Explaining the Role of Engagement Editors

What exactly is an engagement editor? I’ve wondered that for some time as I saw job ads with a title that sounded both vague and very of-the-moment. To find out the answer, I spoke with engagement editors from The Washington Post, Fortune, The Hill, The Center for Public Integrity and Engadget — and one former editor  who looks broadly at the media landscape — for a piece that ran in MediaShift, a site that covers the intersection of media and technology.

I spoke about the article on MediaShift’s weekly podcast/Google Hangout session.

From the piece:

To help navigate their relationship with digital audiences, news outlets across the country are hiring engagement editors – jobs that are critical as the number of publishing platforms expands, the ability for users to interact with journalists and media outlets increases, and the metrics used to measure content popularity become more sophisticated.

The job of engaging audiences has evolved:

Audience engagement once meant fielding reader complaints, publishing letters to the editor and creating reader polls – responsibilities often split among several editors. Steve Buttry, director of student media at LSU, said news outlets came to recognize that they weren’t doing enough to engage their audiences and could do so with increasing ease given new digital platforms.

I learned that engagement editors are typically responsible for social media and SEO strategy, examining analytics and strategizing with top editors about other ways (live events, live chats, etc.) to engage audiences.  They are often considered editorial employees but commonly work with people on the business side. They need to be experts in many areas:

Among the other job requirements mentioned by the engagement editors: understanding how newsrooms operate and are funded, curiosity and knowledge about new publishing platforms, and an ability to think analytically.

As the end of the piece says:

Engagement editors are in constant conversation with colleagues about how to connect with audiences.

“A good engagement editor may eventually work [him or herself] out of a job because the whole newsroom is thinking about engagement,” Buttry said.

But that time hasn’t yet come.