Digital First Media newsrooms have several engagement editors and social media editors, most of them fairly new to these posts.
The duties vary depending on the needs of the community, the size of the newsroom, the initiative and interests of the editor and other duties (some of these editors wear multiple hats). Engagement and social media can be different positions (the New Haven Register has two full-time community engagement editors, Ed Stannard and Angi Carter, plus a city editor who also serves as social media editor, Helen Bennett Harvey.
I’ll blog here with a job description to help these editors as well as to help other top editors decide whether and how to name engagement editors for their newsrooms.
We’ll start with a tweet-length job description, then I’ll elaborate:
Engagement/social media editor’s job: Lead newsroom to join, lead, enable, curate & listen to community conversation for better journalism.
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) March 22, 2012
If some of that echoes my definition of community engagement, which I blogged about last year, that’s intentional. The engagement editor’s job is to lead community engagement efforts.
Before I dig in with the details, I should make one important point: Community engagement must be a high priority for the top editor in a newsroom. The engagement editor should help the top editor carry out his or her engagement duties, not take them over entirely. So as I elaborate on the list here, coordination with the top editor will shape how the engagement editor handles these duties. In some cases, the top editor might take the lead in a duty, assisted by the engagement editor. In others, roles might be reversed. And certainly some duties will be carried out entirely by the engagement editor.
Just as important, community engagement must be a priority throughout the newsroom, not just one person’s job. In the same way that having copy editors does not mean that reporters don’t need to worry about clean copy, having an engagement editor doesn’t mean that other journalists in the newsroom don’t need to engage the community. The engagement editor leads, guides and stimulates the newsroom’s engagement efforts.
For purposes of this blog, I am describing the work of an engagement editor whose duties include social media. If you are a social media editor, you might have some or all of the other engagement duties, or none of them. If your newsroom has both positions, the division of labor will vary and they will need to coordinate closely. If your newsroom has an ombudsman, public editor or reader representative, those duties might overlap with the engagement editor, so you will need to coordinate duties.
The leading duties of the engagement editor:
- Manage branded social media accounts for the newsroom.
- Coach newsroom staff in use of social media to improve their journalism.
- Lead efforts to open the newsroom to the community.
- Lead in-person community outreach efforts.
- Recruit local blogging network and manage newsroom efforts with the network.
- Lead newsroom efforts at curation and crowdsourcing.
- Train newsroom staff and blog network in social media, blogging and other aspects of engagement.
- Establish and manage community partnerships.
- Lead newsroom efforts to engage through liveblogs and live chats.
- Try out new social tools and engagement techniques and lead the staff in adoption of the ones that look most useful.
- Blog and write a print column about community engagement efforts.
- Produce original content for all platforms relating to engagement.
- Network with colleagues leading engagement efforts in other newsrooms.
I’ll elaborate in order:
Manage newsroom social media accounts
I don’t necessarily think that the engagement editor needs to be the primary person tweeting and updating to Facebook, though that might be the right approach in some newsrooms. I’m fine with allowing, expecting or even requiring editors and even reporters using the newsroom accounts to post links to stories they’ve written or edited, or to respond to people asking questions about (or criticizing or praising) those stories. Or they can use the newsroom account for crowdsourcing questions or in other ways.
If multiple people are authorized to use the account, the engagement editor’s job is to train those people in how to use it, reminding them of the voice of the account, making sure that stories don’t fall through the cracks or that the flow isn’t too heavy or too light (a stronger flow is generally more welcome on Twitter than on Facebook).
For accounts that aren’t used as much as Twitter and Facebook, such as Google+, Pinterest, Foursquare or YouTube, the engagement editor might take a heavier or exclusive role.
It’s important to make clear that the presence of an engagement editor doesn’t result in shoving all social media work to that person. For instance, editors and reporters should routinely add widgets to stories pulling in related tweets if the topic has generated a hashtag or if the reporter is tweeting about the topic. That’s not the engagement editor’s job. But teaching editors and reporters how to do it certainly is part of the job. And so is checking to see that the staff is using the widgets (and providing gentle and sometimes firm reminders when they’re not).
I blogged some advice about engaging through newsroom Twitter accounts and Mandy Jenkins blogged some great advice about managing branded Twitter and Facebook accounts. What’s some other advice you have about managing newsroom social media accounts?
Coach newsroom staff in social media
Almost any newsroom covers a wide range of social media use who could benefit from a colleague’s coaching: enthusiastic personal users who may need some counsel in professional use, robotic professional users who may need some guidance in engaging with the community, non-users or reluctant users who need to learn how social media can help them become better journalists, effective users who need some occasional guidance and brainstorming.
The engagement editor should monitor staff social media use and provide frequent feedback, retweeting from the newsroom account or her own individual account where appropriate.
When someone isn’t using social media appropriately, discuss the issue privately and professionally. You don’t want to send the message that someone should stop using social media. So I favor conversations that stress effective and appropriate use of social media, rather than coming down heavily on offenses. That doesn’t mean that you don’t identify the inappropriate use. But spend more time discussing smart use of social media. Providing examples of good use of social media is especially helpful. Follow up with feedback.
Keep in mind John Paton’s rules for employee use of social media. John’s point isn’t that anything goes, but that we don’t want to govern use with lots of thou-shalt-nots. We want our staff members to be ethical journalists, and that includes their use of social media.
Of course, egregious examples, such as posting false information unquestioned, should be dealt with more strongly.
Lead efforts to open the newsroom
Digital First wants to invite people into our newsrooms, both in person and digitally. I hope your newsroom is planning a community newsroom, newsroom café or other project to provide a physical space for your community to join you in the newsroom. If so, the engagement editor will lead planning for the launch, including logistical efforts such as remodeling and equipping. The engagement editor will also plan events for the public and may work in the public’s area, being handy for answering questions and helping people use the equipment.
Whether you have a community newsroom or not, you want to open your newsroom in other ways, such as livestreaming daily planning meetings and posting daily news budgets online.
Lead in-person community outreach
Events are an important part of an engagement editor’s work. You host some events such as classes in your community newsroom. But you also go into the community. You may teach some blogging classes in other locations (especially if you don’t yet have a place in your newsroom). You may speak at meetings of community organizations, service clubs, neighborhood associations, university classes or school career days.
You may attend community festivals and other events, setting up a table or booth to meet people and tell them about engagement opportunities with your newsroom. This is a good illustration of the role of promotion in engagement: The purpose of engagement is not promotion, but improving the journalism you offer the community. Promotion is a welcome side effect of engagement. You don’t attend community events to promote your website, newspaper and mobile apps. But you gladly promote those products while attending the events to recruit bloggers, boost crowdsourcing efforts and make social media connections that will enhance your journalism. You might even provide some news content by liveblogging the event (disclosing your engagement role in the liveblog, of course).
Recruit community bloggers
The cutbacks in newsrooms have resulted in some cutbacks in our news coverage. At the same time, community bloggers are creating valuable content about your community, producing stories, commentary, videos and other content about community life, issues and events. This content may duplicate your coverage (every metro area has sports bloggers who cover the same major pro and college sports that your sports staff is covering). The content may provide coverage in some areas where you have cut coverage as your staff shrank. In some areas, bloggers will cover neighborhoods or topics you never covered regularly.
Digital First newsrooms are seeking to network with these bloggers in a relationship we usually call the Community Media Lab (though some use other names, such as Town Square for the network of the Mercury in Pottstown, Pa., or Blogtown for the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa.).
We want a mutually beneficial relationship. We will drive traffic to the bloggers, featuring some of their posts on our sites and linking to their work. They will boost traffic for us, displaying widgets that feature our logos and some of our content, linking to our sites. We will provide classes to help bloggers develop their skills and computers for some of them to use. They will support (if they choose) some of our projects, such as the Mercury’s Fill the Media Lab food drive.
The engagement editor finds bloggers already working in the community and recruits them to join our networks. The editor also identifies people interested in getting started blogging and helps them get started.
Lead newsroom efforts at curation and crowdsourcing
Curation and crowdsourcing should become part of a Digital First journalist’s routine. The engagement editor helps this happen by training and coaching colleagues and by asking in daily news meetings how we are planning to curate or crowdsource on a particular story. In most cases, the engagement editor won’t be doing the actual curation or crowdsourcing. That should be the work of the reporters and editors working on the stories.
But the engagement editor might take a curation or crowdsourcing role in a big story that commands collaboration by several journalists.
Especially early in the learning curve, the engagement editor should give colleagues feedback on their efforts, noting to the newsroom how a reporter carried out a successful curation effort or brainstorming with an editor or reporter how to improve on a disappointing crowdsourcing effort.
As I’ve noted before, training is an essential part of the Digital First newsroom transformation. The engagement editor should play a key role in that effort, helping colleagues learn how to use social media tools and engagement techniques. Sometimes the engagement editor will lead a workshop or webinar herself. Other times, she might provide colleagues with links to helpful online resources, such as our Digital Ninja School resources. Sometimes one-on-one training and coaching is needed.
The engagement editor leads efforts to work with others in the community to elevate our journalism. This work overlaps with the blog network, which is certainly a partnership, but extends beyond blogs. You might partner with a college or university to present some blogging and/or social media courses. Or you might partner with organizations or individuals to prevent classes seemingly unrelated to journalism. Genealogy classes are the most popular courses at our Newsroom Café at the Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn. While genealogy isn’t directly related to news, people researching their families are the most frequent users when our newsrooms make their archives available for community use.
Community partnerships also might include other media, such as our Connecticut newsrooms’ partnership with the Connecticut Health Investigation Team. Or you might partner with the League of Women Voters or another community group to present candidate forums.
Partnerships can lead to conflicts, especially if a partner is likely to appear in news stories. Avoid severe conflicts, but most potential conflicts can be handled by agreeing clearly in advance to reasonable boundaries and by disclosing relationships to readers.
Lead liveblogging and live-chatting
This is another area where the engagement editor should be more of a leader than a doer. He might lead an occasional live chat or might liveblog one of your engagement events. But usually the engagement editor will be reminding reporters to liveblog events they are covering, encouraging the editor to host regular live chats or suggesting that a reporter lead a live chat after publication of a major enterprise story (or as part of the crowdsourcing process while working on the story).
Try new tools and techniques
Buffy Andrews, Diane Hoffman, Kim McDaniel and some other Digital First engagement editors are the first in their newsrooms to explore the use of Pinterest to support their newsrooms’ work. We may decide that Pinterest needs to integrate into every journalist’s routine, or they may suggest some specific uses for different situations or different types of journalists. But we don’t learn that by expecting everyone to try every new tool that comes along. The engagement editor tries it out and suggests how important it should become to the newsroom and who should start using it.
A little over a year ago, Quora was getting some buzz, similar to what Pinterest is getting now, as the social tool on the rise. But Quora didn’t catch on as well as Pinterest is. Quora is still something engagement editors should know about, as a way to find local experts and perhaps a place to get some occasional answers to questions. But Quora didn’t push its way into the top ranks of social tools the way Pinterest appears to be headed. Just as Pinterest is important to explore now, we needed to explore Quora last year. If Pinterest continues growing, it could be as important as major social tools such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The engagement editors will lead their staffs in learning how to use it effectively.
Engagement editors need to be early adopters (or at least early inquirers) so we identify the most useful tools for our colleagues to use.
Blog about engagement efforts
Transparency is an important value of the Digital First newsroom. The engagement editor should blog (and write either a regular or occasional print column) about community engagement efforts. Let the community know about opportunities to engage with your staff and with each other. Share your engagement experiences – successes as well as lessons learned from failures – with colleagues in other newsrooms.
At the New Haven Register, Angi and Ed have brought in other voices to their blog, Your Open Newsroom, by posting testimony from legislative public hearings. This has resulted in others contacting them about issues they’re involved with. Buffy Andrews of the York Daily Record addresses engagement issues both in her Buffy’s World blog and as a contributor to the YDR Insider blog. (I’ll highlight some other engagement editors’ blogs in the next installment of this series on engagement editors, when I’ll be sharing some observations and advice about the job from engagement editors.)
Produce original content
Engagement efforts should produce stories, videos, photos, curation and other content for your website, mobile products, newspaper and other platforms. I’ve blogged recently about such content being produced by engagement efforts of the Mercury in Pottstown, Pa., as well as the Oakland Press. Sometimes the engagement editor will directly write the stories or shoot the videos. Other times, the engagement editor might coordinate or edit work by colleagues.
Network with engagement colleagues
Many of our efforts at community engagement involve new tools and techniques. We need to learn from each other. So we should network with other colleagues, both in Digital First and beyond, to learn what has worked for them and to share their own experiences. In Digital First, we discuss these issues in a Google group (let me know if you’d like an invitation to the group), as well as in lots of emails, phone calls, video chats, #dfmchat and in personal social messages. Members of our Digital First Media engagement team visit newsrooms to coach engagement editors and to learn from their experiences, so we can share them with others.
Just as sports editors, newsroom leaders, investigative reporters and other groups of specialized journalists have formed associations so members can network in conferences, seminars and digital sharing. I expect such an association of engagement editors someday.
If you’re an editor of a Digital First newsroom (or any other newsroom), I strongly encourage making one of your staff members an engagement editor. I’d be happy to discuss with you and with candidates for the position how the job works and what it entails.
This is the second in a series of blog posts on engagement and social media editors. I blogged yesterday about some career lessons from Mandy Jenkins’ work as a social media editor. Next I will share some advice and observations from Digital First engagement editors.
Update: Elana Zak asked me on Twitter if I had seen her series on engagement and social media editors for 10,000 Words. Here are some links:
4 Questions with ProPublica’s New Social Media Editor (my friend and former TBD colleague Daniel Victor).