Social Media Editors on the Role of Social Media Editors

Time Inc. director of community strategy for lifestyle digital Melissa Parrish moderated the Networked News Gatherers: Defining the Social Media Editor Role panel during Social Media Week 2010, from the Time & Life Building in New York, joined by: Mediaite writer and Abrams Research business and project-development executive Rachel Sklar, The New York Times social media editor Jennifer Preston, and managing editor Cyndi Stivers.

The panelists all shared their tales of growing into their roles, all saying that the process is constantly evolving and the learning never stops.


My goal, because the role was brand-new and I had a very rough start…the first month, I think I wanted to hide under my desk because every single broken link I sent out on Twitter was like a federal crime. I had what David Carr called a mom phone — I didn’t have an iPhone or a BlackBerry. The first month, honestly, was really rough, learning in a very public way with the help of colleagues from the Times and friends in the space.

“Look, I’m just trying to learn this new job and learn how the stupid thing works.”

I really love it. I really am enjoying it, and I think in an odd way, my enthusiasm is helpful in encouraging colleagues.

Sklar, who said one of her biggest struggles has been striking the balance between sharing stories she likes and not feeling as if she’s taking advantage of people’s Twitter feeds:

For Mediaite, it was different because we were a scrappy little start-up financed by Dan Abrams and whoever his private investors are, with a very small team — four of us. As soon as we launched, I became the unofficial PR Newsfeed of Mediaite.

I don’t have much of a filter in terms of the stuff I post.

I was responding to every single negative comment on my personal Twitter, and I started getting emails from people saying, “Whoa, you’ve got to back off a little bit.”


I think a lot of times people do forget about the user experience or think about it as an afterthought: Would I be annoyed if I had to click to another page and it was only three lines? Would I feel duped? Would I feel misrepresented?

<blockquote?If we're going to survive as an industry, we've got to figure out new models. The old models aren't working.

The three editors also discussed the necessary qualities for a social media editor, and whether every journalist should possess them.


It would be great if we could hire someone called social media editor, and I would expect them to be totally immersed.

Everybody needs to have those skills. You have to have that curiosity. That’s generally a trait of our business, anyway. I think it’s just another element in the tool kit of being a good modern journalist.


If you’re just doing this 9-to-5 and you’re not dying to check your BlackBerry…

If you’re not going to promote your own stuff, who else will? Writing a post is just 50 percent of the time spent.

If you have someone whose job it is to monitor what’s going on in social media — the bigger you get, the more you need that position. That’s why those positions are not only existing, but they’re existing with serious, qualified, awesome people in them.


I can’t tweet everything, and that is not my job. What we really need to do now with social media, because everyone recognizes its value and its importance…My goal is to bake social media into the newsgathering process and the reporting process.

There are so many people who want quality information, who want information they can trust, who want to share that and who want to do good.

The panelists also shared some of their social media success stories.

Preston discussed being able to post real-time reports on the shootings at Fort Hood thanks to Twitter, as well as her newspaper’s handling of the devastating earthquake in Haiti:

With Haiti, there were not many news organizations that were out there, so we had to be reporters, and we found individuals like Richard Morse, who owns one of the hotels there. We were able to identify a combination of individuals and other folks.

In the newsroom, many of our journalists use Twitter. In addition to crowd-sourcing and in addition to being able to engage, we have also found that there’s tremendous value and benefit that can be found by using social media to get at the real-time Web.

Stivers, who mentioned that Twitter jumped from the No. 138 referrer to in January 2009 to No. 7 in May:

Last year, we had 50,000 good comments about the 16 episodes of Lost — good comments, not spam comments.


Our Twitter feed is basically a news feed. The people who follow us are going to be the people who take our stuff and retweet it.

It’s interesting to see the development in how Twitter has been perceived.

Writers are called out publicly for things. As soon as you see something, you can say, “That’s ridiculous. I don’t believe it.”

You get that real sense of connection with people when you’re interacting with them over things that really matter to you at the moment. 140 characters is just another way for people to reveal themselves and share.

I always forget to mention comment sections when talking about social media because it’s really easy to mention Twitter and I use Twitter the most. At Mediaite, some of our commenters test my patience. I’m always gratified to see a lot of comments on a post.

Preston mentioned the task of balancing the ethics guidelines of The New York Times with the use of an emerging force such as social media, saying:

As journalists for The New York Times, trust is key. You have to make sure you’re providing as much real-time information as you can, but you have to verify it.

You do not join the Cindy McCain or Michelle Obama fan club on Facebook.

We’re not allowed to say “tweet” yet at The New York Times, but you can post to Twitter through TimesPeople.

Finally, all three panelists shared their views on the future of social media in the journalism arena and what the “next big thing” might be.


Everyone’s asking the question. This is totally emerging. Is there a good enough benefit for your audience from your tweets? I think people are thinking about experimenting a little bit and really testing the waters and seeing how the audience finds it. I think we’re all just looking and saying, “What are they doing? What are they doing? Is anyone complaining? Do people like it?”

Our conversations are happening on our site right now. Twitter surged, but it’s sort of leveled right now. It’s the most fun scanning the horizon to see: What is the next thing? The learning curve is steep, but short. Who knows what’s going to develop next?

I just wonder if, as everyone gets more and more and more mobile, if that commenting thing will move over.


One of the big challenges that we all face is fractured conversations — we have conversations on Twitter, we have conversations on Facebook, and we have conversations on our site.

The metered model will not be put into place for another year, which means we have an entire year to work these things out. There’s a real commitment to making sure that the user experience in terms of the payment process will be frictionless. For people coming to our site through a recommendation, through Facebook, or through Twitter, that will not count.


The New York Times was doing social media before anybody else in the form of the “Most Emailed” list.