JW: They are expected to use social media. Technically they are required to use it but there’s not really anyone saying, “Hey, why haven’t you tweeted today?” or anything like that. They are all aware of and able to use social media tools but the range of their proficiency is wide.
What did you think of that BuzzFeed article? Did you find it true to your experience?
SS: The article points to the fragmenting of a social media editor’s responsibilities as a growing trend. For better or worse, it has always been that way here and at other small papers in our area.
It is difficult for me to see the value of having someone who just tweets about what everybody else is working on. And while we tend to babble too much, I’d like to think we babble with a purpose.
I don’t want to be written off like one of the traditional (re: old) journalists who have a negative, knee-jerk reaction to the term “social media” in general. In fact, I can see the value of having a central figure tasked with developing some sort of unified strategy and enforcing it. But that is a luxury we can’t really afford. Even at a bigger paper, is that really the best use of limited resources?
The alternative is to encourage everyone to be their own social media editor. We are already used to wearing multiple hats in our newsroom — reporters who also have copy desk shifts or take the photos for their stories, for instance. No matter what the role is, I think the most important asset is to be a good journalist. That isn’t meant to diminish the value of social media skills. But a good journalist with bad skills is more valuable than a gadfly without reporting experience.
So while we want our reporters to cultivate their “personal brand,” that brand needs to stand for something meaningful.
KS: I agree that social media is not a novelty anymore, and I think most social media positions have evolved into much more, mine included.
JW: I agree with Jennifer Preston and others about social media needing to be integrated and not belonging to one person. I do find it true to my experience because when I was hired, my boss said that if I was good at my job, I’d work myself out of a job. It sounded alarming but ended in a promotion! On the flip side, I think there is often still a place for a leader in the social media space. Although our reporters all know Twitter now, they may not know how to leverage Instagram or they may have never heard of Vine. I’m generally the one scoping out and vetting new tools, services, and practices for the rest of the newsroom.
Are your readers active on social media and/or interact with your accounts and reporters (and vice versa)?
SS: Just about every reporter and editor here has followers we interact with on a regular basis. Those who find a way to show off their personality without compromising their objectivity are able to engage people the most, and readers seem to appreciate that. I don’t know that anyone outside of a newsroom cares much about bylines, but social media makes us more human, which has a positive effect.
KS: I do find that our readers are very active on social media. We actually just created a new section in our Sunday paper called ‘Socially Speaking’ where we include comments from our social media users on the previous weeks’ major stories. We often have a lot of conversations and debates going on Facebook.
JW: Our readers are extremely active on social media. They do interact with our branded accounts and with the reporters who use social media effectively.
Is social media an effective tool for reporting in your coverage area? Do you find that many of your readers use Twitter/Facebook/etc. for news? Do they even want to have that kind of engagement with their local papers?