The Value of the Editor in a Social Media World

by Dan Blank on November 11, 2006

Time magazine is making some changes. Time’s publisher, Edward R. McCarrick descibes the moves this way:

“We’re doing something really bold and direct, which is throwing down the gauntlet.”

Jeff Jarvis is, of course, not enthusiastic about these changes at the magazine. He states:

“I think that general-interest magazines may well be fated to fade away. General-interest anything is probably cursed. For the truth is that interest never was as general editors and publishers thought it was, back in the mass-media age. Old media just assumed we were interested in what they told us to be interested in. But we weren’t. We’re proving that with every new choice the internet enables.”

I am having a hard time embracing either side of this fully, and I don’t agree with Jeff’s statement about the value of editors in a general-interest role.

True, social media, digital media, and search have allowed the average person to easily find articles and media that are targeted to their needs, without the need for a middleman – or editor. However, people like being a part of something larger than themselves.

Could I replicate the New Yorker’s content each month via searches I conducted? Of course not. By reading a magazine with content chose by an editor, are they “setting my agenda?” No, they are not. They are exposing me to stories I would not likely have chosen on my own, but end up loving.

I went to two colleges. The first was a small school in a remote area. There were so few students, and there was so little to do, that you simply became friends with anyone and anyone, no matter their personal interests or clique.

Later, I transfered to a much larger university. With so many students and so much choice, groups of friends became monosyllabic: “punk” or “jock” or “egghead” or whatever. Everyone hung out with people who looked, talked, and acted exactly as they did.

Communities that offer more than this are essential. Being exposed to new ideas as decided by others is not a limiting factor – more often than not, it helps us grow.

Like Jeff, I am enjoying the massive changes happening online and with media. However, I don’t feel that I need to ‘dis the previous generation of media professionals in order to embrace the opportunities now available to us.

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