Who needs editors?

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Graphic shows results of the Morning Consult poll.

A Morning Consult poll out today says readers believe they should assume more authority from editors in deciding what news is shown on traditional media.

The poll is an outgrowth of revelations that the Facebook “trending news” feed has been manipulated by people who have suppressed conservative opinions. It takes the issue a step further by asking readers who should decide what news is shown on traditional news outlets.

As a former news editor, I would say the “correct” answer is that editors make news decisions based on reader input. Only a quarter think that’s currently the case and only a third believe it’s the way it should be.

I wonder if opinions would change if readers knew the full service provided by editors. This Morning Consult poll asks who should decide what news is “shown.” News judgment in traditional media starts way upstream from “showing” the news: reporters decide who to talk to and what leads to follow; reporter/editors decide what stories to write and what angle will best appeal to readers; editors review the reporter’s work for clarity, accuracy, and fairness; THEN editors decide what to “show” — its position in relation to other news stories, its headline, the media channels it will be distributed through, etc.

As a reader, do you want to do all that work? And if you’re willing to let someone else do it, wouldn’t you trust someone who’s at least trying to be an unbiased arbiter, rather than someone with a vested interest in convincing you?

To be sure, editors have earned the low opinion readers apparently have of them. They have reacted to the tumult in the media industry by going to extremes: either letting pop culture lead them around by the nose or dismissing reader criticism as “uninformed.” As the sources of editor paychecks have dwindled, the quality of editing has suffered.

I’m an optimist. I think most readers do want the services of editors. The media economic system is completely disrupted and is still in search of viability. Nature abhors a vacuum, and I believe we will wind up with the media sources that we need AND want.

In the meantime, I hope the echo chambers that are thriving in the vacuum do not become the status quo.

Steve is sole proprietor of Connected Communication, LLC, a consultancy that helps organizations develop integrated PR, communication, and marketing programs. His particular expertise is in the health industry, including insurance, health delivery systems, and digital health. Steve also is professor of public relations and journalism at Metro State University of Denver.


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