I’ve been giving some thought recently to the online equivalent of the magazine production desk.
We've done a lot of work with our writers over the past couple of years, helping them to transform themselves into digital journalists. And there is a reasonably clear digital migration path for our art editors/designers, taking responsibility for the look-and-feel and usability of our websites. But so far we haven't talked very much about the future for the people who work on our production desks.
In the print world these are the people who process/check/improve individual lumps of content (articles, headlines, images, captions etc) and combine them to create compelling, effective pages. They are the custodians of quality and consistency on our magazines and they have a huge impact on the overall package presented to readers.
We already have people doing things on our websites that fall into the same sort of category. As well as editing copy, we have people editing video, aggregating feeds, uploading podcasts, updating “slots” on home pages, tweaking HTML and embedding widgets.
As we migrate our websites onto our new EPiServer web platform these people will also start to make incremental, day-to-day changes to page layouts, moving and adding elements to optimise site performance, with one eye on the latest site metrics to guide them.
As in print, these skills won’t necessarily be spread evenly across the production team. Larger magazine production desks are usually made up of specialists, with dedicated copy subs, layout artists, picture editors and graphic artists. In small editorial teams it is much more common to have multi-skilled layout-subs who can do a competent job subbing copy, laying out templated pages, polishing images and turning out simple (and sometimes not so simple) charts and graphics.
I would expect to see the same sort of differences between large and small web production teams, but with a greater tendency to have at least some specialisation, given the wider range of skills required to process the broad range of online content types. For the more technical skills, it makes sense to have at least some of these roles shared across sites.
One of the challenges now is to help today's magazine production staff to make the transition to these new online roles. For publishers, it will take a committment to providing the training and the space to learn these new skills. For production desk staff it will take a genuine willingness to re-learn their craft, sometimes giving up cherished roles and practices.
It won't be easy, but the prize on offer is a much richer set of web production roles, with the scope to be creative and inventive on a bigger canvas, with a far bigger bag of tools.
And the alternative is probably to work on an ever-shrinking print production desk, with a CV that looks increasingly hard to sell.