What’s a social media editor? I have no idea, but the New York Times now has one! As reported in ReadWriteWeb, paidContent.org, and of course Valleywag, the paper of record has appointed Jennifer Preston, former editor of the regional sections, as its first social media editor.
I agree with Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb that
We would love to see Preston fill a role similar to what Mathew Ingram does at the Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest daily paper. Ingram’s position is “Communities Editor” but he interfaces with social media activities both on and off of the paper’s site.
I think of Ingram more as a blogger than an editor, but in any case he’s certainly a credible voice in the brave new world of social media, and the New York Times would do well to have such a person on its staff.
It’s not as if the Times has been sitting on its hands–check out their APIs and their Open blog. But these efforts seem driven more by their technologists than by the editorial side of the house. My sense at Times Open was that the editors are still scared that any change could dilute their brand equity.
I’ve taken the apparently controversial stance that the New York Times should seek ways to monetize community. A hopefully less controversial assertion is that the paper needs to expose the value of that community. Few papers have the sort of brand-name writers that can act as attention magnets in a highly competitive attention economy, sucking in readers from Facebook, Twitter, the blogosphere, and the web as a whole. Of course, the management has to allow those writers to do so, which may be tough for an old guard used to assuring quality through control.
Still, I’m hopeful that the New York Times is taking a step in the right direction. I know nothing about Preston, or about the Times’s intentions beyond what’s been published in the articles I cited. Nonetheless, the gray lady seems to understand that now is the time to learn new tricks.