Can nonprofit newsrooms afford a social media editor?

Sep 12, 2013
Can nonprofit newsrooms afford a social media editor?

The following is an opinion piece written by Ryan Schill.

The social media editor's role in the newsroom is still quite new, and ever-evolving as social media continues to shape the way we see the world.

However, recent discussion (on Buzzfeed and right here, on Muck Rack) has begun to question the very usefulness of having a single person responsible for the strategy and coordination of a news organization's social media presence.

Should a newsroom have a social media editor?

Nevertheless, as thoughtful as this dialogue may be,  it assumes a homogeneity among newsrooms and publications—saying that, in effect, all journalism is produced by large news organizations. This is clearly not true.

What about small newsrooms? Moreover, what about small, nonprofit newsrooms, those with staffs in the single digits, whose budgets are driven by grants and donations? These organizations present a very different challenge. Which approach should they take?

For journalists, social media can provide quite a few different services—content promotion, community engagement, story leads and sources. But at its core, the question becomes one of choosing between content production or social promotion. Can a talented social media manager drive more traffic to the news website than can the consistent production of high-quality journalism?

Or rather, with a tiny budget and limited resources, which makes more sense: to spend precious dollars to pay for more journalism or to spend those same dollars to pay for social promotion?

This is not to say that nonprofit news organizations should not engage in social media. Every journalist in the newsroom should be actively using social media as a tool to find leads, share their stories and connect with readers.

But none of that requires a social media editor.

The small nonprofit news organization is already fighting an uphill battle for recognition among their target audience. That target audience, however, may be quite niche—a small community of readers who share a very particular interest. Proving it can provide targeted, consistently high-quality news to that community will be far more impactful for the small nonprofit newsroom than any number of tweets and Facebook posts.

The goal must be to become the definitive source of news for that niche community so those readers will know to visit the site every day (and hopefully a couple of times every day) for new content they want to read. And if those readers are convinced they will share their source of news with others in the community.

Journalism is king and the ultimate driver of traffic to a news organization's website, whether they are a small nonprofit or a large corporate news organization. Social media can be a great asset to any newsroom. But when budgets are tight and staffs are small, you must rely on the resources at hand and make the most of what you have.

At the end of the day, the focus must be on the journalism—producing more and better content. With any luck it will gain you readership and credibility. A social media editor can come in time, but the position is really the second phase of a social media strategy that can begin as the organization grows.

Ryan Schill is the deputy editor at the Center for Sustainable Journalism, an award-winning journalist, writer and editor, and adjunct faculty at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. His work has appeared in The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Youth Today, The Crime Report, and Cartoon Movement, among other publications.

Photo: News on screens via Shutterstock

About the author

#WebDeveloper at @gospecless. Maker of things with #JavaScript and #Python. Recovering journalist. #RESIST

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