The New York Times’ social media team is expanding, and ProPublica’s Daniel Victor is its newest hire.
“I’ll be doing a good bit of daily production, newsroom training, formulating best practices and experimenting with new tools and techniques,” Victor said via email. “I’ll be working directly with people who are as passionate about the potential of social media as I am, and an organization that understands how important it is. (Not that ProPublica wasn’t … it was very much both of those things, too.)”
The Times also promoted its own Michael Roston to social media producer last week and plans to hire a third person for this role within a month to six weeks, said Sasha Koren, deputy editor of interactive news.
Victor started out as a reporter for The Patriot-News in Pennsylvania and has spent the past two years working in social media related roles at TBD, Philly.com and ProPublica. While in these jobs, he’s led training sessions on social media, managed social media accounts, and worked on social media strategy and crowdsourcing initiatives like ProPublica’s Free the Files project.
“My position at the Times will be some combination of those experiences, which is one reason why it’s so exciting,” Victor said.
Koren said the Times was drawn to Victor’s ability to work with reporters and editors to incorporate social media into a variety of newsroom projects.
“We were looking for someone who had a really good sense of how a newsroom could use social tools, and use them not just to be present on social media platforms but also to incorporate social media thinking in what we’re doing with our journalism on the site. Daniel has a lot of experience doing that,” Koren said. “We were really impressed with his previous projects and thought he had a really great take on the social media landscape.”
Selecting the next social media hire
The Times’ decision to hire Victor wasn’t surprising; he’s built a reputation for himself as one of a small group of social media editors/producers who are well-known among journalists. Folks like Mandy Jenkins, Ethan Klapper and Lauren McCullough have also been recruited to work for different news sites in the last year.
Koren said she was “well aware of” Victor because of his presence on Twitter and because she had met him at events in New York City. As she’s looked through the more than 500 resumes that have come in for the social media producer role, she’s been encouraged by the range of candidates.
“There’s a certain familiarity you can have — especially on Twitter — with people who make themselves known in this arena,” Koren said by phone. “There have definitely been a lot of strong candidates who we’re still talking to who have come from smaller newsrooms or other kinds of contexts whose names were not familiar to me before this process began.”
The Times, she said, is open to candidates who have worked in newsrooms, as well as those who haven’t.
“There’s no doubt that newsroom experience is a real plus — understanding the particularities of how social media can be used in a real news context, as well as experience having worked with journalists,” Koren said. “If someone were to come along who had real innovative and interesting ideas and hadn’t worked in a traditional newsroom before, we wouldn’t automatically and haven’t automatically said no to them.”
For now, the Times is holding off on hiring a successor to Liz Heron, who recently left her role as social media editor at the Times to lead social media and engagement at The Wall Street Journal. Heron worked with Lexi Mainland, who is also a social media editor at the Times.
“We’re looking to re-establish what the needs of the newsroom are, and where that position might best be oriented once we have a kind of slightly bigger team in place,” Koren said. “So we’re going to get settled with our three producers and then reconsider as a group what we need. We might need to hire [a] social media editor now, or allocate that resource later on down the line maybe in a slightly different but related direction.”
Adapting the social media editor/manager/producer role
Social media jobs started to pop up in newsrooms around 2009. Now, many newsrooms have hired social media editors and community engagement editors, and are learning that there’s a lot more to social media than simply posting to Facebook or Twitter.
The Times is an interesting example of how the role of social media editor and producer has changed in just a few short years. The Times hired Jennifer Preston as it social media editor in May 2009. In December 2010, Preston announced that the Times was eliminating her position and that she would be returning to reporting full-time.
At the time, Preston told Poynter.org that the move was part of the Times’ effort to more fully integrate its print and digital operations. It was also an acknowledgment that social media needs to be a shared responsibility.
“Social media can’t belong to one person; it needs to be part of everyone’s job,” Preston said at the time. “It has to be integrated into the existing editorial process and production process. I’m convinced that’s the only way we’re going to crack the engagement nut.”
Aron Pilhofer, editor of interactive news at The New York Times, said both management and staff have shown their support for expanding the Times’ social media efforts.
“I think just looking at what Arthur [Sulzberger] has said about social and how important it is to the company, it absolutely seems to me that social and community engagement are core to what we do,” Pilhofer said by phone. “Everyone from the top of the company down is more or less in agreement with that.”
In a talk at the London School of Economics last November, Sulzberger said the Times has “put a priority on the utilization of social media.”
“There is a reason why we are so committed to social media at The Times and that reason rests with our audience,” he said, noting that a Times story gets tweeted every four seconds. “We have an incredibly enlightened, intelligent and sophisticated group of users who are highly engaged with our products. Our efforts in social media are meant to tap in to the knowledge from that readership. We value what they can share with us and with other users.” He praised three journalists — Nicholas Kristof, C.J. Chivers and Lydia Polgreen — for their work on social media.
When he starts his new job, Victor hopes to work with New York Times staffers to continue strengthening their use of social media. He also plans to show that social media producer jobs aren’t all that different from other jobs in journalism. Getting retweets and followers involves specialized skills, he said, but those skills aren’t worth much if they’re not rooted in journalistic fundamentals and excellence.
“To succeed in a social media role you need an editor’s judgment, a reporter’s eye for the salient details in a story and a writer’s ability to present information in a concise and compelling way,” he said. “At its core, what I do now doesn’t feel all that different from what I did when I was covering Derry Township School Board meetings for The Patriot-News.”