Two months ago I was approached with a significant career prospect. To become the editor of a leading fashion magazine, a publication shaped by an exemplary editor who had given me my first job in fashion over a decade ago. The decision not to pursue the opportunity was largely influenced by the magazine’s digital plans. I had veered off print and plunged into digital publishing around 2009 when the opportunity to edit the Mumbai edition of CNN’s new start-up travel website came my way.
We were six city editors — working from home — and reporting to the network’s Asia headquarters in Hong Kong. For three years my office was a Skype chat room and from there I built CNNGo Mumbai’s content and writer database bricklaying one post at a time while learning the basics of digital publishing. Effectively, turning myself into a one-woman humanoid content production unit. I pumped the voracious website with short and medium form content multiple times daily, I wrote and commissioned daily.
As editors we kept away from analytics, marketing, ad sales and focused exclusively on building a voice and brand. In this respect, the website succeeded in gaining a personality which stood out: the primary goal of digital publishing. Once locals gave CNNGo their stamp of approval, travelers — the target group — were not far behind.
The online game, as I see it, is about knowing what’s next and being the first to share it.
There are some subjects that sync particularly well with publishing in the digital medium. Travel is one, up-to-the-minute guides can only exist online. Music is another. But fashion? How would the world of elaborate shoots, glossy double-spreads and often false images of perfection gel once they came into contact with a much faster production cycle? Mainstream fashion and lifestyle is about trend spotting, following and forecasting.
As the current digital editor of Vogue India our brand promises is: Before it’s in fashion, it’s in Vogue. The online game, as I see it, is about knowing what’s next and being the first to share it. To be the first to publish fashion, beauty, lifestyle news and trends, to listen to what readers are interested in, to provide sexy real-time and post coverage of events, to spotlight talent by providing opinion, context, analysis and insight while entertaining in style and being fast about it — that’s the day-to-day job of a digital editor in fashion and her team.
But what happens behind the front-end? Behind whatever device and platform you are reading this article on right now — your mobile phone, iPad, laptop browser, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or app? What does it take to get content up in all these places sometimes simultaneously, sometimes strategically, down to the hour of the day you’re most likely to be on one of these platforms? The only way to do it is to grab some tools, get connected, open your mind and dissolve into the digital layer of our world. Once you familiarize yourself with the new language you begin to see how online publishing is a great learning ground for the basics of survival in today’s digital business environment.
Here are five foundational lessons I’ve learned:
Lesson 1: Hurry up, fast
To embrace digital is to get a publishing tool in your hand and just go with it. In January when Twitter released their Vine video app that produces the video equivalent of a Tweet in a 6-second looping video, I took it to the front row at fashion week in Delhi and edited runway looks for some real-time trend spotting. This instantly improved our audience’s view of live runway and event coverage, at negligible cost.
That day, our goal was to post one single picture of her (Aaradhya Bachchan) before superhero blogger Miss Malini could
Obviously, interest in fashion week content peaks while the week is still on. It is critical to capture this time span. With a lean two member video production team I produce and publish a quality 5-part video series right in the middle of fashion week. For six days we film all day, edit all night and compress a day’s worth of interviews and content into three minutes to publish on multiple platforms, all within 24 hours. It’s marathon publishing and requires intellectual and physical stamina. No heels. Barely any parties. But the front row seat is worth it.
When celebrity toddler Aaradhya Bachchan was spotted at the airport returning from her parents’ honeymoon in April wearing leopard printed tights and a matching scarf, that day our goal was to post one single picture of her before superhero blogger MissMalini could. Score! Two hundred people share this image on Facebook alone and off it went. To do this we had to be closely synced with our photographer and his set up. Learning to hurry up fast and figure it out as you go is essential in today’s digital business environment. A new format idea has a maximum advantage period of a month before someone else starts adopting it too. There is no time to perfect and trial.
Lesson 2: Drop perfection, pick tools
To make sure every hyperlink, tag, search engine optimized keyword is in place is tedious business. To make sure image dimensions, resolutions, file sizes and naming conventions are exact is tedious business. Content Management Systems are notoriously cranky, heavy sized articles can stall the system. Indian 3G networks fail when you’re publishing on-the-go. New apps can be buggy.
Get the right tools to help in the war against email — the most anti-collaborative form of digital communication that exists today.
A perfect online article — in terms of content, SEO value, timing and promotion — is a rare thing and nothing teaches you let go (and keep trying) faster than digital publishing. Be patient until technology catches up to make as many publishing processes computerized, more intuitive and more stable. Get the right tools to help in the war against email — the most anti-collaborative form of digital communication that exists today.
Use free online collaborative tools such as Skype, Google Docs, Evernote and Dropbox instead. Purchase a good analytics tool to make sense of user data and let a feed reader such as Feedly (Google Reader is being discontinued from July) save you buckets of time. These tools are free! But at the same time owners must understand that the investment in hardware, software and tech personnel are critical to whether an editor will succeed or fail from frustration.
Lesson 3: Share, curate, collaborate
Original content is important. But more content is more important for audience retention. One of the best ways to increase content is to be able to collaborate without contracts. Use your platform to collaborate with unestablished bloggers, writers and photographers who are willing and keen to share their content. Share articles, share audiences and link back in good faith. Content curation is another source, also known as re-blogging, which is republishing a snippet from another source, but giving it your own spin and linking back. This is a common and very popular online practice.
One of the best ways to increase content is to be able to collaborate without contracts.
Structure your team loosely to be able to handle this influx of material. Silos and departmental divisions slow things down. From the editor to the editorial assistant train all to write, copy edit, edit images, upload and take to social media for any content piece on any platform. With ultra flexible, multi-talented multi-taskers the considerable pressure of producing daily content spreads more evenly across human resources.
Lesson 4: Laptop-based gigs are the best
Given a level of maturity in the editorial team it is entirely conceivable that one might run one’s publishing business remotely. Not from a beach but possibly a home or another country. I research all my news online via slick feed readers and social media aggregators with ultra attractive interfaces. Copy is fed into user-friendly content management systems ready for line editing and publishing remotely or on-the-go.
Well-paid, trusted freelancers rather than full-time employees spells more freedom, more flexibility, less management.
We will distinguish ourselves as being the first generation to be able to define ourselves with multiple career callings. The time saved by face-to-face online conferencing instead of physically commuting enables us to do more, not from one place but from one computer. I could be digital editor, writer, stylist and creative consultant for apps.
While my hobbies (astrology, Theta healing, Ayurveda) could flourish in the micro-blogging environment waiting to be turned into a business(es) at any moment. Because others are similarly set-up, freelance collaboration on a project-to-project basis can become the way forward. Well-paid, trusted freelancers rather than full-time employees spells more freedom, more flexibility, less management. Because changes in technology and trends in publishing are so rapid a light, adaptive workforce which you can switch based on project requirements works better.
Lesson 5: Modern modalities
In my twenties I put in time, hard work and studied the art of discipline the old-school way. I signed the office register. In my thirties I retain those qualities but am after job satisfaction and a higher level of flexibility. Working in digital publishing opens up modalities for life which show me that there is another way and more importantly, how it works. From the window of my computer I can see the possibility of aligning the personal with the professional, keeping various work and play streams going while grasping freedom and life outside an office chair where the previous generation lived and died.
Sita Wadhwani is the former digital editor of Vogue.in