Day one in the life of The New York Times's new social media editor seemed to consist of a great deal of Jennifer Preston, newly appointed to the role, joining Twitter (@NYT_JenPreston) and saying things like this a lot: "@soandso good idea"; "@soandso thanks for all the help"; "@suchandsuch great idea, we've thought a lot about that." Still, it's a new role, and you'd be forgiven for wondering what a social media editor will do. Deputy managing editor of the Times, Jonathan Landman was somewhat helpful, and in an internal memo sent to staffers offered this explanation: "Jennifer is our first social media editor. What's that? It's someone who concentrates full-time on expanding the use of social media networks and publishing platforms to improve New York Times journalism and deliver it to readers."
But how will she improve The New York Times journalism? More of the same, obviously. "Jennifer will work closely with editors, reporters, bloggers and others to use social tools to find sources, track trends, and break news as well as to gather it," wrote Landman. "She will help us get comfortable with the techniques, share best practices and guide us on how to more effectively engage a larger share of the audience on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, Digg, and beyond."
Why Ms. Preston, though? She's an experienced publishing vet for sure -- having worked circ for Newsday, been a reporter and, up until they were shuttered, edited the Times regional sections. Maybe that is where the role makes sense, with the Times thinking that social media is the new local.
It's nice to sit back and think, well, maybe the paper is trying to embrace social media, taking the view that it needs to run with the bulls or be trampled -- no matter how debased it might make the Gray Lady seem. But the truth is, that the move is probably damage control on a few fronts. First, the reporters and writers were already out there tweeting away. Now, hopefully, they won't make Mark Bittman stop (The Minimalist Tweets: @bittman) but they can't have everyone running around out there willy nilly making a mess of The New York Times's best practices. Reporters use personal social networking accounts to find sources, in addition to extending the stories online (and off NYTimes.com).
The Wall Street Journal just came up with some social media edicts, but the Times now has a full-time babysitter.
But to be fair, she is also a watchdog. If you've ever gotten a cease and desist letter from the company's lawyers asking that you stop posting links to its content (MediaPost has), then you know how paranoid the paper is about new media outlets stealing its content. With officer Preston on the beat, maybe the hope is they can control the conversation in some way. Of course, there might not be any putting this particular toothpaste back in the tube.