Rob Fishman’s announcement that “the social media editor is dead,” prompted plenty of responses, from Adweek to Zombie Journalism and many social media editors and digital media strategists in between.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of them disagreed with Fishman’s premise that their role in the newsroom was obsolete, some vehemently so on HuffPost Live’s discussion of the topic. As it turns out, two of those participants, Anthony De Rosa and Liz Heron, recently announced their own transitions out of the social media editor role; so-called “social media all-star” De Rosa is leaving Reuters to become Circa’s editor in chief later this month, while the Wall Street Journal’s Liz Heron has been given the newly created title of “Editor, emerging media.” On one hand, we’re seeing upward mobility in the social media editor position. On the other, this lends credence to Fishman’s suggestion that the responsibilities of that position are very much in flux, to the point where that position may no longer exist. Reuters has yet to announce De Rosa’s replacement, nor has it filled the deputy social media editor position last held by Matthew Keys.
Yet all this talk of the death of social media editors uses examples from huge brands and publications that have the budget and resources to experiment, change, and innovate on this kind of scale — Reuters, the AP, and The New York Times, for example. Lost in all the debate has been the role of the social media editor in smaller markets and more local publications. The social media presences of my hometown’s local papers, for example — The Berlin Citizen and The New Britain Herald — are bare bones at best. Twitter accounts with fewer than 250 followers that merely tweet links to the latest articles; Facebook pages with few likes and little reader engagement. Maybe that’s a sign that these publications don’t need a social media editor and their readers aren’t interested in engaging with their news this way. Then again, it could mean that these publications need a social media editor more than ever.
With all this in mind, I reached out to social media editors (or people whose job responsibilities include social media brand management) at three smaller outlets (The Hartford Courant, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and The Topeka Capital-Journal) who do their jobs particularly well, both in terms of how they engage their communities and how they think about social media and its role in the newsroom.
First, the basics: your official title, how long you’ve been in this position, and some info about your outlet and its social media presence
Sherman Smith: online news editor, The Topeka Capital-Journal. I’ve been in this position for two years and with the C-J for nine years. I’m not sure of exact figures, but our daily print circulation is somewhere between 30K and 35K, with a little boost on Sundays. I think our online numbers may be proprietary, but most days we have twice the number of unique visitors to our digital platform than we have print readers. We are hyperlocal in our coverage. Topeka’s population is 128K, and Shawnee County is at 178K. Our reach extends beyond the county for bigger stories in adjacent counties. We have 9,866 likes at https://www.facebook.com/TopekaCapitalJournal. There are 5,674 followers at https://twitter.com/CJOnline.
Kelly Sullivan: Social Media Coordinator/Mobile Manager. I’ve been in this position for more than a year. Hartford Courant Facebook likes: 13,500, Twitter followers: 21,460 [daily circulation, according to most recent Alliance for Audited Media figures, is just over 128,000]
Jen Westpfahl: Deputy Editor of Digital News and Social Media. I used to be the Social Media Editor, a position we no longer have. I’ve been in this role, in its two iterations, for about 18 months. The Pioneer Press/TwinCities.com covers the eastern half of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area and has a print circulation of 193,000 daily and 268,000 Sunday. We have 25,800 Twitter followers and 17,000 Facebook fans.
Did you have any journalism experience before you became the social media editor?
Sherman Smith: Before moving into this role, I worked on the copy desk and an alternative storytelling section, then served as a lead print designer before moving over to online operations. There was some special projects reporting in there somewhere.
Kelly Sullivan: Yes, I freelanced at the Hartford Courant and then worked as a Web producer there. I also got my BA in journalism from the University of Connecticut.
Jen Westphal: Yes, I had been a copyeditor for 7.5 years and a Web producer for one year.
Do you consider yourself to be a journalist?
SS: First and foremost.
How would you describe what you do?