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:
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...