Free Advice and Solutions From Colleagues

Online Forums Foster Advice and Solution

The SIPA online editorial forum has been active lately, and that means valuable information. The last question posed was: how do you best test a managing editor for a full-time position? Do you give a writing test and a Myers-Briggs type of test?

To backtrack a second, SIPA has online forums covering the following interest areas: marketing (the most popular), editorial, information technology (IT), conferences, fulfillment/operations, electronic publishing, and large publishers. You can sign up for them here. The solutions, suggestions and experienced opinions that are offered on these forums are—as they say today—priceless. For example, three interesting and different takes quickly came from some well-credentialed members.

“Boy, I can’t imagine any single test to give a managing editor,” said Mike Feazel, executive editor of Warren Communications News. “There are so many very different skills that they have to have—from people skills to judge and manage and motivate a staff, to strong editorial skills to recognize what is a good story, to word editing and layout skills, to the ability to create new products, to the ability to set high standards and stick to them, to good ethics, to the ability to work with marketers and sales people. Wow, the list could go on a long time.

“I can’t imagine any way to do that other than to hire good reporters and then promote from within after they’ve been with you at least a few years.”

Pieter VanBennekom, editorial director for Progressive Business Publications, agreed about the hire-from-within philosophy and added a couple related sides. “We may have a problem here with nomenclature, but our managing editors are experienced people who approve copy from editors. They are supervisors. So we never hire managing editors from the outside. Only experienced editors who have shown that they’re good with people get a chance to become managing editors—and by that time, writing tests are no longer relevant because you’ve seen them in action already as writers for a few years. We do apply personality tests to everyone upon hire (something similar to Myers-Briggs) and know from the beginning whether someone has a typical management profile, but they still have to learn the business from the inside and prove themselves.”

Don Johnston, SVP/group publisher for AHC Media LLC—a group that won several SIPF Awards last year—offered a different view. “I agree in part with what both Pieter and Mike said. I always would prefer to promote from within, but sometimes the smarter move is to bring in some new energy from the outside to shake up your shop, should it need shaking. You have to have an inherent stability to begin with, an assurance that solid content will get posted or printed on time. That makes the move of bringing in a new player less risky. But you may end up with a dynamo that will take your business in a new direction and maybe take some weight off of your shoulders.”

I have been in both positions, as an editor who was promoted from within at the Newspaper Association of America, and as an editor brought in from the outside here at SIPA—and both ways have their merits. At NAA, I knew the system and the people, what had worked and what hadn’t, and could move forward quickly in my new position. But here at SIPA—though needing to learn the history and the people—I have worked hard and enjoyed bringing new ideas, enthusiasm and directions to the position.

Please join—and participate in!—the SIPA online forums as much as possible. The results will be better for both you and your member colleagues.


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