“Four Questions With …” is a monthly series of interviews with different social media and community editors in the news industry.
So, what is it like to be a social media or community editor? What are the job responsibilities and how does one end up landing such a gig? The goal of “Four Questions With …” is to answer some of these questions and to give insight into what is a new and constantly evolving field.
This month, we talked to Matthew Keys, the deputy social media editor at Reuters. If there’s breaking news happening, you can bet Keys has already sent out a tweet about it or is posting about it on his Tumblr. In fact, you probably know him better as@ProducerMatthew.
Keys’ coverage and news aggregation of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which he did while unemployed, nabbed him a nomination for an Online News Association award for breaking news excellence. (We also profiled Keys back in March 2011.)
Keys joined the Reuters team, led by Anthony De Rosa, as its deputy social media editor in January. Previously, he worked at various California-based news organizations as an online news producer and interactive and mobile director. At Reuters, Keys is mainly responsible with publishing to the news organization’s different social platforms and coaching the staff on best social practices.
Here are his thoughts on the social media, journalism, and what news outlets need to do in order to be leaders in the social field.
EZ: You’ve been at Reuters for three months now. What’s the next big thing you’d like to see Reuters do with social media?
MK: I don’t think more than three months into the future. The tools change so fast that I think anyone who commits to a year-long social media strategy is setting themselves up for failure. And I’ve been a part of newsrooms that have committed to those kinds of strategies.
I don’t think they will outright fail, but they will always play catch-up to competitors. That’s not being assertive, and if you’re not assertive with a social strategy, you’re not going to come out as a leader.
EZ: How do you think the social media team at Reuters is different from other newsrooms?
MK: Reuters is a big corporation that, at least in the digital department, acts a lot like a startup. That’s different from places I’ve worked before that were either completely reckless with their digital approach or too conservative, too stifling.
Reuters gives me and Anthony the space to experiment and work together with our colleagues both inside our newsroom and at other institutions. I like sharing methods, techniques and strategies with other newsrooms. I think being friendly gives us a competitive advantage over a company whose social strategy revolves around total secrecy.
In ten years, nobody’s going to be saying “FOX was the first to do this on social media” or “ABC started social innovation in this way.” But social pundits who are still critiquing the best social practices will use Reuters, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, HuffPost and other experiment-driven social newsrooms as citations. That’s exciting to be a part of.
EZ: What is the biggest challenge journalism outlets, such as Reuters, face when it comes to social media?
MK: There are two challenges. The first is explaining social media practices to journalists who are new to the world of interactivity on the Internet.
Many journalists use the Internet as a resource for researching sources and stories, and communicating via email and instant message. Social media is a whole different beast that combines research, combing for sources, communication and engagement. That can be tough to teach to someone who may not be completely warmed up to the idea of using Twitter and Facebook beyond personal communication.
It’s been my experience that once they do break that barrier, they embrace it as a tool that makes their job not only easier but more interesting.
The second is convincing the bosses at the top of the food chain that social is worth spending money on — both in terms of staff and products. There’s no easy way to do this, since there isn’t a universal strategy for monetizing social platforms.
The best way I’ve found to do it is to show those bosses that social fills some kind of void in the workflow, or makes one’s job easier. Don’t just tell them that launching a social presence enhances your brand, show them how. Don’t just tell them social platforms can be mined for data — prove it.
This is where experimenting on an individual account comes in handy. It doesn’t happen overnight — you have to commit to using Twitter and Facebook differently as a citizen journalist or a student journalist than how you use those platforms as a college student.
EZ: How do you avoid becoming a dreaded “Twitter monkey?”
MK: There’s nothing wrong with being on the assembly line. Someone has to do it.
We need to let go of this idea that people who press the publish button all day are somehow beneath the people who develop social strategies. They’re not — they’re an essential part of the process. And probably moreso because they’re the ones who execute those strategies.
Social strategists should draw upon those who spend most of their day hitting “publish” for advice, since those so-called “monkeys” are more likely to be in tune with the sentiment of those platforms.
If you want to break from the assembly line, develop a voice. When asked for ideas, speak up. If you’re not asked for ideas, offer them anyway. Try not to burn bridges, but don’t be afraid of being aggressive with your ideas.
If you work in a newsroom where fresh ideas are looked down upon, suck it up for the paycheck and benefits, but start looking elsewhere. Sometimes, it takes losing an innovator or two before a newsroom shifts their strategy. By that time, it won’t be your problem.