Reuters Editor-in-Chief: Think Like a Publisher

by Jennifer Jett (MJ 2011)

Journalists must adapt to changes in the industry by providing more analysis and considering the needs of their audience, said David Schlesinger, Editor-in-Chief of Reuters News at Thomson Reuters.

David Schlesinger at HKU

Schlesinger spoke as part of the JMSC’s Industry Talks at The University of Hong Kong on Friday, October 15, 2010.

The talks are an ongoing series in which representatives of leading news organisations and media employers discuss the current media market and the future of journalism.

The news business today is less about delivering straight facts than providing insight and actionable information, Schlesinger told JMSC faculty and students.

“That’s why this is the age of the publisher,” he said. “Journalists who understand this will survive. Those who don’t will be irrelevant.”

The publishing ethos is defined not by the number of stories published, Schlesinger said, but by the ability to capture users’ attention and keep them coming back.

This kind of journalism has three pillars, Schlesinger said: journalistic excellence, presentation and utility to the client.

Journalistic excellence includes traditional breaking news and exclusive reports. But when users can easily find basic information online, Schlesinger said, news organizations have to go beyond the facts. Journalists have to provide insight, interpretation and cutting-edge commentary that set them apart from the competition while remaining true to journalistic principles.

Just as important as the information is an eye-catching, attractive presentation, Schlesinger said.

“You have to use presentation to suck people in,” he said. “You have to focus on the package, not the individual element.”

David Schlesinger talking to JMSC students and staff

Finally, news organisations must provide value-added information that is easy to find through online searches. Rather than constantly churning out “just-the-facts” news stories, journalists should write stories that have a lasting impact, Schlesinger said. This requires narrowing their focus to a particular audience and understanding their interests and habits. This is not an easy change for a large wire service like Reuters, he said.

Schlesinger encouraged JMSC students to think of themselves as individual brands.

“You’re nothing without your own brand,” he said. “You have to establish yourself, what you stand for, your expertise.”

In order to be competitive in the job market, journalists must specialise, whether it’s in a foreign language, a specific area of reporting, or a certain region or academic subject. Interesting Facebook and Twitter feeds can also make a journalist stand out.

“Take some risks as well,” Schlesinger said. “It’s the new angles and the new stories that will help distinguish you.”

Schlesinger first joined Reuters in 1987 as a Hong Kong correspondent. From 1989 to 1995, he ran Reuters editorial operations in Taiwan, China and the Greater China region. He later moved to New York to serve as Financial Editor, Managing Editor for the Americas and Executive Vice President and Editor of the Americas.

Prior to becoming Editor-in-Chief of Reuters News in January 2007, he was the company’s Global Managing Editor for three years.

Schlesinger is on the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists and is active in the World Economic Forum as a member of the International Media Council and the China Agenda Council.