How can I streamline editorial production?
January 24, 2008 7:53 AM   Subscribe

How should I improve the our small publication’s production schedule/process?

Context: I’m the managing editor of a web-based book review publication. We have a tiny dedicated staff – myself, the ed-in-chief, and one dedicated admin person who handles things like contributor invoices, review copy requests, and maintains the calendar etc.

We’re part of a larger company, so I don’t have to manage the tech aspect of this, instead drawing on our production department and art department here to get things actually published live. Our company has a CMS that I use to enter all of our editorial content; not perfect, but workable. We publish new material almost daily, so it’s a challenge to manage the process and keep on top of things.

I’m essentially the bottleneck. Along with my boss I make assignments, look for good subjects to review, recruit contributors, and edit pieces as they come in (we share these duties, with him taking more of the first three, but it’s not hard-and-fast on that). I also do more nitty-gritty line edits and enter everything in the system to be published. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: making sure we’ve got art (special process for that), re-evaluating/updating calendar and rejiggering as problems emerge, and working on improving the whole thing. The admin person is a help but new to much of this and is still learning the ropes.

As am I, really. I’m using GTD to help me get my personal house in order, organizationally, but the issue is our overall system: I’m looking for a methodology AND recommendations for applications to help manage this. Ideally, a single system that captures and records assignments, deadlines, pub dates (with affiliated information about the actual subjects for the pieces) and matches them with contributor info/editorial responsibilities/action items would be ideal. If it can’t all come out of one application, then a smooth partnership between a couple of applications is fine.

Right now, we’re working out of basic spreadsheet and word docs. It’s manageable, but there’s a lot of redundancy and inefficiency. If you’ve wrestled with these issues, or work with an application/process that renders them manageable, I’d love to hear about it. And general advice about managing a small (but frequently updated) publication would not be amiss.

FYI: It’s a networked PC environment here, so Mac-only apps are no help.
posted by BT to Work & Money (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The editor of my neighborhood association's newsletter set us up with Basecamp to manage deadlines, list out & assign topics, etc. There are three or four of us regularly working on the newsletter, and it seems to work pretty well for us. We use the free level, since we only have the one project, although I wouldn't mind access to more Writeboards.
posted by epersonae at 9:00 AM on January 24, 2008

Best answer: As far as applications, I don't have much advice on that front, except to say that the above-linked Basecamp looks pretty good.

However, I do work in the advertising department of a fairly large newspaper. So the advice here is only generalized, being that we have a lot more resources and people. I work as a coordinator in the department. The coordinator is the traffic person. One thing that is crucial is to manage traffic, and having someone dedicated to that is a good thing. The application software you are hoping to find is one important aspect. But a traffic person can make everything so much more efficient.

Having some simple guidelines to be met for every project, and someone who is in charge of gathering this info and tracking progress can help make things so much more efficient. For example, the admin person might take on the tracking duties in addition to other responsibilites. As they are already managing the calendar, they're already part way there anyway. If one of you needs to know were a project is, the traffic person can tell you. "Let's see... the 'Basketweaving for Paraplegics' review has had the copy set and proofread; it needs some corrections. We're just waiting on the art and final copy corrections and then it will be ready to enter for publishing." The traffic person will chase down things that are needed. For example, they'll be the one hounding the art department for the art you requested, or calling the contributors and finding out where the review they promised is. This person also priortizes your work, so that you're working on what you need to work on. So if you've got Book Review A on hold, and you're working on Book Review B, they will notify you when Review A is ready to finish. This way you work on the projects that need attention first, but that you can work on other projects while the traffic person chases down what you need to finish projects that are on hold.

In short, have one person handle the project tracking and also chase things down for the other two of you. This way responsibilities can be defined better and you and the editor-in-chief can concentrate on the product. It may or may not be a workable idea for you, but it's been essential for us to track 1000+ ads per week from start to completion.
posted by azpenguin at 9:16 AM on January 24, 2008

Response by poster: Both helpful, and I'll look hard at Basecamp. Another way of thinking about the software part of my question. I want one place to enter some data (such as
author/title/pubdate/reviewer/duedate/article type/status/related info) and a resulting calendar and (if possible) list or alert-set of action items.

azpenguin, your advice about the tracking responsibility is well taken. I'm trying to get there, but have the disadvantage of having an admin person a little too green to take the whole bushel on to her shoulders, so I've tried to find responsibilities for her that she can handle. But it means there's no one person "tracking" all the due items, which I admit is a drawback.
posted by BT at 12:41 PM on January 24, 2008

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