I see I will be having a new colleague soon.
Voice of San Diego is hiring an Engagement Editor, which sounds a lot like my title, Director of Community Engagement. Whenever the position is filled, I will start networking with this new colleague. Maybe a couple more and we can form an association (FREE, Federation of Real Engagement Editors?) and start holding conventions. Any others out there I should be networking with already? Do social media editors count? (A Nieman Lab post says the San Diego job is more than social media, but I guess most social media editors would say that about their jobs, too.)
The job drew some critical comments from Nieman Lab readers. From someone identified only as “JW“:
When will newspapers realize that *everyone* is an engagement editor? Anyone who has a job solely to oversee social media is doomed to be the next person laid off. Instead of hiring a full-time social media editor, hire a contractor who can teach each and every newsroom employee to interact, then let them do that job. Stop treating social media like it’s something special and start treating it like it’s just another level of the time-honored newspaper tradition of keeping people informed.
The best advocate for any piece of work is its owner and readers/users would much rather engage with the source than one or two degrees away.
I was pleased to see that several people joined me in defending the position. Erik Gable, an editor in Michigan, blogged about 10 things an engagement editor could do.
I normally wouldn’t respond in my own blog to a couple anonymous comments on another blog that were addressed well in that blog. But the criticism sounded a lot like what I have said many times about computer-assisted reporting. I argue that newsrooms and journalists made a huge mistake treating data analysis as a specialty, rather than an essential skill for all journalists to master.
If I argue that data analysis should be everyone’s job, shouldn’t I also argue that community engagement is everyone’s job? Actually, I do. We will expect everyone on our staff to engage with the community: crowdsourcing stories, using social media and responding to comments and questions on stories, blogs and videos.
But community engagement is also my job and my staff’s job (as I blogged earlier, we’ll have six people helping me with the specific challenges of community and mobile engagement). Just as I feel that all journalists should master basic data analysis skills, I value the high-level skills of journalists who develop sophisticated databases such as PolitiFact and CinciNavigator, and I know that a strong database program is going to require some specialists with more advanced skills and more time to do top-flight work.
Some of our work will be to coach the staff in engagement, in which we know we will have a range of skills. When I was editor of The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and appointed Jamie Kelly as our social media guide, Jamie helped elevate the social media skills and use throughout the newsroom.
Our community engagement staff here will also have specific skills and tasks that don’t fit in other newsroom jobs, such as reporting and editing. For instance, we will recruit and work with a network of bloggers in our metro area. On some community events that our staff won’t be covering, we will aggregate and curate content provided by the community or provide some platforms for the community to provide the coverage. Where our staff is covering an event, we will supplement that coverage by finding and soliciting community contributions.
For instance, a reporter covering a beat needs to use social media and other community engagement tools to monitor news and conversation on the beat. But when news breaks and the reporter or photographer is at the scene, social media becomes secondary. The reporter might tweet a request to connect with eyewitnesses, and might check a hashtag during a free moment. But gathering facts and images at the scene of breaking news is a demanding pursuit that demands full attention. So is monitoring and gathering social media accounts and images of the breaking news event. While our news staffers are at the scene gathering news first-hand, our community engagement staff will be gathering news through social media. And we’ll be working together. If a tweet or Flickr photo shows that someone was an eyewitness, we’ll connect through social media and ask if the witness can talk to a reporter.
Before newspapers began slashing their copy desks, reporters were still expected to turn in clean copy (and at some organizations, to suggest headlines). Some did (and, of course, still do) that better than others. But clarity, style, accuracy and strong headlines were important, so we hired teams of copy editors to ensure quality of the copy and headlines.
Community engagement is important to a digital news operation such as ours or Voice of San Diego. Strong community engagement will be everyone’s job. But it will also be the job of my team.