4 Questions With Chris Hamilton, BBC News’ Social Media Editor

“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.

For our March edition, we sat down with Chris Hamilton, the social media editor for BBC News. He’s held the role since June 2011, taking over from his predecessor, Alex Gubbay. Hamilton joined BBC News in 2000 after a few years working as a reporter at the Press Association. While at BBC News, Hamilton has worked on the Specials Team, as planning editor for the organization’s websites, and helped organize BBC News’ coverage of the last general election in the U.K.

Here are Hamilton’s thoughts on social media editors, journalism, and the recent backlash the BBC received last month in response to updating a part of its social media guidelines on breaking news and Twitter. 

EZ: What exactly is your role at BBC News?
CH: Part of my role here is looking after the UGC (User Generated Content) hub. It looks after the community activity on our site, gathers material from off site – social networks and the wider web – and sifts and verifies it alongside material that gets sent directly to us.

From it we get eyewitnesses, case studies, video and pictures that are used across BBC News output globally, whether digital, TV or radio. It’s a fantastic team and they deliver really high-value content to the newsroom. In the last year especially it has been absolutely essential to how we’ve covered major stories, especially the Arab Spring but also the tsunami in Japan and the aftermath; the Norway massacre; [and] the riots in England.

[They are] all really big stories in their own right but they were also mass participation stories, at a time when distribution and consumption technologies mean everyone can publish content much more easily and consume it much more easily.

The other big part of my job is on the social media side in terms of the output focus. That includes what we call our three core Twitter accounts — @bbcbreaking, @bbcworld, @bbcnews — as well as the BBC News presence on Facebook and Google+.

I’m also responsible for setting the guidance that our staff uses, and for evangelizing in the newsroom and beyond.

We’re very lucky to have the College of Journalism as part of the BBC who have a fantastic team of trainers who do a lot of the frontline work with individual correspondents but also run a lot of courses that all our producers, reporters, and correspondents go on.

So I work with them on best practice, latest technology, and making sure the guidance is up to date.
And I work with the editorial teams who look after our other branded social media activities like the Today program for example, one of our big flagship radio shows, to make sure that what we’re showing in these spaces is coherent, works well, and fits in with what we’re trying to do overall.

EZ: What are the must-have skills that someone aspiring to be a social media editor needs?
For a newsroom social media role, I think the news element of it is the critical bit. The journalistic skills, the ability to spot a story, to realize why something is significant. Accuracy for us in particular is absolutely essential. And the ability to talk to people — another key journalistic skill — important for getting the story. Being active in social media, so that you can engage with people in a polite, sensible and constructive way is also important.