An editor is not supposed to interject their own voice or agenda into their publication; ostensibly, similar to stage managers or offensive linemen or HR generalists, our job is to stay hidden in the background; like the above professions, the only time anyone takes notice of our work is when we screw up.
An editor finds writers, coaches and coaxes content from them, counsels them past missed deadlines and blocked nights and frantic calls and frenetic PR or product people.
The writer, you see, is king, the byline everything. It’s their writing, after all; the editor has merely done the job of red lining it, ensuring it meets standards and getting the damned thing up in time.
The editor runs the editorial calendar and takes the heat from his publishers and public at the same time; it is generally the former, and not the latter, that tends to skew most content and editorial platforms.
The fact is that the editor works for the publisher, and therefore, much reporting, especially the B2B bullshit that passes as “journalism” in the wonderful world of social media and marketing automation, is designed explicitly with the editor’s patron in mind.
If they have an agenda, or a political view, or a beef (business or personal) with anyone even tangentially related to the editorial focus of their publishing business (and the money men almost always do), then that often overt angle is inevitably represented in the content (or, just as often, the lack thereof) that so many people rely on to shape their personal and professional lives.
Hell, William Randolph Hearst started a war to sell newspapers, just like SHRM Press became the exclusive provider of certification materials for their new proprietary credential. Rupert Murdoch turned a local Aussie tabloid into a global media conglomerate capable of right wing regime change, and LinkedIn’s acquisition of Pulse transformed a “professional network” into a repository of crappy content capable of crass, conspicuous capitalism. The only difference between Page 6 girls and official LinkedIn “Influencers” (get it?) is that the topless models tend to be much less overt in pimping themselves out to the highest bidder.
Keeping The Final Cut.
I am lucky in that, as an editor, my publisher agreed, as a condition of my employment, to give me what’s called “full editorial control,” which is to say, he agrees to fund the operation and set up a Chinese wall between the marketing services and the content sides of the business.
This means, as is obvious, he does not review any of the content prior to its publication, and I get to write about whatever the hell I want to write about while publishing whatever the hell it is I want to publish. This is a very rare, very awesome situation.
This also leaves the door open for me to make like Hearst meets Murdoch meets Reid Hoffman as the editor of what’s become kind of like a journal of record for the recruiting industry. We do really impressive traffic numbers, considering our weird little industry niche; when we publish something, people actually pay attention.
This was never more apparent than a couple weeks back, when a publically traded company worth billions of dollars was forced to issue a press release and official statement denying a post that one of my writers had sourced and I’d fact checked, edited and published. I can’t think of a bigger thrill, frankly, than having the head of PR for the world’s largest staffing firm demand a retraction and public apology, intonating a lawsuit, then having to issue said release because, well, I’ve got to protect my ass and hence, have to have proof before I publish that kind of stuff. But I’ll never make the claim that I’m an actual journalist.
I am, however, a terrible editor. I frequently interject my own voice, and my own agenda, into pretty much everything we post on a platform I’m happy to say is otherwise completely vendor agnostic and entirely objective. While none of our content is explicitly designed to sell product, the fact is that I owe everyone an apology for being something of a perpetrator (or perhaps, a pawn), in what is quickly evolving into an epidemic that should make you sick, too – that is if you’re the rare recruiter that’s got any sense in you.
See, I publish a lot of posts by people like CEOs of shitty startups or recruiting leaders from crappy companies or “thought leaders” who might not have a thought in their head, but at least can be counted on for a nice jump in traffic.
Come to think of it, these “influencers” are the intellectual version of the aforementioned Page 6 girls – “full of sound and glory, and signifying nothing,” as my man Tennyson wrote.
But like the Light Brigade, I’m pretty sure what I’m forced to do, even as I maintain one of the most inherently objective publishing platforms in our industry, may be leading us to our inevitable ruin.
Content, you see, is our collective Crimea.
What I mean by this is simple. While I recognize this is biting the hand that feeds me, I have to believe that my editorial policy, which is to provide equal access for anything with anything interesting to say – vendors included – has given me an indicative window into the fact that the advice that so many of you take as gospel is written by college interns, junior marketing managers and PR account reps with absolutely no experience, and even less insight, into what the hell recruiting or HR pros actually need. I know. I publish far too much of it.
And it’s starting to make me sick.
If You Can’t Write Anything Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All.
I’m often asked how I get to do what I do, and I will admit it, I lead something of a charmed existence, even if it does require implicitly buying into these stupid, specious notions of “thought leadership” and “influence” that I’d much prefer to shit on.
But I’m lucky enough to get to do some cool stuff, and meet some cool people, and actually have enough visibility to kind of help steer the conversation the littlest bit, even if nothing actually changes. The ‘aha’ moment is enough. It has to be enough.
Frustrating as it is, I’ve made a choice not to actually affect any tangible change, since I’ve given up recruiting for merely writing about it long enough ago for me to really lose any claim on being in touch with what’s really going on at a ground level. Instead, I have to live vicariously through the hundreds of practitioners I’m lucky enough to meet, and I’ve listened to hundreds all around the world tell me their frustrations with the present and their hopes for the future of recruiting – and tried, somehow, to impart this career-related collective’s collective will into my unapologetically biased posts.
I have this weird thing that when I write something with my name on it, you know, I have to have actually written it. The very idea of contracting out content – the only thing I really own is my (un)intellectual property – much less take credit for someone else’s work, their thoughts or their writing as my own strikes me as unquestionable. But it seems I’m fairly alone in this sentiment.
The fact is, there are only a handful of us who actually write our own stuff. Most of the most visible and heavily trafficked professional platforms and publishers in our industry are nothing but a bunch of talking heads with paid ghostwriters and publicists who work with editors like me to get their clients “placements,” often at the expense of the audience who largely trusts us to keep them informed and up to date about the stuff that’s supposed to matter in our industry. And those of us who do write our own stuff, well, almost all of us have had to fall out of the frontline to keep the content mill cranking online.
So you shouldn’t listen to people like me, either, although I do maintain that I’m mostly right (and have the track record to prove it, too). Because I’m just kind of guessing, or trying to fill content holes. Just like the PR reps who byline the posts you read on most reputable sites, which are, in fact, nothing but big special advertising sections.
Back to my advice about how to do what I’m doing. Although I’m not sure why anyone would want my existence, frankly, I admit that it looks on the outside at least like a far better job than filling reqs (and actually is, most days). The answer is simple: write.
Happily Ever After.
That’s all you have to do. Write. It doesn’t matter if you’re any good or have anything to say. No one else does.
But if you’re a practitioner, and you’ve got a voice, then it’s really up to you to save the industry from people like me.
Because we’re certainly not doing you any favors, but damned if I can find any contributors, even when you reach out to me to ask how to blow up your social media, online, brand or content marketing presence online.
I always offer – several times a day, at least – my platform to people who want it, under the condition they write something interesting, unbiased and that’s relevant to real recruiters (although hell if I know on the last one, frankly). No real recruiters really ever take me up on this offer, because writing is hard, tweeting is easy, and y’all have a real job to do.
The people who do take me up on that are the CEOs of interesting startups, or the economists working on surveys that some vendor is sponsoring, who promptly pass me off to some marketing flunkie or external PR person for a “guest post” that they obviously wrote, and badly, too.
I spend hours trying to make them serviceable, for what purpose, I don’t know, except maybe the fact there’s enough of this content out there without another completely asinine addition to the canon of crap. And the sense that by publishing these posts, I still have to do a service to my readers, even if most of them are loathe to actually step up and write anything.
My point is, if you’re not happy with the state of recruiting, well, it’s being shaped by assholes with absolutely no idea what the hell they’re talking about, which is a shame, because the people who do generally tend to stay away from any actual conversation (save maybe a few closed Facebook groups). They’d rather defer to the marketers.
Which is why, of course, recruiting and marketing are suddenly the same thing. It’s easier this way when you’re the marketing guy responsible for covering recruiting related topics, you know. And yes, I know this post is too long, and probably doesn’t have much of a point.
But then again, I’m officially an editor, not a writer. Which, by now, should be pretty damned obvious.