Everybody Calm Down About Rachel Sterne, For Chrissakes

A day after New York City named Rachel Sterne as its first chief digital officer, advertising trade publication Adweek has posted an ostensibly hard-hitting look at the appointment that seems based in a misreading of what it is Ms. Sterne will actually be doing for the mayor’s office.

Says Adweek:

[D]espite the rave reviews she gets from tech luminaries, Sterne has very little experience in management, and even less in public policy, which might raise reasonable questions about whether or not she’s the most qualified person to direct New York City’s digital development, a job that comes with a reported $115,000 salary.

Little experience in management! Less in public policy! Surely this 27-year-old has no place in the field of technocratic wonkery!

And yet, when we examine the announcement of Ms. Sterne’s appointment, we learn that Mayor Bloomberg created the job “with the goal of improving communication with residents and businesses by enhancing government transparency and working closely with digital media.” Using digital media to respond to constituents and engage businesses is not public policy in the traditional sense, but that’s why this is a new job. As for management, it’s hard to imagine Sterne commanding a team of ground troops to manage the city’s Twitter feed and website.

As for the hay to be made over a high-profile city official clearing six figures, let’s just say it’s scant.

The putative zinger of the Adweek piece is perhaps the most puzzling:

But Sterne’s skills as a self-promoter may be stronger than her skills in social media and digital communications.

Has anyone else noticed that self-promotional skills and social media and digital media skills overlap to the point of being the same thing? Someone tell Alex Blagg the jig is up; Adweek‘s onto him.

Rachel Sterne may or may not prove successful at the daunting task of harnessing social media to make the city more efficient and business-friendly. But it’s unlikely that she’ll fail because she’s young, or because she lacks middle-management experience, or because she hasn’t negotiated the finer points of enacting legislation. This job is about thinking creatively about social media technology. And Ms. Sterne has generated enough online buzz to make her a reasonable candidate for a position for which the main qualification is generating online buzz.

mtaylor [at] observer.com | @mbrookstaylor

Everybody Calm Down About Rachel Sterne, For Chrissakes