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

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.

  1. May 10, 2011

    Really good post. I love what Patch is trying to do. Thanks @tobymurdock:twitter

    1. Richard Sanders
      May 11, 2011

      Where does this 1:4 ratio coming from? I worked as a Time Inc editor for 23 years, and one editor for only four contributors was a luxury I never witnessed. 1:40 was more like it.

  2. May 11, 2011

    I want to agree with you, since I would love for this model to work. But I was just reading an article about Assignment Zero the other day, as well as a piece by Dan Gillmor about Bayosphere. Time has passed and we have better tools and now than we did then, plus the benefit of lessons learned, but at the same time, I’m a little worried that models that rely so heavily on citizen contributions are basically ignoring what we already know about the pitfalls of trying to do just that. How will this be different?

    1. May 11, 2011


      seems that you’re saying that we advocate a model involving “citizen journalism.” in that case, i did a poor job of explaining what we do.

      we think that PROFESSIONAL journalists / editors always have and always will be the driving force behind media. we think, however, that the real value add in editors is not in sending out the emails to writers reminding them that an assignment is due or in keeping track of payments due other (professional) journalists in a spreadsheet. rather these tasks are administrative minutia that only take editors away from where they truly add value: thinking about their audience and their content.

      so in a world where undeniably the economics of media are under pressure, we want to provide tools to make editors more productive by automating the administrative tasks, allowing them to focus on the value-add. with such productivity gains, editors can go from that 1:4 ratio to a 1:10. but we think that the contributors they manage are paid professionals. that’s why payment management is a big part of our platform.

      thanks for the comment and inquiry. i’d be eager to show you in more detail what our system does and would appreciate your feedback. pls let me know if you’d like to chat (toby ]at[ kapost . com).

  3. seth albaum
    May 11, 2011

    PATCH has ignored my active city of 90,000+ residents, while attempting to entrench themselves in smaller and more affluent communities surrounding it, which are inherently less active, unless you count little leagues, garage sales and police blotters full of barking dog complaints.

    While I don’t understand this strategy, there’s a bright side for me. I run a hyperlocal site there.

  4. Danny Fenster
    May 11, 2011

    I’m more concerned about the capacity to fact-check. We all know “professional journalists” (a title I find of vanishing relevance) can err too. On first thought, I’d be worried about spreading editorial resources too thin, but I’m willing to experiment and see what happens. Wether it’s an editor or an intern (under the supervision of an editor), I’ll be happy with whatever ratio can sustain good fact-checking–the base of any newsroom’s integrity.

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Street Fight Daily: 05.10.11