The New York Times announced this week that they have hired a Social Media editor, Jennifer Preston. This comes after Times writers made (their own newspaper’s) headlines for improper use of social media (columnist Maureen Dowd being the main culprit, which should surprise no one after her snarky Twitter interview). The Times already “blogs,” and some columnists (including a personal hero, Mark Bittman– @bittman) have been tweeting without editorial sanction. This move is an attempt to improve and standardize the Times‘ digital media efforts.

Preston is now “someone who concentrates full-time on expanding the use of social media networks and publishing platforms to improve New York Times journalism and deliver it to readers,” according to a memo sent by the Times‘ Deputy managing editor, Jonathan Landman. Prior to this role, she was a reporter and editor of the regional pages. MediaPost quips, “maybe that is where the role makes sense, with the Times thinking that social media is the new local.”

Preston apparently joined Twitter (@NYT_JenPreston) for the job. Wait, the new Social Media Editor just joined Twitter? This and other clues make me think that nothing is really going to change for the Times. They expect to adapt a new media mindset to traditional journalism by bringing in someone with 25 years of experience in traditional journalism. While I respect internal promotion, this is like a hospital asking a brain surgeon to take over the cardiology department. Same body, different organ.

However, it represents a step in the right direction. Landman continues, Preston will “work closely with editors, reporters, bloggers and others to use social tools to find sources, track trends, and break news as well as to gather it.” This implies that the Times accepts that social media reveals information faster than traditional media, and will be adapting to this change.

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