How did it start?
Since WWW was launched in 1990, many legacy news organizations, particular newspapers, tried to establish their primacy as they had in a pre-digital world. Editors hoped that online newspapers would play a central role in user’s daily lives, as the printed newspapers had played before for more than a century. To do that, for instance, editors often set up home page buttons to automatically open a browser to a newspaper website, trying to make people organize their digital life around digital newspaper.
It didn’t happen. While editors hopefully brought a mindset from print into online, people realized they don’t need anymore to chain themselves to a single news entity, or even any of them.
With the growth of social media, news consumption moved from dominance of editor’s choice to peoples’ own. Stories are no longer presented and selected by editors. Although, social media doesn’t offer this kind of random selection based on professional gatekeepers (editors, named by Ross F. Collins), but it offers selection based on friends. Friends in effect became gatekeepers.
In this case, for editors became significant not only to establish the role of professional journalism in social media, but also change their titles.
In 2009, Jennifer Preston has been appointed the first Social Media Editor of the New York Times. One of the leaders institutions of traditional journalism established an editor position dedicated to new media.
“The transition from one-way to two-way media is not something that newspapers are used to doing. It’s a big change”, said Jonathan Landman, deputy managing editor at The New York Times.
Who they are and what are they doing?
Social media editor can’t be defined by a single word. The key to understand who is that person bears in his responsibilities.
Broadly, it’s someone who concentrates full-time on expanding the use of social media networks and publishing platforms to improve newspaper journalism and deliver it to newspaper’s audience.
There’s no one particular role that social media editor does at publications. In some cases, the social media editor is in charge of finding new distribution outlets; in others, they are doing hands-on reporting using new crowdsourcing tools.
Social editors work closely with editors, reporters, bloggers and others to use social tools to find sources, track trends, and breaking news as well as to gather it. They help them to deal with the techniques, share best practices and guide on how more effectively engage with the audience on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, and so on. A big part of social media editor’s job is keeping everyone updated with the rapid developments taking place on the social media front.
Since Twitter and Facebook have become far more powerful tools for getting traffic, the shift has become more focused on how to take advantage of social media to improve the site’s traffic and readership.
The stereotypical view of the social media editor is a person who takes headlines and tweets them out, spending the rest of his time tweeting back and forth with other social media editors and building a ”personal brand”.
It’s a big part of their job, but not the biggest. By using Twitter, social editors help reporters to find sources, coordinate breaking-news coverage, present reader comments, figure out the best ways to present good stuff from social media on newspapers websites.
Another ”popular” opinion is that during breaking-news, social media editors tweet first and ask questions later. But in reality, when it comes to breaking news, the whole point is to get the correct information out to the most number of people.
Sharing and tracking what is the ”latest and greatest” is important for social media editor. Besides classic algorithm-based search engines: Google, Yahoo and Bing to track what’s trending, many of them use the tool The Reddit Edit, which pulls the top links and stories for world, tech, politics and more. The Reddit Edit, created by Benji Lanyado, summarizes what the Internet is talking about at any given time.
Social media editors have to think ahead, come up with ideas how to best engage the publication’s audience.
This practice of user engagement is important role of a social media editor. It requires focused creativity and the ability to understand what people are thinking about at a certain moment in time. It can be done through daily discussions by responding to Facebook comments and tweets right away.
“I treat social media the exact same way I treat a radio show. It’s like a back-and-forth conversation with callers asking questions and me answering them,” says Scott Kleinberg’s, The Chicago Tribune social media editor.
How to get there?
In 2011, Washington Post sought Social Media Editor. This is a list of requirements to be hired for that position:
- 2+ years of journalism experience.
- Reporting or blogging experience required.
- Demonstrated experience building audience through social networks (Twitter, Facebook and beyond)
- Working knowledge of Web production and HTML
- Experience using social analytics to determine social ROI
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills
- Ability to adapt quickly to new technologies and environment
For social media editors, the necessary skills are deeply rooted in traditional journalism. Newspapers want people who came thorough editing and writing experience.
“It’s good to be fluent in the ways of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Reddit,” says Michael Roston, a senior staff editor for social media in NY Times, “But if you don’t bring high journalistic standards to the work, there isn’t much to separate you from a social media marketer.
Certain personality traits are also necessary for that job. One of them is to be open-minded and flexible, since the web changes so rapidly. Communication skills, ability to learn how to use the Internet to find sources, promote stories and brand yourself are crucial if your goal and dream to be a social media editor.