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Heron: “I think my job will probably not exist in five years.”

Why the social media editor job may be a transitional one.

Is the most up-and-coming job in journalism — the social media editor — a permanent position at news outlets, or a transitional role?

At a panel discussing social media best practices at the Journalism Interactive conference this morning, The New York Times’ co-social media editor, Liz Heron, said that her own position probably falls on the side of transitional. “I think my job will probably not exist in five years,” she said.

But! That’s “not because social media will die out or fade,” Heron noted. Quite the opposite. We’re in a moment of disruption right now — social media may be slowly transforming some formerly standard newsroom practices (and formerly standard newsroom assumptions), but, for all their impact, they’re not universal. Twitter and Facebook and social news in general are still things that need to be learned — and, within the newsroom, advocated for.

That won’t be the case for much longer, Heron suggested. (As Heron’s co-panelist, NBC’s Jim Long, put it: In a few years, having a social media editor will make as much sense as having a telephone consultant.) As social media become more diffusive, their impact will be, as well. Social media, and innovation in their use, will become more of a team effort. And so, Heron said, “it’ll be less necessary to have one person in charge.”

Image by Widjaya Ivan used under a Creative Commons license.

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  • Steve Buttry

    Though use of social media will become as universal as telephones in newsrooms, I expect we will still need — for some time, maybe longer than five years — specialists who check out the new tools, assess their value, train staff and integrate their use into our workflow.

  • Ian Hill, KQED News

    Agreed; I hope for the future of the news industry, though, that it happens much sooner rather than later. Our readers/listeners/viewers/users don’t care how long it takes the newsroom to adapt to new technology. They’re going to start using it, and we’re going to have to follow suit quickly, or we’ll continue to lose them.

  • Nick Cicero

    I think a telephone consultant is a horrible analogy. The thing is people see “social media” influencing the digital world right now because the technology has made its way into daily communication use. It’s easy to access. It still takes time to curate conversations and newsrooms especially should be about taking the time to engage those communities. That requires structure and active moderation EVEN if teams of people are involved. 

    Just as the photo editor manages the photographers, there needs to be a point of leadership to drive innovation and manage the best practices, at the very least consult with someone to set up such practices)…and if you’re spending 90% of your time securing stories etc how will you specialize in Social innovation? 


    Nick, you’re right in as much that we need specialists out there to handle conversation and content curation – no doubt. I think what’s really up in the air, and more to what Liz Heron was saying, is that with the flux in newsrooms and technology, that role may be way different in 5 years time.

    I think Heron’s comment (“My job won’t be around in 5 yrs”) may have been slightly tongue-in-cheek and said for effect, but that’s not to say she doesn’t really believe that. 5 years ago social media managers/ entrepreneurs were few and far between. Now there are many. Have we finished evolving? Not by a long shot …..

  • matthewhughes

    The role of social media editor will go as the monetization of social media goes.

  • Maria Mann

    So, we should also just get rid of doctors and operate on ourselves…. The thought of a wide open, unedited, unvetted world is a nightmarish thought, with half-truths and rumours guiding the more naive, and making world markets react to unnecessary paranoia, making us all pay.

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