The Winter of my Content

I get calls in August about participating in September print content. Well-meaning PR kids trying to get clients covered in a feature article they hear we've got coming call when the issue is already complete. Why do I assume they are kids? Because we old-timey publishing folks think in terms of lead time: We always think a couple of months in advance. I'm more likely to have trouble remembering what month it actually is than the fact that I'm working on my October column right now, just finished editing October news, am editing November features, and am voting on the December EContent 100 list. In two weeks I’ll be ready to wish everyone a happy new year.

Deep into my winter content, I am actually surprised to look up and find a bright summer August day outside.

However, kids who took keyboarding class in elementary school (as opposed to typing class in middle school) think in web-time and I can't blame them. They function under the assumption that content is almost immediately available, even young professionals with journalism or communications degrees. Your average entry-level PR or marketing person (or magazine employee) suffers serious shock when confronted with the reality of lead time: You mean the stuff I'm reading in [magazine name here] is more than a month old? Uh, ya, in fact it may be two or three months old.

While I admit I find it amusing (okay, sometimes annoying) when I get the baffled last-minute pitch calls--and explain about that whole printing process thingy, which takes a couple of weeks all on its own. I have been as guilty of assuming everyone knows about the machinations of publishing as these publishing whippersnappers are of assuming that everything happens in real time.

At the American Society of Business Publication Editors' (ASBPE) National Editors Conference this August, I assumed I would be among my own and that we'd all be on much the same page. Glancing around the room, my feelings were superficially confirmed, as only a handful of attendees looked under 30. Yet as the first day's sessions—which focused in large part on digital content issues—began to unfold, I realized that I'd made some erroneous assumptions.

You see, I figured that there wasn't a publication today that doesn't use a content management system of some kind. Ours here at EContent isn't state of the art, but it allows us to post content as soon as we create it; it lets us nimbly make corrections and link to related content; it allows us to generally classify content to help readers (and advertisers) drill down into subject areas of interest; and it enables us to create digital newsletters and do custom content blasts.

In fact, I'd assumed that we were at the low-tech end of things because as the editor of EContent, I'm exposed to the all of the leading and latest tools and suffer from near-constant tech-envy. Yet by the time I took the podium for my talk, the last session of the day, I realized I needed to backpedal on what I'd planned to say and preface it with some background on what digital content tools can enable before discussing the ethical dilemmas they raise for editors.

It would have been hard to tackle the subject of moderating negative comments on your site, for example, without everyone knowing that publishing-centric content management tools generally provide the option of editor alerts to site updates. Many of those in the room (from some pretty impressive publishing firms) use rudimentary CMS at best, and some still rely on the IT-guy-HTML-hard coding approach. Still others clearly had little web-presence to speak of, short of a subscription mechanism and the phone numbers for customer service.

Without doubt, if I am now employing digital natives, and their PR counterparts are pitching me excellent ideas from leading industry names, publishing has got some catching up to do. So while we may not have the latest and greatest tools to put to work at our office, this is still good news for EContent magazine, as there are clearly a great many problems to be solved in terms of tightening print lead time by leveraging emerging tools as well as in developing strategies for satisfying instant-gratification content expectations.