The New York Times just made a landmark move in their paper’s history, hiring their first ever Social Media Editor, Jennifer Preston, to direct their entire social media strategy. The former editor of the New York Times Regional Section, her job now is to work side-by-side with editors, reporters, bloggers and other individuals in the social media space to use social tools to find sources, stay on top of trends and break news. Overall, Jennifer is charged with helping the New York Times staff get up-to-date and comfortable with the inner workings of sites like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, and Digg, in an effort to the help the paper engage a wider audience.
So, does this mean the Times finally sees the grave importance of the social media revolution? Is Jennifer’s position a reflection of the paper’s belief that to survive in the collapsing newspaper industry they must stay on the pulse of the public’s needs and behaviors? Perhaps. Or, perhaps this is the paper’s way of reeling in their reporters and editors already tweeting and blogging out there, and is a master plan to control these kinds of behaviors by having one centralized person direct all social media activity.
There’s no doubt social media is, well, scary to some papers. Just take a look at the Wall Street Journal’s new policy on “professional conduct.” It includes a lengthy guide for use of online outlets, noting cautions for activities on social networking sites. The WSJ’s policy, actually seems to deter their staff from participating in social media with rules like:
• Let our coverage speak for itself, and don’t detail how an article was reported, written or edited.
• Don’t discuss articles that haven’t been published, meetings you’ve attended or plan to attend with staff or sources, or interviews that you’ve conducted.
• All postings on Dow Jones sites that may be controversial or that deal with sensitive subjects need to be cleared with your editor before posting.
• Business and pleasure should not be mixed on services like Twitter. Common sense should prevail, but if you are in doubt about the appropriateness of a Tweet or posting, discuss it with your editor before sending.
Perhaps newspapers need to attempt to find a healthy social media medium. The fact of the matter is now more than ever, reporters want to have a voice, and they are using all the methods of social media out there to be heard. You can choose to stifle the voice, let it run wild, or perhaps gain some control. Whether or not the New York Times is looking to simply evolve and grow, or take back control is yet to be determined. I guess we can all glean our own opinions from Jennifer Preston’s upcoming Tweets and blogs.