You are here

The Emerging Role of Social Media Editor in Germany TV News

Up next at ECREA 2016 are Oliver Hahn and Isabelle Brodeßer, whose interest is in the emergence of social media editors in German TV newsrooms. Such editors do not generate content, but are tasked with identifying user-generated content on social media that can be introduced into the broadcast news coverage. But there are problems here with verification, as well as with the identification of the original authors of such content, both of which are very important in news contexts.

Right now there is no adequate definition of this role, however; the job title itself may also vary considerably. What characterises this job profile, then? What are their technological, economic, organisational, and political imperatives? What are their tasks and functions? What is their self-perception? To what extent has their role been institutionalised and professionalised yet?

The present study engaged in interviews with nine such social media editors at German TV stations ARD, ZDF, RTL, and ntv; this covers the majority of these staff at these major broadcasters. These work in very different organisational contexts: the ARD has a content centre for all editorial sections, while the ZDF has small specialist teams across its different sections, which generates different workload implications for staff working within these sections. There is also increasing overall time pressure, due to the real-time nature of social media content circulation.

The main tasks of these staff, then, are content research and authentication; it is comparatively easy to find the content, but authenticating it is considerably more difficult. Additionally, editors may also need to maintain social media channels and engage with their audiences, not least also to source additional content relating to current news stories. The editors also especially use Twitter to research and present networking topics (it's not quite clear what the presenters mean by this).

Social media editors perceive their role to be the fast and objective delivery of precise information, but also to highlight the background of topics and explain the motivations of different sources; this is also done with the intention to offer the audience a certain additional value beyond the TV broadcasts themselves.

This role has not yet been fully established as an independent work practice, then. The education and qualifications of these staff are similar to those of conventional journalists, but they do also need a much higher affinity to digital and social media, including strong communication skills in these channels. Professionalisation is increasing, however, and this has a positive impact on the journalistic quality of their work; at the ARD the work processes of social media editors are now highly standardised already, for instance.

These developments now need to be compared with similar dynamics in other journalistic organisations, in Germany and elsewhere. International quality standards for staff acting in these roles should also be developed.