The newfound power of the social media editor

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg is the editor controlling most people’s front page. Image by Niall Kennedy

The New York Times is “retiring” the traditional practice of pitching stories for the newspaper’s front page, reports Poynter’s MediaWire:

“Under the new system, each desk at The New York Times will pitch stories to be considered for “Dean’s list,” a list of stories that get “the very best play on all our digital platforms,” including Web, mobile and social platforms.”

And they are not alone.

As news organisations have moved from print-first to web-first to mobile-first the changing role of the social media editor has been fascinating to watch.

Social media editors: supply vs demand

It wasn’t too long ago that the typical social media editor was a frustrated figure. Colleagues were ignorant of her role, or downright dismissive of it. She would be left out of the loop on key stories, or frustrated as they were published in the wrong ways at the wrong times.

Now the social media editor sits in the space where demand outstrips supply.

Facebook and Twitter are increasingly the ‘front page’ of the day’s news as far as users are concerned – certainly on mobile, and in a way that the news site homepage never was.

And while journalists have control over their own social media accounts, the followings of ‘branded’ news organisation accounts are often much larger.

The person who decides what to put on the New York Times Twitter feed, for example, has access to over 15 million followers. The person who controls the Mirror’s Facebook page has access to 1.5 million.

What’s more, there are only a certain number of stories that can be tweeted by the brand accounts; and even fewer stories that can be published on a Facebook account (at least if you’re being strategic).

And now, journalists compete to get their stories on those branded accounts – to such an extent that some social media editors have explicit guidelines on the types of content that will be considered for each branded account.

Metrics of success: what gets measured gets managed

Partly this is down to an ongoing shift in focus from the immeasurable award of the front page lead to the more concrete numbers behind being the most-read or most-shared that day.

We still reward good journalism – but above all we now recognise good journalism which connects with an audience.

The New York Times is only the latest newsroom to recognise that in its news meetings.

And along the way, note that the Times is shifting its focus to original reporting as well:

“Enterprise stories, rather than news pieces, will be considered for the lists.”

What gets measured gets managed. And original, unique reporting – that’s what gets shared.

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