Commentary

Just An Online Minute... This Still Out: The Definition Of The Social Media Editor Role

Networked News Gatherers: Defining the Social Media Editor Role, Time & Life Building, New York
February 2, 2010

Because of the glorious F train, I was running late to this panel, billed as a bright group of women in respected positions discussing how social media has changed the role of the news editor and most intriguing to me, "who 'owns' social media for companies that decide to enter the space to reach their consumers." The first thing I saw when I entered the room all frazzled and sweaty was a great head of fire-roasted hair.  It was Charlene Jaszewski, a sharp, irreverent writer and editor.  She offered to share her juice (see: outlet splitter) with me and I gratefully accepted, finding myself the best seat mate in the auditorium.  Why?  Because she's a constant questioner, too, and I found myself leaning in to discuss the panel with her throughout the event.  Here are some points that we both discussed:

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We were both (as were many of the women I spoke to in the room) excited to listen to a panel of successful women in powerful positions talking about their role in the guts of social media rather than about lipstick, pink things, and shopping.  I'm not saying I'm not into lipstick, cozy sweaters, or dogs with ugly faces, but when it comes to showing some female leadership and gaining respect as women in this industry, well, how about we showcase the brain and not the Burberry?  

The first cringe: Each panelist had some sort of OMGTECHNOLOGYWHUT!? story to share, like the only way to connect with the audience, which was predominantly women, was to act shy and afraid of scary buttons and blinking lights. Do men every share their experiences like this?  The day I see a male editor or contributor titter about the time he first booted up that iPhone is the day you can come on over here and pinch the whites of my eyes.

I'm trying to be open-minded, because I was judgmental of Social Media Week last year before it even started and I think it closed me off (der, as close-mindedness will do) to different brain bits.  But I have to ask who the target audience is.  Maybe it is for the 101 set.  I looked around and saw writer type Peter Feld;  Rocketboom's Andrea Rosen (who was one of the "yay, not a fluffy make up panel" women I spoke with); 360i's David Berkowitz; Matt Heindl, formerly (as of today!) of Viceland; Susanna Speier, a self-proclaimed multiplatform scribe; and Scott Bullard, strategist at MIR.  They didn't strike me as Social Media 101 targets.  Do we write for/work for the 101 audience?  I like to think the answer is no at this point.  But I've been wrong before (specifically about Brussels sprouts; they're actually very good).

panelist Cyndi Stivers, Managing Editor, EW.com, wants you to know she's "more of a student than an active participant... and encourager/cheerleader."  I could have SWORN this was a panel on the role of social media editor, yet the statements made by Stivers were about distancing herself from the term social media as well as from responsibility for the use of it. 

When an audience member later asked how social media (Twitter specifically) changes the relationship between the reporter and their audiences, Stivers responded shamelessly, "It makes it easier when you're going to do an interview - you ask [your followers] what to ask instead of doing it yourself!" The look on Abrams Research's Rachel Sklar's face was priceless as she straightened her back, chose her words carefully, and said "crowd-sourcing can be very helpful." 

As panelists got onto the subject of disclosure, I perked up.  It's a hot potato among bloggers of all kinds - because there are all kinds: mommy bloggers, tech bloggers, big-corporate-branded bloggers, big-media bloggers, sexytime bloggers, photo bloggers, scatterbrained all-over-the-place bloggers.  And the act of NOT disclosing sponsors, paid placements, etc for each carries a different meaning.  Sklar brought up "30 Rock"'s McFlurry episode, where they either wrote in an insidery joke about the McFlurry or they were very tongue-in-cheek about paid product placement. "I don't care if it was paid for... it was funny!" Sklar admitted.  

I agree. Mainly because "30 Rock" is clever and obnoxious.  BUT, that's television.  It's a medium we expect to sell to us.  It's a medium where product placement is expected.  Blogging is different.  It's a medium designed for opinion, originally personal.  Blogging on behalf of a news media brand like The Times, The WSJ, The Washington Post and writing multiple posts in favor of IBM over HP carries with it that shakeweight of "endorsement." Sklar proudly admitted to loving Foursquare and being buddies with the creators, which means if she were writing a technical review of the tool for Mediate or anywhere else, it would be viewed as biased. In fact, I think she said "I'm biased."  BUT is her role that of the objective reviewer or observer?  Possibly not.

Obviously, the debate continues.

An audience member asked a great question: How will a pay model affect commenting? Love this, it's loaded with explosives. Jennifer Preston, Social Media Editor, The New York Times, confirmed that the metered model for The Times will not be put in place for a year, so they have some time to make the changes "frictionless," but didn't offer a solution.  I think a reward system initially vetted by the community, but lorded over by a moderator, for quality commenters vs trolls would be a good one.  Sort of per minute scale where minutes = comments and ratings give you points/more opp to comment without paying.  Of course, commenters may just take it to Twitter, much like they're doing today, which can easily be part of the solution too.

As for the biggest value applied when using social media in an editor role? "Authenticity!" declared Sklar, "Stand behind what you write... that's the best value you can provide to someone." Off all the buzzwords, I agree that authenticity is the most important, which is also why, even though I feel a little guilt because I know how hard the Social Media Week committee/board/chairs worked to plan this week, I can't sun shower my opinions on what I see this week. 

And you know what they say about opinions...

4 comments about "Just An Online Minute... This Still Out: The Definition Of The Social Media Editor Role".
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  1. Charlene Jaszewski from The Content Fix, February 2, 2010 at 5:40 p.m.

    I thought it interesting that with all her social media knowledge, Rachel Sklar said she didn't know what Farmville was?
    And when they asked the question on how NYT going to a pay model would affect commenting, i thought the only answer was, "there will be less of it?"

  2. Rachel Sklar from Mediaite, February 3, 2010 at 5:55 a.m.

    Had to comment on this review, which I found to be spotty and unfair. First off, I think it's amazing that right after noting and applauding that it was a panel of women, there was a gender-based critique of "OMG technology" moments. Completely context-less, I might add - Jen Preston's account of how she went from a beat reporter with 0 social media savvy to getting straight up the curve was pointed, and meant to indicate not only how engaged she became in the role but how it is starting to be appealing to a much broader range of journalism practitioners. After reeling off her ridiculously broad range of old-media credentials, Cyndi was frank about how she uses social media - as a mechanism for collecting information, and an evolving tool for Time Inc - not as a personal curator/publisher. It seemed pretty clear to me that her role on the panel was to provide some insight into how a large media company like Time Inc. uses social media, not to misrepresent herself as someone who uses it personally if that is not, in fact, the case. I'm trying to recall what my "OMG" moment was - joking that we'd all sent errant DMs? Daring to admit that I wasn't familiar with Farmville? I don't believe gaming came up at any other point during the panel except with reference to FourSquare (noted by Cyndi, btw) - for someone complaining of gendered behavior here, I arch an eyebrow somewhat at how it was presented.

    Context on my 30 Rock McFlurry remarks would have been helpful, since a clear delineation was drawn with entertainment vs. editorial content, made stark in my joke about the kind of disclosure Nick Kristof would have to make; it was also pretty clear that the whole panel advocated explicit disclosure (I believe I said bolded and in all caps).

    As for whether it was "for the 101 set" I'm not clear if you think it was or not. I didn't feel like we were meant to address a beginner-level audience, nor that we did; most of the questions were about our opinions and experience, and specific take on how the industry had evolved and where it was going. Alas, this review doesn't seem to go beyond the 101 (I did choose some words carefully, but proclaiming crowdsourcing to be helpful is hardly going out on a limb!) I'm pretty sure more was said on that point. Actually I think Jen Preston used Brian Stelter as an example of someone who effectively uses Twitter, including crowdsourcing.

    I realize that this piece was not meant to be a verbatim rendering of the panel, but since it passes judgment on the level of information we imparted, with a gendered shot thrown in for good measure, I couldn't let it go without my own comment. I judge a panel I'm on by how badly I want to reach for my Blackberry to tweet it while I'm sitting there, and that was a pretty constant impulse today (btw my two big takeaways: Shocked that Time Inc. has not formalized their social media strategy more - having Cyndi compare her team to a startup where social media is concerned, while sitting in that space in that building, was a real wow moment for me; also, NYT writers still aren't permitted to use the word "tweet?" Another wow.)

    Either way, I hope you get over the bias you say you have against Social Media Week. It's pretty obvious that the topic is critical for journalism, and media in general, and as it goes from 2.0 to 3.0 etc. paying attention to trends and usage and the overall evolution will be critical, too. Actually, looking at it that way, your least favorite "OMG" element is what I find to be most illuminating: It's so prevalent, look who is becoming involved. Not just for the tech geeks anymore, by a long shot.

    Now, how do I submit this comment again? Gosh darn it, computers are CONFUSING! Haa. Just kidding. I am totally throwing a bale of hay at you right now.

    Cheers,
    Rachel Sklar

  3. Kelly Samardak from Shortstack Photography, February 3, 2010 at 11:36 a.m.

    Thanks for your comments, Rachel - it's good to see I'm not just talking to an empty room.

    Just to be clear, my "bias" against Social Media Week last year has nothing to do with social media at all. It was mostly me wondering why we needed a week dedicated to it, especially when the content seemed repetitive. I wasn't the only one, but you know how it is when you're the only one saying it publicly. As I said, I approached this year with less of a critic's mind a more of a "letting the light leaks in through the lens" situation. That's really all I have to say about that - I have always welcomed and loved the power of social media in all industries as I've been a part of it forever it seems.

    Your McFlurry comment ends with your comment. The sentences after are my commentary on the subject of paid placement/sponsorship in general. There are so many sticky pieces to it and still so much more education that needs to go into disclosure, but in the blogging sense, I think it all boils down to how ethical the the person is at the core, then it's second nature to disclose anything, even relationships with dentists.

    I could pick out and further clarify each point in your comment, but I stand by my thoughts on the panel, and yes, the fact that The NYT can't say "tweet" is probably the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Corporate guidelines at their best.
    <P>

  4. Charlene Jaszewski from The Content Fix, February 3, 2010 at 12:33 p.m.

    Hi Rachel, Charlene here.
    Part of our disappointment in this panel wasn't "you" per se; the "Women in Social Media" panel is composed of women from fashion and cosmetics industry. Stereotype much? We were excited to be seeing a panel of powerful and intelligent women and were disappointed that there was more of a "wow ain't it great what we can do with social media???" feeling rather than something more advanced.
    But to be fair introducing social media into old corporations does have more of a learning curve and possible integration problems, both technologically and ideologically; corporations can't by nature be as nimble as a startup in integrating new technologies.

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