Day in the Life of an Engagement Editor: The Nation’s Annie Shields
“I think of it in terms of tabs,” Annie Shields tells me as she’s starting her workday on Thursday, May 7.
First she loads The Nation’s homepage. Shields, 28, has been at The Nation for three years, and is the progressive magazine’s first engagement editor.
The next tab to open is the “social media promo log,” where she and others on the digital “dream team” keep track of who and what they’re promoting. She works closely with Frank Reynolds, who is The Nation’s multimedia editor, and digital intern Naomi Gordon-Loebl.
Next tab up is SocialFlow, where she drafts and schedules social media posts. Then Trello, where the editorial staff tracks stories in progress. And then she opens HootSuite (for Twitter feeds), and Chartbeat (to see how many people are reading stories this moment), and Slack (chatrooms), and email.
Most of these tools — and many others — are commonplace on the screens of social media and engagement editors in newsrooms across the country.
Shields allowed me to follow her around for a day at the office so I could share with you what it looks like to be an engagement editor in 2015. Her publication and her story are unique, of course, but it’s still an interesting view into a job many people know nothing about.
Shields usually starts her day at 10 a.m. at The Nation’s offices near Union Square in New York. Other than keeping up with the news, Shields waits until she’s in the office to start doing work, or even check her work email account.
“I’m pretty strict about not doing actual work-work outside of work hours unless I’m on call, because we do have the on-call set up. That helps us all avoid getting too burnt out,” Shields says. “And we’re in a union — this office is supportive of your free time.”
It’s Thursday, the day the weekly magazine publishes its new issue, so many of Shields’s morning tasks are related to that.
Most Thursdays when she comes in, she looks at the schedule for when certain articles will move in front of the paywall, so she can plan social media promotions for those articles. But today, the paywall schedule isn’t available yet, so she moves on to the next task: sharing the cover image.
She makes an image file of the cover and starts trying to write a post for it.
“I’m trying to think of what I’m going to say to make people want to click this,” she says.
She decides on “Know any badass radical librarians? This week’s issue is for them.”
The tool she uses to schedule and post social media updates is SocialFlow, which rates each post as she’s writing it with a prediction for how well it thinks the post will perform. It doesn’t like what she wrote (it gave it 28%), but she goes ahead and posts it.
“I don’t really have all day to mess around,” she says.
(Turns out humans beat the machines on this one. That Facebook post ended up being shared more than 6,000 times, which is exceptionally high for any post by The Nation.)
At 11 a.m. today, there’s a big weekly editorial meeting where the staff usually reviews the issue that came out, does a debrief of sorts, and then has a conversation about the news of the day to try to generate story ideas.
The editorial meeting lasts for about an hour. But Shields needs to keep an eye on the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, so she does so from her phone during the meeting.
After the meeting, Shields digs into her pile of responsibilities. She not only manages the social media accounts, but also edits blog posts, sends email newsletters, helps editors with headlines, tests new website and app developments, mentors interns, troubleshoots technical problems and much more.
“My job at the very least is stimulating,” she says. “For better or worse there’s that reward, that feedback loop of multitasking that’s really bad for your brain but in the moment feels good. I don’t know if that’s like great for my long-term cognitive health, but for now I have no plans to change anything.”
Here’s a list of some of her main responsibilities:
· Promoting stories on social media (mainly Twitter and Facebook). A third to a half of The Nation’s desktop traffic comes from social media, depending on the day.
· Monitoring on social media how people are talking about The Nation and its content, and who’s linking to their stories or engaging with their posts.
· Editing blog posts. She has a group of specific bloggers she’s responsible for editing, and occasionally takes on more if other editors go on vacation.
· Helping editors craft headlines that will do well on social media. “A bad headline is a death sentence,” Shields says.
· Acting as the homepage editor on Wednesdays. The editors divide up who’s responsible for keeping the page fresh.
· Testing elements of the new website, which will go live July 6. The development and testing process for the website redesign is months-long — they started last fall.
· Troubleshooting. Finding things that are broken and tracking down the person who can fix it regularly eats up a good chunk of her time. “Sometimes 30 percent of my time is troubleshooting RSS feeds.”
· There are also less frequent but time-consuming projects, like testing a new app as part of the UX team, preparing for a new batch of interns, working with an editor to fill an open position, or writing documentation.
“I’m interested in and have sort of taken on a more holistic role, looking at how the whole system works together to make a strong journalistic presence online. I’m glad I get to do more than just the social media aspect.”
Her workdays end at 6 p.m., unless she’s on call. (She and a few other editors trade off on-call duties.)
She says there’s an “accelerated stress” of the job that she worries about, but she can’t imagine herself enjoying anything else as much as the moment.
“If I didn’t feel responsible for every piece of content being seen, what would I be like? What would my skills look like? How would I feel? What would I want to do? I don’t know.”