When is an editor not an editor?

Job titles can be tricky things – especially when their ambiguity causes confusion

Like an 11th Century monarch facing an uprising of unruly barons, I've been having a little trouble with titles recently. Coming from a technology background, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with startups who give their executives “trendy” official job names like “chief ninja” or “marketing rock star” – and even one PR whose memorable title was “head unicorn wrangler” – but while these may look great on a business card, they usually don’t give me the slightest clue what they actually do on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve been finding myself on the other side of that recently, however, albeit for slightly different reasons. My official job title, as both my LinkedIn profile and the image at the top of this article will attest, is “editor”. In the world of journalism, that’s usually pretty straightforward; it’s the person in charge of managing a particular publication, deciding what content to publish and how it should look. 

This hits a bit of a beehive, I’ve learned, when it intersects with podcasting. In the world of podcasts, “editor” is a role with slightly different connotations, one that’s generally more focused on the nuts and bolts of audio production, deciding what bits to trim out of a recording and so on. In theory, the two functions aren’t all that different on a conceptual level – aside from the trifling fact that one’s cutting out words and the other works with audio – but it can often lead to confusion.

For example, while I’m the editor of PodPod as a brand, we also have a separate producer for PodPod as a podcast (the wonderful Emma Corsham), and on a number of occasions, we’ve had guests express confusion regarding the difference between the two, and who does what, particularly when it comes to who’s managing the actual recording.

Of course, the last thing I want to do is step on Emma’s toes, but I also can’t just spontaneously change my job title. I’m reliably informed that HR departments tend to frown on that sort of behaviour, for some reason. Instead, I have to spend a not inconsequential amount of time patiently explaining to guests and contacts what it is I actually do.

If you’re subscribed to Fresh Air CEO Neil Cowling’s excellent weekly newsletter (and why wouldn’t you be), you’ll have seen him refer to the company’s director of marketing and growth Richard Blake as “Director of Pressing Send on the Email”. This amusing sobriquet, while somewhat facetious, actually does a pretty good job of making Richard’s actual role and responsibilities within the organisation abundantly clear – something that can’t always be said about my own.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’m alone in this; after talking to a number of producers, there seems to be an equally diverse range of functions that title can apply to. Some, like Emma, are mainly involved in the recording and editing side (although she’s also an invaluable part of the editorial strategy process), while others focus more on wrangling guests, arranging recording times and planning episode content. PodPod is also lucky to have access to Haymarket’s studio manager Nav Pal, who is a fountain of technical knowledge.

A podcast producer could be doing any combination of booking guests, scripting, recording, editing, uploading episodes – or even none of the above. In Emma’s words, the biggest thing that defines a producer is simply calling yourself a producer. 

“It's a word that means so many different things to so many different people, and that's before you reach across to television - which, because of the increasing number of TV shows accompanying podcasts, happens more and more,” she says.

The simple answer to solving this challenge would be to make job titles more specific and prescriptive – referring to people as ‘recording producers’ and ‘managing producers’, for example – but this gets into slightly tricky territory with those who fill multiple cross-functional roles. The reality is that this may just be something that we all have to live with, and I’ll just have to get used to the idea of explaining what I do on a more regular basis. 

With that being said, on the off-chance that we do all decide to switch up our official job titles for less ambiguous ones, I do have a few suggestions for what I’d like to have on my business cards. Personally, I think “supreme content overlord” has a nice ring to it.