The shift in publishing from print to digital has changed my production journalist job beyond all recognition – a transition I blogged about in last year in RIP Sub-editing. Now, instead of ‘journalist’, I answer blogger or web editor or content strategist or content creator or multimedia producer or social reporter or online quality controller – depending on the circumstances I find myself in, the people I am speaking to and what people are more likely to understand.
A memory: covering an FT conference for a client, I got chatting with a senior manager at BT Group who asked what I did. I replied that I was there to interview attendees and get their views for a video blog post – a video blogger. I’ll always remember his reaction: “Is that even a job?”
I’m happy to say that it is. I wasn’t insulted by his comment. I fully understand how fast reporting has changed and how big business has (in general) not kept up. In fact, his reaction wasn’t at all unusual and often people don’t understand the business model behind what I do. But the truth is, my work as a sub-editor and journalist for newspapers and magazines has now morphed into one of facilitator. I assuage the needs of clients, all of whom have become publishers, but most of whom do not have any training in basic publishing skills, production sensibilities or editorial judgment.
They need help. Simply put, I help them.
Another memory: a couple of years ago I was hired out as a freelance corporate blogger by my London agency. My boss said afterwards that my use to the client would be less as a blogger and more as a source of information.
I think that has come true: I am their contact ‘on the inside’ of the world of blogging and online communications. When people talk back to them on the blog, or when in-house experts write their first blog posts, I am a source of context, perspective, advice and training.
What has become interesting about this transition into some kind of digital facilitor is that the ‘hands’ person (blogger, web editor, etc) is also the ‘brains’ person (consultant, content strategist). Don’t get me started on rates for the job. I can see why people pitch themselves as just one thing or the other, even if the company ideally needs a combination of both. But it is because I am a ‘hands’ person that I can be a ‘brains’ person. I believe that to advise, you need to have the practical experience not just the theory.
Being the person who understands the online environment (as much as one ever can) means getting involved in client web content strategy – and beyond, for content strategy doesn’t stand alone but affects (or tries to integrate with) all corporate comms, marketing and media. This tension between the human blogging voice and the corporate print voice is a particularly interesting chasm for companies to cross.
But it makes sense to me to have someone in-house or on-call who can answer such questions and corporate dilemmas. After all, the businesses I work for are in their own business, not publishing or online content marketing. And, to be brutal, few businesses are very good at talking with their clients and users directly.
So sometimes I feel like a content coach. It’s a funny role because sometimes it involves stating the bleeding obvious and watching people be amazed by that.
So what do I actually do?
In truth, it’s a flexible role, meeting each client where they are at in terms of resource, skills and aims. In the past two years, for example, I’ve left my comfort zone of blogger and web editor to work on video production and editing, conference blogging and creating a dedicated content strategy for a large corporate client.
What is becoming more clear as time goes on is that being an ‘information point’ or ‘mentor’ or ‘on-call advisor’ is an important part of helping companies develop their confidence, online skills and strategy while maintaining some level of professionalism as they experiment and find their way.
Change management and the culture shift caused by the internet and its possibilities lie at the heart of what is currently going on in my profession. And that is what I feel I now do: encourage the culture shift one individual or department at a time.
Is this embedded freelance role common?
And that is why I have been feeling a growing separation from content strategy as a field as it tries to define itself. Because in my role, I feel less than a management consultant but more than a web editor. On Monday I might be a strategist and trainer, but on Tuesday I might be a blogger or editor.
The other thing I have been thinking is that I don’t scale. I am embedded into the companies of the clients I work for and I feel alone in that I don’t know anyone else who does this. I have more of a direct relationship with my clients than I do with my agency and yet I am an not employed by them. When I visit London, I work in the client’s office not the agency’s, which helps put me at the heart of what they do rather than an external skill that they hire in. But how can this be sold on to others in need of professional publishing help?
I’m not sure where this post is going. It’s the start of being honest and getting something out there about what I do and my ever-changing job title. Am I the only one in this embedded, flexi-role position? What do I call this? I don’t think it is content strategist and I don’t think it is web editor. Am I a publishing aide? How do I market this out to people who only understand terms such as copywriter or editorial content director?
I think I’ll send that one out to the universe and wait to see if there are any fish of the same stripe out there who might reply.