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The Role of Social Media Editors in Television Newsrooms: An Exploratory Study

DeVito, Allyson Beutke
Committee Members: 
Dr. Norman R. Swan, Jr.
August 2014


More Americans are using social media in their daily lives and finding news and information on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Media organizations are using social media sites to locate sources and verify information to increase ratings and circulation. Reporters and editors are interacting with audiences more than ever before. The result is a weakening of news organizations’ systems of editorial control and, consequently, their traditional gatekeeping function.

To assist with disseminating information about news stories and engage with their audiences more, some media organizations are creating a new position at newspapers and broadcast stations, known as a social media editor, producer or manager. They are more common in larger news organizations and differ from website editors because social media editors focus on creating conversations with the audience. Their place in the newsroom, however, is developing and uncertain, especially at the local news level. This study aims to understand their developing role in the local television newsroom and discover their functions and how editorial decisions about made about what content will be posted to social media.

Through long interviews with 23 participants in social media editor positions around the country, this study shows how individuals in these positions are responsible for a variety of roles and functions, and many others in the newsroom depend on their expertise, training and suggestions to carry out their daily tasks. There is a need for positions like these in media organizations, and they are challenging the traditional gatekeeping role by relying heavily on audience interest and engagement in decisions about posting content to social media and less on traditional news values.