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4 Questions With ProPublica’s New Social Media Editor

The role of social media editor is a relatively new, and highly coveted, spot in newsrooms. While there are still a lot of questions about what exactly this job entails, everyone can agree that there needs to be at least one person handling social media for the company full-time.

Photo Credit: Jay Westcott

This past summer, for example, Reuters hired Anthony De Rosa to lead its social media team. And this week, ProPublica announced Daniel Victor as its newest social media editor.

So, what exactly does it take to land the gig? Who better to ask then ProPublica’s newest addition?

Victor’s career has been nothing short of impressive. After graduating from Penn State in 2006, he immediately joined the news desk at the (Harrisburg) Patriot-News. Four years later, he left to work with TBD.com as a community host. After that experiment went south, Philly.com quickly snatched Victor up to be a community builder. Now, Victor joins ProPublica, the first organization to be awarded a Pulitzer for work that didn’t appear in print.

Readers of 10,000 Words may also be familiar with Victor. Last March, we interviewed him on what he learned from leaving a traditional newsroom to join TBD. This time, however, he’s sharing his thoughts on social media and journalism.

EZ: How does one land a gig as a social media editor? What are the must-have skills that someone aspiring to be a social media editor needs?
DV: Most importantly, you should think of yourself as a journalist first, and a social media nerd a very distant second. (I say that lovingly.) You need to show that you’ll apply every standard of professionalism to your 140 characters as you would a 60-inch newspaper story under your byline. You can’t get away with anything less because it’s “just a tweet.”

Will you reliably include “alleged” on crime-related tweets, even though it takes up those precious characters? Can you, on the fly, evaluate the trustworthiness of someone claiming to be an eyewitness? How skilled are you at finding those eyewitnesses?

In that sense, my four years of newspaper reporting experience have been a tremendous help. A lot of people can craft a clickable tweet, but there aren’t nearly as many who first grounded themselves in the ethics and legalities of reporting itself. Those who are skilled at both will have a huge advantage.

As far as skills specific to social media, you need equal attention to the distribution and the reporting aspects of the job. On distribution, are you familiar with how to use analytics, do you know what kind of language prompts the most retweets or clicks, and do you understand people’s motivations for following you and sharing your content?

On reporting, do you have a sense of which elements of stories can be crowdsourced, and do you know how to gather useful information beyond opinions? If you have experience that will answer those questions, you’ll stick out from the pack.

EZ: What is the biggest challenge facing journalism outlets, such as ProPublica, when it comes to social media?
DV: The big temptation is to focus more on the distribution than the reporting. Most of us with just a few years under our belts are used to working in organizations that shout their reporting from mountaintops, affording our readers little access. Changing that — a very necessary thing that will make our reporting stronger and our readers smarter — requires not just new behavior from us, but also reprogramming the expectations of our audience. They’re used to being passive readers, but we’re all better off if they expect to contribute.

That’ll take some time, and it’ll go faster if the journalism outlets themselves show leadership on the front.

EZ: What is the biggest strength when it comes to using social media in journalism?
DV: People who’ve never before had the ability to share their information can now connect to journalists, and, just as significantly, to each other. If I’m a municipal reporter writing about a new commercial development, I might only have time to call the usual suspects (the developer, the mayor, the standard citizen gadfly).

But there may be dozens of people out there with small, useful bits of information, and they won’t be able to inform the rest of their community unless they’re lucky enough to get a call from a reporter. With social media, reporters can increase their source pool from “those I have the time and awareness to call” to “everyone who has an interest in the issue.” That leads to better sourcing, better stories, and better engagement with those stories.

EZ: What’s the next big thing you’d like to see ProPublica do with social media?
DV: ProPublica measures its success more by impact than by pageviews, so you’ll see some ideas geared toward making sure the stories land as strongly as they should.

As suggested by everything else I’ve said here, I also want to explore more and more ways we can bring the audience closer to the editorial process. I’m usually big on offering specifics, but my ideas aren’t ready for the bright lights just yet.

To hear more about Victor’s new job, follow him on Twitter @bydanielvictor or visit his blog, http://bydanielvictor.com.

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