JULY 14, 2009 1:30PM

Times: Why not hire a social media expert?

Rate: 3 Flag

By King Kaufman: The New York Times' hiring of Jennifer Preston as social media editor -- she signed up at Twitter upon getting the job -- reminds me of a phenomenon that I bet has happened at least once at every newspaper in America. I know it's happened at every newspaper someone I know has worked at. At some point, some executive gets the bright idea to hire a sports editor who doesn't know anything about sports.

The idea is to get a fresh perspective, to not fall into old patterns and habits, to look at the sports world with fresh eyes. Or something. It must sound great in a meeting. But of course what happens is you get a sports department run by someone who knows nothing about the subject, and it's a disaster. They never do this with the city desk, the Washington bureau or the arts editor. Just sports.

Preston seems like a thoughtful person, and her eagerness to learn about her new subject is admirable. She quickly solicited thoughts and opinions from the twitterverse and got thousands of replies. But if her job is to essentially coach the paper's editorial staff about how best to use social media, why didn't the Times hire someone who knows that subject in the first place?

I just can't picture the Times hiring, say, a video editor to guide the staff on how best to use video on various platforms, then giving her a month to study up on video, about which she came in knowing nothing. Interesting that the Times, usually willing to engage with the Web and face the future head on, fell back on a familiar hire, a newsroom veteran, for a position that called for a citizen of a new world.

Preston's timidity about engaging with Twitter isn't encouraging. She responded to criticism about her monthlong Twitter silence by telling Mashable she'd been listening. OK, so she's listening. But in the world of Twitter, unlike in real life, you needn't be quiet to listen.

She'd have known that if she were an expert.

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How did the position come into being? Did the Times decide there was a need then put out a call to fill the position? Or did the Times want to promote Preston and found it had no slot to put her in? Hey, how does social media editor sound?
Actually they do hire people who know nothing to run entertainment/arts departments. I'm a veteran of two such newspapers.