Jurnos as Community Managers

One of the new jurno jobs in Webworld is community manager. It’s rapidly becoming a must-hire at news organizations, and it can be an opportunity for journalists to do journalism at non-news organizations. (“Community manager” seems to be the term that’s sticking. It’s also been called “social networking coordinator”.)

What does a community manager do? That job’s still evolving, so it’s defined by the organization and/or the journalist. Huffington Post’s OffTheBus projects director Amanda Michel and her team, who worked with 2,000 contributors during the U.S. presidential campaign, could be called community managers. The Washington Examiner, one of the string of Examiners across the U.S., is advertising for a community manager, who’ll be doing this:

This new and exciting job will monitor the blogosphere, talk radio and social media for hotdcexaminer stories and inform all online and print staff of such stories. You will also work with Examiner staff to link, blog, distribute, and/or report on all hot stories to the paper’s web site.

Additional responsibilities include: Serving as ombudsman for user complaints and dispute resolution. Managing internal social network content. Pushing content to external social media networks i.e, (Facebook, Digg, etc.) Supervising and executing the delivery of daily digest emails to subscribers and other possible email lists.

All kinds of organizations are looking for community managers, says media consultant Amy Gahran, of Contentious (and who helps edit Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits), including trailer parks and large corporations. She gave permission to reprint this from a discussion on the Society of Environmental Journalism‘s listserv:

As I said, there are so many of these jobs available right now that you can afford to be choosy

Amy Gahran

and only go for the ones you want. The job descriptions may sound like marketing/PR because that’s the kind of job descriptions HR people are used to writing — and so far people from those fields have been most of the folks grabbing those jobs. That doesn’t mean what they really need or want is marketing/PR. As someone said here earlier, what’s more effective is an ombudsman-like role.

Amy Gahran

It’s up to you to define the kind of work you want to do. These organizations generally aren’t completely sure what they’re asking for in community manager roles and are generally open to allowing a qualified candidate to define their guidelines and expectations. Look at these job listings as starting points, and approach them with your ideas. Initiative and creativity definitely pay off on these fronts.

Trailer parks [don’t sneer….the 4,000 people living in Duroville Mobile Home Park in Thermal, CA look as if they could use a good jurno or two], corporations…and nonprofit organizations: When I was editorial director of TOPP.org, a forward-thinking niche science organization that hired a science journalist (yours truly) to revamp its Web site, we brought on a social networking coordinator last year for a long-term reporting project about elephant seal migration. Nicole Teutschel did a great job distributing the project’s content to social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, blogging, and involving members of the community — including state park docents, visitors to Año Nuevo State Park (coastal home to a couple of thousand elephant seals) as well as elementary and high school students — in various aspects of the project.

As Webworld evolves, a journalist’s role is changing. In larger news organizations, modern journalists — jurnos — manage beats. Increasingly, as large organizations shrink or die, and nichification expands, they manage their own niche organizations. (Even in a large organization, a beat becomes a nearly independent niche organization, not tied to a centralized hierarchy, but operating as a flexible unit in which reporters/editors make most of their own decisions. So, let’s just call beats within large news organizations niche news organizations, too.) Managing a niche news organization comprises many tasks. First, jurnos are responsible for creating a Web shell that serves as the go-to place for that topic.

  • It holds the jurnos’ blogs. These nodes of continuous conversation about what jurnos are doing and exchanges with members of the community they serve replace daily stories. The information and stories in those blogs are some combo of video, still photos, audio, graphics and text.
  • It holds the most useful, relevant resources, links and databases for their community (or communities). This is the “useful” part of the site. This stuff is what generates the most traffic.
  • It contains longer stories — profiles, or the status of an issue, or backgrounders that explain an issue.
  • At the core of the site — visually and spatially — are the voices and input of the community. This is the nerve center of the beat or organization, and the engine that drives it: the community members’ blogs, forums, discussions, chats, news aggregations. This is participatory journalism. Community journalism. (Citizen journalism, schmitizen journalism….when you need ghostbusters to do the heavy lifting, you want the gals with the proton packs whose full-time job it is to hunt them down.) In their role as community managers, jurnos watch and manage that input. They watch it to jump in when the community can use their input as fact-checkers, watchdogs or investigators. They manage it to highlight issues that affect more of the community, or may be of interest to more members of the community. They are beholden to the community, just as a city manager is.
  • Community includes businesses and services who pay to reach the members of this community. If you modernize the advertising/marketing/search functions the same way that journalism is modernized, why wouldn’t people who want to reach a targeted community want to be part of that community? Many Webcentric news organizations have done this. More about that in another post.

In addition, community managers distribute the niche news organization’s content to other sites and social networks, as well as to other platforms, especially mobile. Mobile is the new video. Video used to be the new blogging. Blogging used to be the new podcasting. Or was it vice versa?

btw, for more information on the Washington Examiner community manager position, contact James Dellinger — jdellinger@dcexaminer.com