Friday, May 29, 2009

The New York Times proves it no longer gets it

This week, the New York Times appointed its first-ever social media editor, a woman named Jennifer Preston. She is a longtime New York Times journalist, and she's also a book author and adjunct professor at Columbia University. Her journalism skills are not in question, nor is her journalism experience or knowledge of the traditional aspects of the field.

It's her social media skills that are in question. 

She didn't have a Twitter account until she became social media editor. As near as anyone can tell (here, here and here), she doesn't have a Facebook or a MySpace page. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but those three Web sites are essentially the epicenter of the social media universe. If you don't use them, have never used them, and therefore likely have little or no working knowledge of how they are used, how on God's green earth can you possibly effectively serve as a social media editor? If the New York Times wanted to really effectively use social media in its reporting, if it really wants journalism to meld with social media, then shouldn't it have hired someone with at least a modicum of understanding of what it does? Shouldn't her first tweet have been something more profound than "How should @NYTimes be using twitter"? I mean, come on, a decent social media editor should have answered that question during the freaking job interview!

The internal memo sent to staff announcing her hiring confirms that question wasn't asked. In fact, the memo pretty much implies that her job is just figuring out what the hell social media are -- and that she'll spend most of her time talking to staffers who already use it. WTF? Shouldn't one of them have been named social media editor?

The rumor circulating around the newsroom at the Times is that she wasn't hired to help the staff better use Twitter. It was to monitor their use of it and put the brakes on it. Times deputy managing editor Jonathan Landman is quoted in the May 26 New York Observer pretty much saying such: "Mr. Landman said that Ms. Preston was tapped to help ensure 'some consistency about what we consider good uses of [social media] and bad uses of it.'”

In addition, Executive Editor Bill Keller went on a newsroom tirade earlier this year when details of meetings involving restructuring at the Times were spread via Twitter. His statements at the time indicated he didn't want staffers using the service.

People constantly ask me why I think newspapers are important. Why they should survive. Why we should fight for them. I tell them it's because they are the last wall protecting this country from government run amuck. Broadcast television no longer practices journalism; it's just a bunch of screaming idiots shouting their opinions at the American public. Blogs written by "citizen journalists" again are little more than individual spouting their personal opinin. They lack the investigative prowess and discernment, as well as professional objectivity, provided by trained journalists. Newspapers are all that's left of true, meaningful, investigative journalism. But if those papers can't accept, embrace and effectively use new media technologies and distribution methods to gather, parse and disseminate their work, then that work becomes useless because no one will see it. The Times, quite frankly, no longer gets it.

1 comment:

  1. "put the breaks on it." Shouldn't that be "brakes"?

    ReplyDelete

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