One of the exciting things about my new job is that we’re going to try some things that haven’t been done before. We’re going to try some things that haven’t been done before on the scale we’re doing them. We’re going to try different ways of doing things journalists have been doing for years.
So when I hire people to work on my community engagement team, I am as interested in the possibilities they see as the experience they bring. To the extent that I care about experience, I want to know how a job candidate has blazed new trails more than hearing about traditional newsroom experience.
I’m not looking for someone who can cover sports, though Editor Erik Wemple will be hiring a few people to do that. I am looking for someone who can recruit fans to liveblog high school games.
I am not looking for someone who can cover entertainment (though again, Erik will be hiring people to do that). I’ll be looking for someone who can promote use of a Twitter hashtag by people attending a concert and pull together a crowd review from tweets.
I have some ideas and I will be looking for people who can help me execute those. But mostly I’m looking for people who have better ideas than I do about how to engage our community.
Some organizations trying to engage communities using digital tools have called hired “community managers” to work with bloggers and other community contributors. We were initially planning to have some community managers on my team. But when John Temple hired reporters who were also “hosts” for his Peer News operation in Honolulu, I liked that title better. The relationship we want with our community is not the manager relationship. You can manage your staff and your time, but the community doesn’t want or need a manager. We’re confident, though, that the community will be pleased to spend some time with a gracious host. As Bruno Boutot said in a post about my job listings (yeah, he scooped me on my own ads):
“Host” sends the clear message that community is first about welcoming and hospitality.
In the coming weeks, we will be hiring the community hosts as well as a social media producer and a mobile producer. As I screen and interview candidates, I will care, of course, about their experience and their demonstrated abilities. But we will be talking much more about the future than the past. I have given a general description of the jobs in the listings linked above. But a key factor as I consider candidates will be the job descriptions they give me. I want to know what the candidate will do to flesh out the outline I have provided. I want to hear their vision and their plan to execute it.
My success as Director of Community Engagement will depend in large part on the work of these people. We need to provide opportunities for people in the Washington area to tell their stories of the news, events and issues in the community. I need people who are thinking and experimenting in the use of social media, mobile platforms, blogs, live coverage and other tools and techniques of social engagement.
We have a great opportunity to find a new direction for local journalism. I need to find people who can see that opportunity and seize it.