Hiring in the Digital Age: The Transition from Vertical to Horizontal Job Descriptions Is One of the Most Profound Changes

By Cohn, Bob | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Hiring in the Digital Age: The Transition from Vertical to Horizontal Job Descriptions Is One of the Most Profound Changes


Cohn, Bob, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


Not so long ago, magazine and newspaper editors knew exactly what they were looking for when hiring young journalists. Certain jobs called for certain skills: Reporters had to report, researchers had to research, designers had to design.

These days, things are more complicated. Most of the new jobs in journalism are on the digital side, where a broader and somewhat different set of skills is required than we print hires possessed a generation or two ago. What editors need now is a new breed of journalist.

Over the last few years at The Atlantic, I've played a part in hiring several dozen young digital journalists--into new jobs, thanks to our web expansion, or into open slots created by departing employees. (We have, of course, brought on lots of experienced journalists, too.) What we're looking for, I've come to realize, is people who can do a bit of everything: report and write stories; write headlines and deks; select and crop photos; fact check and copy edit the work of others; make charts and graphs; oversee social media; manage outside writers. (And hey, can you do some coding?)

The upshot: Today, everyone is an editor-in-chief.

This transition from vertical job descriptions to horizontal job descriptions is perhaps the most profound change in newsrooms that are full of change. I can't say whether this is a sign of trouble or triumph for journalism. Probably both. But it is definitely a matter of fact.

SPEED, VOLUME, ACCURACY

As an industry, we've come to the point where we are asking a lot of relatively inexperienced twenty-somethings, perhaps too much. The range of duties, combined with the need for speed, can lead to mistakes. But my sense is that there's no going back. The new platforms and the new business environment demand a shift from more genteel times. The good news is that as much as we expect of these new hires, it's been my experience that they can do the work. There's a surprising amount of talent and energy and sophistication out there.

Finding this talent marries traditional recruiting methods with an eye toward the new realities. …

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