Julia Haslanger
Nov 4, 2015 · 8 min read
Kat Lapelosa and Ryan Beckler, growth editors at Vocativ

To learn more about a growth editor’s role in a newsroom, I followed around Vocativ’s two growth editors for a day.

I was curious how growth editors Kat Lapelosa and Ryan Beckler spend their time, how they interact with others in the newsroom, and just in general what kind of people become growth editors.

(This is part of work I’m doing in grad school and work I’m doing for Chalkbeat, which is looking to define its growth editor position.)

Here’s what I saw.

9:15 a.m. Morning editorial staff meeting.

In preparation for this meeting, the growth editors monitor the day’s trending stories.

Growth editor Kat Lapelosa outlines some of the day’s trending stories during the morning editorial meeting.

The morning meeting was similar to that in other newsrooms I’ve observed — a summary of the biggest stories in the news (on this Tuesday, it was US-China relations around the South China Sea, the upcoming GOP debate and the World Series), the stories different people and departments are already working on, and discussion of potential story ideas. The growth team contributed updates and story ideas in the same way other departments (like video) did. Both Kat and Ryan spoke up in the meeting.

10 a.m. Ryan settles into social programming.

After the meeting wraps up, Ryan starts scheduling recently published stories to go up on Facebook. In general, Ryan handles Facebook while Kat handles Twitter, although they both jump in and help cover the other frequently when other duties take priority.

Ryan uploads and schedules a video to post on Vocativ’s Facebook page.

Along with handling stories as they publish, Ryan is also uploading and scheduling videos to post on Facebook. The video team sent several overnight, so he has some catching up to do. Once he schedules a video or story, he alerts the reporter in Slack about what time it’s scheduled for. (This is proactively preventing being interrupted with “When is my story going up on Facebook?” inquiries from every reporter.)

Vocativ’s success with video on Facebook is well-covered — DigiDay noted in September that the company was approaching 100 million Facebook video views in a month and FastCo similarly admired Vocativ’s Facebook growth this year.

The graphics staff is asked to make “social cutdowns” of their larger graphics for posting on social media, and the video team sends thumbnails, so Kat and Ryan’s focus in preparing posts tends to be on the words —for Facebook, that’s the headline, description text and intro text.

Vocativ’s CMS has fields for six different headlines. Yes, six. The breakdown:

  • Article headline (what you see on the vocativ.com article page)
  • Facebook headline
  • Twitter headline
  • SEO headline
  • Recirculation headline (basically, a more evergreen headline)
  • Outbrain headline (Outbrain is a content recommendation service)

Kat and Ryan work with editors both during the reporting process and after a story publishes to fine-tune those headlines. They often schedule more evergreen posts to go up at multiple times (once today, once this weekend, once next week, etc.), so they end up writing three or four different headlines just for social.

10:30 a.m. Ryan switches into reporter mode.

One notable characteristic of the growth editors’ roles at Vocativ is that they also contribute reporting, and even byline pieces, in addition to their other work. Ryan’s byline appears on 10 stories in October.

During the morning meeting, Ryan was asked to get in touch with certain data sources and pass along that data to the dataviz team for a possible story. Ryan says the involvement in the story development and story creation process is one of the more enjoyable and unique traits of his job now, compared to past work as solely a social media manager.

Ryan had written a few pieces about baseball recently, so when Director of Growth (and major Mets fan) Annemarie Dooling saw a tweet from United that they were adding a flight from Newark to Kansas City in advance of that night’s World Series game, Annemarie assigned the story to Ryan. It tied into a story they had discussed in the morning meeting, but had struggled to get sufficient data to write — that it was cheaper for New York Mets fans to travel to Kansas City than to buy a ticket at Citi Field.

Growth editor Ryan Beckler and head of growth Annemarie Dooling discuss a story assignment.

Now, Ryan, who had done some early reporting for this story the day before, jumped into full-reporter mode, with a deadline just 90 minutes away.

Kat and Ryan chat briefly in Slack about where Ryan stands on Facebook scheduling — he’s set, posts are scheduled through 1 p.m., and he should be done reporting in time to get back to scheduling more posts before then.

10:30 a.m. Kat manages social partnerships.

Vocativ has partnerships with several other organizations around sharing each other’s content on social media. These kinds of partnerships are becoming common — as least in the New York media circles — and can help both organizations grow their readership. After seeing how Vocativ handled these partnerships, and talking to a few other organizations, I’ve written up a “best practices” guide.

So, today, Kat sends a list of suggested links and share text to one partner, works with another partner to try to find a new point of contact (after the previous one left the company), and schedules posts on the Vocativ accounts from the partners. Some partnerships are more informal that others, and can be just sharing a post once a month or as specific news happens. But one of Kat’s responsibilities is keeping data on these partnerships — how often Vocativ posts partner content, how often partners post Vocativ content, how that content performed, and occasionally stepping back and assessing (with her boss) whether the effort is worthwhile.

She also is constantly on the lookout for potential partners. Is another group retweeting or sharing Vocativ’s content regularly on their own? Is there an individual who’s engaging with Vocativ’s content who might be able to create a partnership for their organization? She looks through Twitter followers and notifications and builds Twitter lists to identify opportunities.

10:45 a.m. Kat works with editors on social headlines.

One of the most exciting stories discussed in the morning meeting was around an document a reporter found online that outlined ISIS’s “best practices” for running a Twitter account. The reporter — in Vocativ’s Tel Aviv offices — got the story up quickly, along with an illustration, and now Kat was working on reframing the headline in the best way for Twitter.

Growth editor Kat Lapelosa reads over a story to help write headlines for social media.

Kat quickly reads the story and chats in Slack with those updating the story.

The first three words are most important on Twitter, Kat says, while on Facebook, headlines can be more flexible — and quote headlines are particularly good on Facebook. This story served as a good example. A few of the different headlines used:

After that story is all set, she transitions into scheduling tweets for other recently published stories. Vocativ aims to post social updates at least twice an hour, which means Kat and Ryan are scheduling close to 100 posts a day between Facebook and Twitter, in addition to other platforms.

Kat’s also handling some community management — monitoring notifications, reading comments, deciding when to hide vs. ban vs. reply to a contentious commenter.

12:20 p.m. Ryan’s story posts.

Ryan’s story on Mets fans flying to Kansas City is up, so he’s back to social programming. He’s still working his way through the videos sent the night before, and the crush of stories that posted late-morning.

Growth editor Ryan Beckler’s to-do list, as of mid-day.

He’s also been tasked with asking Google Trends for some of the data behind their Frightgeist tool. Ryan asks some coworkers for the name of contacts with Google Trends and Google News Lab, and sends a quick email introducing himself and asking for the data he’s looking for. He gets back some data pretty quickly, but it’s not what he was looking for. He tries again, and gets another set of data that’s interesting and a story unto itself, but again, not what he was looking for. Third time’s the charm — by 2 p.m. he’s finally got the right data to send over to the dataviz team.

In between scheduling social posts and reporting, Ryan is also checking Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, and Signal. The growth team sends out a weekly and monthly report to the rest of the staff on social analytics, highlighting the top posts overall, the best traffic-driving graphic (with a takeaway about what they can learn from it) and the most-viewed Facebook videos (and how long people watched).

3 p.m.-ish Time for a quick break.

Kat steps out for coffee. Once she returns, Ryan runs out to pick up a late lunch. Then they’re both back to work.

While Kat is scheduling tweets for the afternoon and evening, she’s also making GIFs (including this awesomely grotesque one to go with a Halloween story she wrote), finding relevant hashtags (#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh vs. #SpringValleyAssault, etc.), and brainstorming ways to test the new Twitter polls feature. She also keeps an eye on DMs and reviews the bios of new followers.

4:15 p.m. Meeting about the next day’s GOP debate plans.

Annemarie calls her team together to go over editorial’s plans for the Republican presidential debate that’s scheduled for the following day. There’s scheduling to be worked out (who will work from the office vs. from home at different times). They talk about what specific reporters and teams will be focusing on, and what Vocativ’s strategy should be on Twitter during the debate.

Vocativ’s head of growth Annemarie Dooling meets with growth editors Kat Lapelosa and Ryan Beckler.

After the meeting, Ryan and Kat get to work scheduling overnight posts. They make an effort to post content at the right time for the time zone it’s relevant to — for example, if a story is about Pakistan, don’t have it post in the middle of the night Pakistan time.

5:15 Troubleshooting.

No day is complete without a bit of technical troubleshooting, right?

Kat and an editor are concerned that on Twitter, an image is loading correctly in some views but loading an older copy of the image in other views. They change a few things in the CMS and each send a test tweet, but find the same problem. Soon, someone from the tech side comes over to hear about the problem, and offers a solution, which works. (Yay!) Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

6 p.m.-ish Goodnight.

Most days, Kat and Ryan try to leave the office between 5:30 and 6:30. On special occasions, like debate nights, they could end up sticking around until close to midnight.

Read more:

Social Journalism 101

Understanding the new roles for journalists in newsrooms — particularly around engaging and growing audiences

Julia Haslanger

Written by

Journalism nerd exploring audience engagement, analytics and newsrooms. My path so far: WI ▹ Mizzou ▹ CO ▹ DC ▹ NYC ▹ Chicago. Engagement consultant at Hearken.

Social Journalism 101

Understanding the new roles for journalists in newsrooms — particularly around engaging and growing audiences

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