Social Media Tips with NYT's Jennifer Preston

The former social media editor of the New York Times on why women need to know LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter

by Lesley Kennedy • Reporter
jennifer preston image
Jennifer Preston writes for The New York Times' The Lede blog.
Photograph: Photo courtesy NYT

As social media editor, I was in a department-head role without a staff, learning about these tools, delivering training, developing strategy, conducting experiments with using social media to cover the Detroit Auto Show, and applying lessons learned from that experience to cover Fashion Week in New York, breaking news stories like the Haiti earthquake, and other big stories, like the World Cup. I was doing a lot of posting on the main accounts myself.

At the end of 2010, when we were merging the print and digital newsrooms, I recommended that we decentralize social media responsibilities so that our section editors and department editors owned the conversation taking place around their content, rather than a single social media editor who does not have a staff. Our social media team is now part of the interactive news group, where they have access to tools to help support our desks, and they have done some really amazing projects in the last year.

I asked to go back to reporting. Because I knew how to use these tools and monitor the conversation taking place, I proposed the social media beat, to write about how social media is changing just about everything. I was lucky, because one of the first stories I wrote was about the role that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube played in the uprising in Egypt.

MORE: Has social media changed the way you report?
JP: Yes. There has been an unprecedented amount of user-generated content created in the last couple of years, with so many people posting videos, photos and updates, so I am now in a new role, trying to tell breaking news stories and other stories using content I find on social media. It is reinvention time again.

MORE: Did you ever think social media would become a newspaper beat? And with the constantly evolving nature of it, how do you foresee it changing?
JP: It was a great beat in the last year or so, since I had an opportunity to write about the role of social media in the Arab spring and how it is changing the way we eat, love and  pray. But I don't think that newspapers need a social media reporter. Every reporter needs to understand and report how social media is changing the landscape on her or his beat, because social media is changing everything.

MORE: You just started in a new role at the Times.
JP: I joined Rob Mackey and David Goodman on The Lede blog, our breaking news blog, using social media to report stories taking place around the country. For example, I covered the [recent] tornadoes that tore through the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Instead of calling the local fire and police departments, I told the story on The Lede with content created by users on social media platforms: I used posts on Twitter, amazing videos that ordinary people captured and posted on YouTube and updates they made on Facebook. I also shared with our readers some of the great work that was being done by the Dallas Morning News and local television stations there.

MORE: How should older women respond to social media pressure? Give in? Ignore it? Can we afford to?
JP: I don't think that women can ignore social media. By not tuning in, people run the risk of missing out on important information from their friends and family. And everyone with children must learn these tools so that they can be on top of what their children are doing and sharing online.

MORE: What are the dangers for women when it comes to using social mediadoes putting too much online just give potential employers fodder for not hiring us?
JP: Privacy needs to be a concern for everyone, whether you are a teenager or an adult. I think many of us are grateful that Facebook and Twitter were not around when we were in our teens and early twenties. I certainly would not want some of the more memorable moments of my youth captured on video and posted for all to see in real time or 20 years later.

So I would recommend that most people button up their Facebook settings unless they are using their Facebook page primarily for professional purposes. I am also not crazy about sharing geolocation information with these platforms.

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