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Public editor: Young or old – who is better at social media? Who cares?

A Twitter page is displayed on an Apple iPhone in Los Angeles October 13, 2009.

Reuters

There's a disturbing debate playing out on journalism websites about who is best-equipped to be a social media editor.

In case you don't know, social media jobs are one area of expansion for news sites. These editors help news organizations be relevant in tone and brand on other platforms. The jobs require good news judgment to pursue and place developing news stories, an ability to find sources quickly and to verify facts, to write attention-grabbing headlines, and to understand not only what multimedia platforms are best for a story, but how best to use them to engage a reader. These editors also need to understand how audiences work on social platforms – sometimes in a very different way than on a web or mobile site.

And so the question comes up about who does it best. Is it the twentysomethings who grew up with Facebook and Twitter socially? Is it the "older" journalists who can put the platforms in context and who have spent professional time studying and understanding both?

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Cathryn Sloane, a recent graduate from the University of Iowa, started this debate writing about how today's twentysomethings spent their adolescence growing up with social media.

"We were around long enough to see how life worked without it but had it thrown upon us at an age where the ways to make the best/correct use of it came most naturally to us. No one else will ever be able to have as clear an understanding of these services, no matter how much they may think they do.

"The key is that we learned to use social media socially before professionally, rather than vice-versa or simultaneously. After all, it is called social media," she said.

"The mere fact that my generation has been up close and personal with all these developments over the years should make it clear enough that we are the ones who can best predict, execute, and utilize the finest developments to come..."

Her blog post attracted more than 400 comments, many of them negative. Mark Story, a new media director and professor at the University of Maryland, objected to Ms. Sloane's comment that "the seemingly obvious importance of incorporating comforting social aspects into professional usage seems to go over several companies' heads."

He called that comment pretty incendiary "because you intimate that younger people could do a better job, (and) that we fuddy-duddies just don't get it. Of my peer group, many of the smartest and most-experienced social media professionals are in their 40s. 'Experience' is the key part of that last sentence because it is accumulated from a career based upon learning, trial and error, success and failure. You try, you learn, you apply, you move on. There is no substitute for experience."

What I don't understand is why anyone is having these arguments. We shouldn't decide who can do certain jobs based on gender, skin colour or cultural background, so why should age ever come into the equation?

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Journalists need to look beyond stereotypes in every situation. Wisdom, great reporting, initiative, tenacity, writing skills, editing skills, technical skills or understanding how to develop social media are not talents held exclusively by one generation or any group.

Meghan Peters, Mashable's community manager, noted recently on Poynter: "We all come to gain experience in different ways, no matter our age. It's these experiences, both personal and professional, that shape our worldviews. They affect everything from how we approach a breaking news situation to how we craft a Facebook prompt."

Not only do we bring a mix of skills, we have to keep on top of those skills and add new ones all the time. You can't stop learning about trends or technologies because our industry, like many others, is changing too fast for that. And age has nothing to do with that in this business or any other.

If you want to comment on this please do so below. Or you can always send me an e-mail at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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