New York Times appoints a social media editor

nyt-pestonBig excitement over the New York Times’s appointment of a social media editor. Jennifer Preston, a former regional editor on the newspaper, has been tasked with expanding and promoting it on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Digg.

The newspaper has twigged that as well as people who buy it or make regular visits to the website, a lot of readers come through alerts and recommendations from their friends and colleagues. Preston’s role is to help staff use social media to find sources, contacts and information, and to gather and break news. There will also be a big emphasis on tweeting.

What is Preston’s qualification for the job? Very little, according to blogger Marshall Kirkpatrick, who was able to find very little trace of any social media activity, at least under her own name:; and she has only just opened a Twitter account.

But the newspaper says no one knows much about social media, so who cares? That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s true that once one dives in one can quickly pick up what one needs to know.

The New York Times itself has a good reputation for engaging with social media; it produces lots of streaming video and real time updates, and reporters are enthusiastic Tweeters. That’s a contrast with other US news organisations, which have a somewhat last-century attitude to the social media activities of their employees.  Staff at Bloomberg staff have been told to stop Twittering about competitors or sharing links to their sites, and the Wall Street Journal is said to have cracked down as well.

There’s probably also an element in Preston’s appointment of bringing discipline to staff’s use of social media. The paper was recently miffed at the way details of a closed editorial meeting were splashed across the Internet. But it makes sense for a major organisation to lay down guidelines and boundaries, as long as – as in this case – it is clearly using the medium to good advantage.