The New York Times Announces Residency For “Social-First” Reporting

In a time where the relationship between journalism and social media is hotly debated, the New York Times announced a program for reporters to create “social-first” content to publish directly on social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp and Reddit.

The one-year residency, which will hire at least three journalists, is the result of a partnership between the Times and the snack company Mondelez, though the Times will not reveal the terms of the partnership. The program will serve “to create social-first content” and “make sure that when we’re covering the world for travel that we don’t miss the people in it,” said New York Times travel editor Monica Drake in an interview with MediaFile.

The New York Times Instagram feed, with over 3 million followers.

The residency comes at a time when publishers are exploring the boundaries of an appropriate relationship between journalism and social media. With a reporter at ESPN recently suspended for criticizing the president on Twitter, the extent to which reporters can express personal political views on social media has been a contentious topic. As social media sites are increasingly recognized as publishing platforms, and with the content published there by reporters reflect on news organizations, editors have doubled down on social media policy for their reporters.

Editors at the New York Times recently released new guidelines for its reporters when using social media. It warned that reporters should not post “partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.”

Editors at The Wall Street Journal recently reminded their reporters of the Journal’s social media policy in a memo, cautioning reporters against “expressing political views” and “attempts at humor than can fall flat without context.” The memo explicitly recognized social media as an extension of the Journal’s own publishing.

“But we need to be mindful that social media platforms are publishing platforms, to be treated with the same standards and conduct as our own,” the editors wrote.

The Times’ residency program is an explicit recognition of social media as a publishing platform, with residents encouraged to publish directly to social media.

“I’m looking at Instagram and I’m looking at Snapchat and I find really inspiring narratives not necessarily from traditional publications,” said Drake of her own reporting. “There’s a lot of creativity that can be harnessed there.”

Though the residency emphasizes the social component, the stories generated by the residents will also be hosted on the Times site. Drake says the stories on the Times website will be “very image heavy” but will also be accompanied by “a more traditional sculpted narrative” than what is usually found on social media.

The residents must be “comfortable being included in the narrative of your coverage,” according to the job listing, an unusual qualification for an establishment newspaper like the Times that has a reputation for maintaining a formal posture toward its readers.

“We used to have this stylistic thing that said if you’re reporting a news story, you would refer to yourself as ‘this reporter’ instead of ‘me,’” said Drake. “We’re doing less and less of that sort of thing and being more conversational.”

Whether the program will be a bellwether of more social-first content from The New York Times or from other news outlets remains to be seen, as Drake says the new hires should be announced in December.

“I think that the Times has evolved already in language and storytelling so I think this will be a continuation of that process,” said Drake. “We’re kind of trying to redefine what people think of as Timesian.”

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