Consider the social media editor: Her background and ambitions are journalistic, but because she possesses the very basic people skills required to navigate social networks, she awakens one morning to discover she’s become a so-called “Twitter monkey.” Officially she’s an editor, but her job mostly consists of monitoring news wires, interacting with readers, and promoting her colleagues’ articles. And because clicks equal ad buys equal revenue, one might even say she’s the contemporary equivalent of the newsboy, shouting headlines from the street corners of the Internet. Except Twitter and Facebook never sleep, so she has to do it around the clock.
One Huffington Post Social News editor, Mandy Jenkins, has spoken out about the pitfalls and indignities of the position on the eve of a new not-just-social gig at Digital First Media.
On Zombie Journalism, Ms. Jenkins wrote that…
Spending all day in the Twitter stream, you miss the forest for the trees. (And your friends for your smart phone.)
Watching and curating streams, responding to mentions, keeping an eye out for breaking news, promoting reporters’ work – it takes up so much time and mental energy that it’s difficult to do much else very effectively (and that includes being a spouse, friend, parent, pet owner, etc.).
The truth is, I’ve rarely had time in the past four years to actually step back and look at the big picture of what I’ve been doing. You have to be able to study, research and read to be able to create and evolve social strategy. You need to have time to experiment with new tools and practices and to work on new products to engage readers. You have to be available to help others with their own social media dilemmas. All of that is very difficult to do when you’re shoveling coal to power the Twitter Machine 24/7.
Social media gigs are filled by 20-somethings, and there’s no upward mobility.
It used to be you could start as a copyeditor, reporter or web producer and eventually (with good work) move up to be a mid-level editor, then an editor, then a director and so on. There was a system. The social media specialist, as a fairly new role, often isn’t in that system (from my anecdotal evidence-gathering). Their skills, while useful for their purposes, may not be likely to translate into larger digital roles in the minds of top level managers.
Journalists can (and should) do it for themselves.
I said in 2008 – and I still believe – that if we as the designated social media types were doing our jobs well, we wouldn’t be necessary because everyone in the newsroom would be proficient at social media. That’s the best possible future I can imagine for the role of social media in our industry.
We’ll take it even further! The best possible future we can imagine for social media in our industry is that it becomes our industry. Who needs a newspaper or website when we can break news directly to our growing Facebook subscribers list? Zuckerberg will spread a little of his $28.4 B payout around to the content-providers, right?