News Orgs Take Social Media Seriously by Hiring Editors to Oversee Efforts

I am watching with interest the rise in the number of journalists with the title of social media editor (or something similar) within news organizations. This signals how seriously media outlets are taking social media, thinking about it strategically and incorporating it into workflows and overall output.

In recent weeks, I have had the chance to interact with several folks with such titles. Getting to know them and what they are dealing with and thinking about has been fascinating. In the weeks and months ahead, I will try to share some of that here and in my workshops.

If you want to get a sense of what these folks are reading/sharing, please take a look at the Twitter list that I created at http://twitter.com/sreenet/socmedia-editors. If you are not on Twitter, just bookmark that page and check in every once in awhile to get a flavor of what they are up to. Some have the words “social media” in their title, others are called things like community manager (Hello, Matthew Simantov); communities editor (Hello, Mathew Ingram); audience interaction producer (Hello, Eric Kuhn).

I met many of those folks through the convening efforts of the dynamic Jennifer Preston, the first social media editor at The New York Times (and an adjunct professor at Columbia J-school). She’s gotten many of us together on e-mail (old technology that still works!) and in person. Others I know through other avenues, including Mathilde Piard, a recent student of mine who even more recently became social media manager for Cox Media Group.

This week, the Associated Press announced that Lauren McCullough, who had been doing a lot of the social media thinking there, has been promoted to a new job, leading one of the four components of the new AP “Nerve Center”:

Lauren McCullough, who has led The Associated Press’ efforts to engage social networks, has been promoted to manager of Social Networks and News Engagement at the new AP Nerve Center. …

McCullough will head the Social Network Center, one of four components of the new headquarters center in New York. She will direct the work of editors there and around the company in pursuing journalistic material from social networks, promoting AP’s presence and content on social networks, and providing feedback to news managers on topics of high interest on social networks.

McCullough also will continue a lead role setting standards and practices related to social networks, reporting to Managing Editor Lou Ferrara.

“Lauren brings experience in social networking across formats that will enable the AP to grow in this new frontier of journalism. She understands the value of newsgathering within the social networks, as well as the need to have a voice within them,” Ferrara said.

Asked about the role, McCullough wrote to me, via e-mail: “AP recognizes the role social networks play in how the world shares information. We have exciting things planned for 2010 and I’m looking forward to helping to lead the charge.”

I gather the Nerve Center (great name!) has these four components:

  • The News Center, run by Sally Buzbee (former Middle East bureau chief)
  • The Standards Center, run by Tom Kent, former foreign editor and longtime Columbia J-school adjunct professor
  • The Production Center, run by Erin Madigan
  • The Social Network Center, run by McCullough

That means that one of the biggest, most sophisticated media organizations in the world has identified social media as one of the four most important parts of its operations and put a 27-year-old in charge. Think about that the next time you hear someone dismiss social media as frivolous and a waste of time (as I continue to hear, from some veteran journos to younger ones as well).

Another criticism of social media is that it’s only a young person’s game. But here’s a recent status update I put on my SreeTips Facebook page, where I share tech tips:

SKEPTICAL ABOUT TWITTER? HATE IT? Then please read these two essays about the value of Twitter: Vivek Wadhwa in TechCrunch (also ran in WashPost.com): http://bit.ly/wadhwatw + David Carr in NYT cover essay: http://bit.ly/carrtw (both are extremely busy, not-young people who have found value in Twitter)

You can read my thoughts on the three main reasons journalists need these skills via the syllabus and notes to my five-week Social Media Skills for Journalists course at Columbia J-school.

Your thoughts are welcome below, at @sreenet or sree[at]sree.net. And don’t forget to follow that list of social media editors that I follow.

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