What’s the Right Ratio of Editors to Contributors in Hyperlocal?

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Toby Murdock is a guest author. If you’d like to submit a guest post, click here.

What is the right ratio for the number of editors required to manage a number of contributors? And as the economics of content change and hyperlocal publishers try new models, should that ratio change? Must it change?

Matt Marshall, editor of Venture Beat, wrote a post last week about AOL’s prospects. He criticized the recent move by hyperlocal network Patch to recruit another 8,000 contributors as “naive” saying:

It takes at least 20 percent of extra management to organize it all — that is, AOL will need at least 1,500-2000 extra editors to manage the writers, if you take the editor-writer ratio norm of other major news organizations.

A good point. But do we have to accept that overhead ratio of one editor for every four contributors in stone? It has been the model for the past, but hyperlocal media is a new evolution in editorial, one that often includes numerous community voices. Hyperlocal editors need the ability to manage as many community voices as their site can attract, without being bound by 1:4 restrictions. How can they do this?

Undoubtedly there will always be a need for editorial management of contributors. But if you break that down, how much of that management is administrative tasks, and how much of it is the real value-add from editors, i.e. strategizing about audience and what stories are needed; reviewing and revising posts?

In our discussions with editorial teams, a good amount of that is administration: tracking editorial calendars, figuring out payment, etc. Productivity gains consistently come through technology that automates repeatable tasks such as these. Which is just what Kapost’s online newsrooms do.

Kapost puts the process of content creation into an online platform. Contributors file pitches into the application. Editors hand out assignments and arrange editorial calendars. Drafts of posts flow through this process and are published into the site’s CMS with one-click (the system is pre-integrated with all major CMS packages). Post-production, Kapost manages payment (tracking how much is owed and distributing payments thorugh PayPal) and tracks how individual contributors are performing.

Publishers are now implementing an aggressive content model, with large numbers of (often external and distributed) contributors all producing high volumes of content. And in this model, there are often fewer editors to manage this more extensive operation. Kapost enables this model to work by automating the administrative components of the operation, saving time for editors and allowing them to focus on their audience and their content.

So Matt Marshall has a point, but only if the publishing process doesn’t evolve. Kapost has numerous customers with a 1:10 editor to contributor ratio. We salute Patch for striving to innovate around content production. As hyperlocal looks for a path to a successful future, innovation is what it needs. And we stand ready to help all publishers (including Patch) looking to make that happen.

Toby Murdock is co-founder and CEO of Kapost, a web service providing online newsrooms for publishers.