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The Big Soup: Anthony De Rosa on becoming Reuters social media editor and the ambient wire for news

He wants Reuters staff to “be curators and navigators for all the news out there, not just the stuff we’re producing.”

It was a surprise that wasn’t so surprising. When it was announced Anthony De Rosa would become social media editor for Reuters.com, it was hard to avoid thinking: Yeah, that makes sense.

De Rosa is to Reuters what Andy Carvin is to NPR, a relentless social media news machine. He’s everywhere, following everything and constantly updating it all on his Twitter feed and Tumblr, from Syria and Egypt to the vagaries of Anthony Weiner’s tweeting habits. He has been called “The Undisputed King of Tumblr” and one of the top 20 people to follow on Twitter. And De Rosa did it all while working as a product manager and technologist for Reuters.

Reuters is looking to lay claim to a broader audience outside its financial, business, and legal products by becoming a larger player in news in the U.S. This week they also unveiled the beta version of a newsier redesign of Reuters.com. But if Reuters is looking to meet or beat the likes of The New York Times, the Associated Press, or NPR, staking out that territory also means getting a handle on using new platforms for the sourcing, discovery, and delivery of news. “We want to make Reuters more of a mainstream name for news. It’s a big name for professionals and a big name for people looking for actionable information,” De Rosa said. “We want to continue to do that, but we want to expand out to a broad, mainstream audience as well.”

In his new job De Rosa will continue to do what he’s done, just on a broader scale with bigger stakes.

“The thing I’m most excited about is trying to add more of an element of the news that breaks on the ambient wire of Twitter and Facebook and other social networks, where you have journalists and citizen journalists putting up videos, photos, or just messages,” he told me.

“We can be curators and navigators for all the news out there, not just the stuff we’re producing but from citizens and other networks.”

Unlike many positions at news outlets, “social media editor” is still a bit undefined, combining the practicalities of integrating technology with the missionary work of convincing people of its value. That’s a task De Rosa said he’s glad to take on, showing other journalists the benefits of Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr as as means of connecting the audience to news as well as the sources behind it all. “That really starts to build a trust factor and familiarity, and once you get that you can be the arbiter, or navigator if you will, of what you need to know today,” he said.

Reuters is already a formidable news organization, one our own Ken Doctor says has the largest news staff in the world. Social media is a way of further leveraging all of that talent, De Rosa said. What he’d like to see is Reuters becoming part of that “ambient wire,” the unceasing (and often unfiltered) flow of news that takes place on social networks. That means increasing journalists usage of social media, but also finding ways of incorporating the information being produced by others, including non journalists.

“We can be curators and navigators for all the news out there, not just the stuff we’re producing but from citizens and other networks,” he said. That carves out a new kind of value to readers, De Rosa said, that relies not just on Reuters’ wealth of reporting and resources, but also on its willingness to experiment and take part in a broader community.

In his new job De Rosa will continue to do what he’s done, just on a broader scale with bigger stakes.

Consider the example De Rosa has already created: His blog Soup spans coverage of uprisings in the Middle East to U.S. politics, sports, and entertainment, all culled from the ether, curated and served up at all-too-frequent clip for a guy busy with a day job. As a result, he’s got 9,000 followers on Twitter and somewhere around 25,000 Tumblr followers. He’s been cited by NBC New York, The Today Show, The New York Times (by David Carr no less), and yes, even Jon Stewart. It’s a small-scale media enterprise, all predicated on social media monitoring, journalistic savvy, and, as De Rosa says, a natural curiosity. “I’ve worked with lots of different publications over the years. I’ve been a writer. I’m interested in sports, technology and politics. I could never see myself not producing some kind of content even though my role was more of a product role,” he said.

The lessons from his blog will also carry over to his new job, in trying to find ways to give people comprehensive and useful information, but also, well, in using Tumblr. It should be no surprise that De Rosa wants to expand the use of Tumblr and find ways for Reuters to explore the platform. The value of Tumblr, he said, is as an in-between medium, something that can offer the succinctness of Twitter, but also the rich content of Facebook. The other plus, particularly for news organizations, is the ease of use: “It’s another interesting way to present the news, a platform that kind of ties into what we’re doing on our main website but allows us to do it in a more nimble way. It allows us to publish quicker and get stories out faster.” Beyond curating content from others, Tumblr could provide a unique experience for specific types of proprietary content, like Q&As or events with video, De Rosa said. He points to examples like the Brian Stelter’s reporting on tornados in Joplin, Missouri for The New York Times, using Tumblr as a way to deliver news, connect with readers and build anticipation for stories on NYTimes.com.

For Stelter, Carvin, De Rosa, or his Reuters colleague Felix Salmon, there’s a reason they’ve built up social media followings: personality. De Rosa has a theory for this as well. As much as technical proficiency, connections, and the urgency of breaking events can help build a following, the audience ultimately wants to feel like they are connected to the news and the people delivering it. That’s a lesson for news organizations and individual journalists, not to mention something else De Rosa is familiar with.

“You need someone to be the human face, almost like an anchor on television,” he said. “I think that applies to social networks. You need someone who is an ambassador. It doesn’t have to be one person — it can be multiple people.”

                                   
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