buy and “resurrect” the Denver Post.

I won’t pretend to know the mix of new and existing mastheads that will emerge over the coming years. Nor can I predict what business model they will adopt. But there is real demand for quality news and commentary in Colorado, across just about every beat you can imagine. We live in a marketplace of ideas and markets respond. Where there is an unmet need, investment and opportunity will follow.

But I would make one suggestion, for what it’s worth, as the news industry in Colorado rebuilds: Invest in editors, not just reporters.

The temptation to hire as many reporters as possible, to send to as many news events as possible, and have them file as many stories as possible, is understandable. With more stories, you have more content to attract readers, advertisers, and subscribers. A higher story count is also a show of strength to the public, to investors and to competing news organizations. And reporters, with some exceptions, generally cost less to hire than editors.

But going long on reporters, and short on editors, would be a big mistake. Editors are the teachers, coaches and librarians of the newsroom. They impart wisdom from years of experience and enforce factual and ethical standards. When rushed reporters overlook important details or neglect another side to the story, editors are there to guide them, and if necessary, challenge them to do better.

Editors are an essential check and balance in any newsroom, making sure stories are reviewed by someone besides the author and subjected to a level of scrutiny before publication. When mistakes happen, editors work with reporters to find out what went wrong and fix it. And when the work of reporters is unfairly criticized, editors are there to defend them.

Perhaps most of all, editors provide stability, sticking around longer than many reporters who are quite often early in their careers and looking to move from market to market. Editors are keepers of institutional knowledge, which is essential to correctly judge what is newsworthy and what isn’t.

As a reporter, editors saved me from dumb mistakes countless times, called me out when I was being unfair, and stood up for me when my reporting was solid. I have worked in newsrooms with very few editors and in newsrooms with arguably too many. It’s better to err on the side of having too many, for all the reasons I have mentioned and more.

But there’s also a strong business case: Editors maintain the quality of the product – news – so it doesn’t waste the audience’s time. Because if you waste the audience’s time, you’ll lose their attention, and all the revenue opportunities that go with it.

Before he started Bloomberg News, New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg asked: “If reporters are any good, what do we need editors for?” Matt Winkler, a Wall Street Journal reporter who became the first editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, immediately set his boss straight. “They’re essential and will never go out of style!” Winkler later wrote in his famous style book for reporters and editors, The Bloomberg Way.

For a newsroom to function properly, editors are every bit as essential as reporters. As the news business in Colorado restructures and returns to growth, let’s hope investors see the value that editors provide.

Simon Lomax

Simon Lomax

Simon Lomax is a research fellow with Vital for Colorado, a coalition of state business leaders, public officials and citizens focused on energy policy, and an adviser to pro-business groups. Before going into advocacy, he was a reporter for Bloomberg News and a congressional fellow with the American Political Science Association. The views expressed are his own. Find him on Twitter at @simonrlomax.