Q&A: Siobhan O’Connor, VP of Editorial at Medium

Formerly the executive editor of TIME Magazine, Siobhan O’Connor came to Medium following Time Inc.’s sale to Meredith in February. Now four months into her new job as head of editorial at Medium, The Idea caught up with her to learn about what her team does and what Medium’s current editorial strategy is.

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Can you give us an overview of Medium’s editorial team and your role as VP of Editorial?
Editorial is an increasingly important part of what we’re doing at Medium, both as a platform and a publisher, and I’m working closely with the product team and the content team to execute on that. As VP, Editorial, I lead the three arms of our editorial operation — commissioning original work, curation of user-generated stories, and the upleveling of curated stories with a light layer of editing by our editors.

Our editorial team is growing. I came over four months ago from TIME. Some of our new hires include deputy editor Katie Drummond, who came over from The Outline, senior editor for books Sarah Begley (from TIME), social media editor Nate Goldman (from WIRED), and features editor Joe Keohane (from Entrepreneur), among others.

How big is your team now?
We’re currently 11 — these are people who touch various pieces of the editorial side of things — assigning and editing, curation, production, social media — and we’re in the process of adding five more commissioning editors.

Can you tell us more about Medium’s editorial strategy? In the past year, we’ve seen Medium hire an in-house edit team to curate content from partner publishers to put behind its paywall, help writers get more reach on their work on the platform, and commission original content. How does the content commissioned and curated by the Editorial team fit in or differ from the user-generated content?
Our emphasis is on quality, whether that’s a curated story or a commissioned one. Medium is unique in that you’re getting very different kinds of writing from very different kinds of writers — and it’s all presented together in one place. We’re also unique in that we find ourselves in this rare moment where our business model — which is a subscription model, at $5 per month, with no ads — is aligned with our mission, and it’s working. All of this is what drew me to the job.

Most people already know that Medium is an open platform, meaning anyone can use it to write and publish their stories. Writers on the platform can also join our Partner Program, which puts their story behind the metered paywall and gives them the opportunity to earn money for their work. All Partner Program stories are, as you say, read by our editorial curation team.

Medium’s also a publisher: we have a growing team of fantastic and experienced editors who commission original stories by authors, experts and journalists, and this is an increasingly important part of our strategy — as is paying writers well for their work.

Medium aims to be the best place for writing and reading on the internet — where you’ll find reliably great stories that are timely, thoughtful, and by some measure important. The best Medium stories fall at the intersection of the key topics our readers care most about: tech, science, business, health, society, politics. You won’t find a lot of hot takes or incremental news based on the President’s last tweet, but you will see stories that feel relevant, even urgent.

What is a cool project you’ve worked on recently? What have you learned (or hope to learn) from it?
On June 4 we launched our first themed monthly digital magazine. It’s called TRUST ISSUES, and it pulls together some fantastic writers in a wide range of reported features and essays that all share trust (and its erosion) as a through line. It’s a really fun, smart collection. Every day this month we’ll be adding more stories to the magazine, and then next, month, we’ll do it again, with a new theme.

Another cool thing we launched recently was Trips Worth Telling. In April, we got a call from Michael Pollan, who wanted to curate a collection of stories about transformative experiences triggered by psychedelics. It’s a neat project that leverages the best of what Medium has to offer: editorial talent and an enormous pool of writers with something to say. We received hundreds of fairly good submissions. The ones that made the cut are excellent.

What is the most interesting thing that you’ve seen from a media outlet other than your own?
I have major editor envy for some of the recent interactive storytelling being done at the New York Times, like the one about housing in New York and the other about a possible wrongful conviction in California. I’m not a fan of interactivity or magic tricks or even VR for its own sake — it has to add value to the reader, not just look cool. That’s why I love what the Times is doing: it makes elegant use of technology and also deepens the story.

This Q&A was originally published in the June 18th edition of The Idea. For more Q&As with media movers and shakers, subscribe to The Idea, Atlantic Media’s weekly newsletter covering the latest trends and innovations in media.