In My Opinion: Craig McGill: What might the perfect digital team look like in a newspaper newsroom?

WHAT makes up the perfect digital team for a newsroom? It has been argued that all staff should be able to write, take pictures and shoot/edit video and there is certainly a case for that being the way of the future. But just now, in this transitional decade in the Scottish Media, what sort of specialists or skillsets should be complementing the reporters bringing in the content?

I’ve recently argued that all is not yet lost for digital to be profitable in the Scottish Press and how management should be taking the lead. But what if a paper could build a team in this transition period while writers learn to shoot and edit, photographers learn to film and so on?

Here’s what a forward-looking team should have elements of:

A digital editor

You need someone able to argue the fight at the top level, be going into conference, be acting as the digital vanguard in the office, helping others, keeping on top of everything and spotting any opportunities that might be going into print that could adapt well to online or vice-versa.

Someone who can go about analytics packages and point out what content is driving traffic and links and what isn’t.

Search Engine Optimisation/Pay Per Click (advertising) person

One of the harder roles in any team. Yes, every journalist should be knowing the keywords that they are putting into stories to make sure they are found but a SEO specialist should be on hand to help make sure the stores are optimised, the pages are optimised and everything is as good as can be for stories to be found via Google, Bing and social media networks if there is investment on them.

Digital graphics person

The rise of infographics has been huge and there’s incredible potential in the field. This could be a role for a journalist providing information to a designer or a designer off finding material by themselves. And before anyone says only USA Today does infographics, here’s one from the Caledonian Mercury last week.

Video editor

Yes, shooting video is important but a good editor is even more important as people are wanting more from their media than just straightforward talking head shots. So, if there’ someone there who can be the video equivalent of a sub-editor, then all the better.

Video cameraperson

When budgets are tight, this might be the same person as the video editor above but preferably not, for the same reason reporters don’t sub their own copy and video editing/shooting is a time-consuming gig. Until all the staff are super-trained in all areas, someone needs to go out and get video.

Social Media person

Someone who can go out online and find the right communities to promote the stories to. It’s not enough to post links out on your own Twitter and Facebook feeds. Go out to the relevant groups and niche networks, get them to come to your sites. Also, see what’s trending online each day and mine your old content to give it fresh legs. Tell the newsdesk what the ‘web is talking about’ so you can tap into the traffic. If the demand is there, you may even want one for sports, one for news, politics and so on. It also helps if this person is well versed in the art of rewriting material or presenting it as emotive ‘linkbait’ that gets people riled into sharing or commenting.

Advertising person

Someone who can sell the site and bring in the money. Not just through advertising, but also affiliate links and other tactics.

Data mining journalists

Not so much a new role, more an extension of the investigative journalist specialist role of old. But you want reporters who can sift through material quickly.


Essential. People who can make sure it all works behind the scenes. RSS feeds for all the reporters, links all working well, perhaps even tinkering with the mobile apps? Without people looking after the code, you’re setting up problems.

Where’s the content?

That’s already coming in from the reporters. If bringing in online-only reporters through this interim time, they need to be skilled in reporting quickly and accurately. Failing that, it’s just as well to train up reporters in using Twitter and other tools alongside what they already have. Or you have a reporter or two there for when things break quickly. A celebrity dies? Get the biog and content up quickly. Be first and be shared the most.

As newsrooms evolve, so will job titles and responsibilities. All reporters will have a bit of SEO knowledge, they’ll see the traffic for their own stories, what keywords and trending items are relevant to their fields, they’ll be able to shoot film and pictures as well as type across platforms – stories for Twitter, Facebook, infographics, Storify and so on.

Subs will help with keywords for stories as well as keeping the copy tight for maximum SEO benefit. But we aren’t there yet in Scotland and, even when we are, there will still be a need for the specialists to help out the generalists. It’s an exciting time.

Many still see online as something that’s a threat and it isn’t. Scottish journalists are among the best in the world at the key role – getting the story. The online world lives by demanding fresh content, so that part is covered. All that’s needed are people to help with the supplementary roles in getting that content out in new ways to new audiences.

Craig McGill has written for – or been a member of staff at – TIME Magazine, The Guardian, Daily Mirror, The Scotsman, Evening Times, The Press & Journal, The Sun and Evening Times. An author of four non-fiction books, he has been recently appointed a lecturer in ‘cross-platform journalism’ at Edinburgh Napier University.