Editorial Optimization: Fixing Hiring Mistakes
Originally published on LinkedIn
Part of my job as a new EiC joining a media outlet is to scan for mistakes that need to be fixed immediately before an upgrade plan is laid. A core element, of course, is the human foundation. In almost all cases there is always someone with the wrong job description and someone who needs to leave. While everyone gets shocked by the bluntness of the latter, read on before you judge. While I never claim to be a human resource expert of any kind; I, however, have made so many hiring mistakes and have struck enough gold to be able to read journalists, writers, and editors like a German manual. Amending job descriptions almost always optimizes production overnight. Here are a few things to look for in your already-hired team:
1) Experienced editors don’t make the best proofreaders, people with OCD do. A well-written article or report goes through several standard editorial check-rounds: structure soundness, completeness, smooth delivery of message, actual editing, and final review. No matter how many experienced editors work on a document, after several editorial rounds most editors will not be able to see minor errors. Here is where a junior who keeps the rulers on his desk perfectly horizontal comes in. We all have someone at the office who keeps raising mundane issues with the text. This is the perfect person to stamp the seal of quality on the team’s output. One of my primary examples was a junior database researcher, she kept emailing me about percentages in our news pieces adding up to only 99.7%, which required lengthy revisions to find the missing 0.3%. After spotting two such errors in under a week, she was made in charge of the final fact-check round of all our content production. Another example was a reporter who would go into full tantrums over a missing comma. It took one raving episode, and two tests to realize that he had the wrong job. It often took him more than a month to complete an assignment, but it always took him a few minutes to spot issues with written text. He was immediately promoted to copy-editor (an editor who amends language and accuracy but not content, information, or structure).
2) Review past experience, credentials, and current job description: HR managers, at no fault, often fill vacant positions with the best possible candidate. Completely overlooking the candidate’s ability to benefit the company more in an un-vacant job, or in some cases a non-existing job. One of my favorite economic researchers was working on news production when I first met her. She was barely contributing features to the publication, regardless of her pursuit of a PhD in economics at the time. The moment she was fully shifted towards in-depth analytical pieces overall-feedback for the magazine improved. In some cases, her contribution was singled-out in a discussion. Not only that, but passion was fostered in a writer that we could have easily lost to a better offer. In case you were wondering about the gap created by the change, it was covered by shifting a journalist who was exceptional at spotting news, but within average parameters in terms of preparing features. We ended up with two happy team members, instead of one.
3) The creative diamond in the rough (pun intended): We all worked–at one point–with the writer who writes three paragraphs to explain that an announcement was made at the right time. Any editor will have tales on their difficult pursuit of fitting a free-creative writer into the dry demands of a proper journalistic piece. This is when event coverage, PR pieces, travel pieces, and advertorials come in. If you work in a media platform that hosts heaps of events and attends even more, then designate the creative sole in your team to handle all the coverage. This frees up other journalists to purist cutting-edge pieces, cuts your editorial work with said writer in half, and only partially limits the creative needs of the free-spirit in your team.
4) Fixing a mistake the hard way: Sometimes, unfortunately, you join a team with unfixable-baggage. While, I have never fired, asked to fire, or encouraged someone to leave a job after I join a new team, the moment we begin optimizing workflow all employees with a red-cross on their heads tend to leave. A good system does not allow bad fruit to exist. One example is from my current establishment, when I first joined there was a journalist who showed up late, produced below-mediocre material, and even tried to trick me to issue false expenses (as I am guessing he did successfully before). It only took me setting a 9 am check-in time, asking for an unbiased rewrite of a feature, and an accurate justification for an expense for him to quit. Same happened with my previous job, a writer was asked to submit her work according to proper journalistic guidelines and more efficient deadlines and she quit overnight. Optimizing a system has more benefits than a manager’s mere improvement-driven actions, the moment a team notices any positive changes their spirit, passion, and need to create moves the media platform leaps ahead. One final note, no matter how great a team is, a bad environment riddled with limitations and issues only produces two things: 9-to-5 employees and growers waiting to leave.