Gone are the days when news organizations had just copy editors and page designers. Today, there are newsroom titles like digital optimizer, audience analyst and executive mobile editor. As social media platforms have evolved so have job titles, along with the tools journalists use to communicate with audiences. In this series, RJI will learn more about these titles and the people who hold them.

This Q&A was edited for clarity and space.

Justin LearJustin Lear is the director of the social discovery team — previously known as the iReport team — at CNN. CNN now lets people submit their photos, videos and stories through social media platforms rather than just on the website or email. With more of CNN’s audience on social media, the social discovery team is there, too, looking for story ideas and user-generated content.

What does a director of social discovery do?

I lead the team in vetting and highlighting the best of user-generated content that is tied to our CNN news priorities of the day. We also focus on discovering top social trends that people are discussing on social platforms and on what hashtags are driving the conversations around the stories and ideas that CNN Digital would like to cover. I set the direction of our daily priorities for what stories we want to focus on and how we can add social elements to all of our stories. I also assign my team to write stories that are optimized for social and CNN Digital. We are also trying to write stories that we believe will do the best on our CNN flagship social accounts.

Was this a new job title at CNN when you started or an update to an existing job title? 

The director of social discovery was a new job title. Previously, the team was managed by the iReport editor, Katie Hawkins-Gaar, who left CNN to join Poynter in January 2015. 

What inspired the creation of this job title?

The new title of director of social discovery reflects the change and direction we wanted to take this revamped team.

What were those changes and directions?

We wanted the social discovery team to be more proactive and focused on the social conversations happening around our top news priorities of the day. For example, I wanted our team to be more focused on social platforms and doing social callouts for stories and in tune with what people were talking about on social. We want to make sure we are monitoring and highlighting the social angles and discussion happening on as many important stories as we can.

What did you work on yesterday?

Yesterday was the CNN GOP debate in Miami, so it was somewhat of a unique day. On big days like this, our three social teams -- Social Discovery, Social Publishing and Social TV -- tend to work very closely with each other and assist on the big events.  First, I traveled to Miami to be on site for the debate. My focus for the day was to make sure our Social Discovery team was prioritizing the most important social angles tied to the GOP debate, and sharing with the rest of CNN Digital how those angles can be utilized in social posts, stories and our live blog. We made sure the rest of CNN was aware of the social chatter around the debate and what topics and issues were the most talked about on social platforms leading up to, during and after the debate. I also made sure our team was looking for unique content that would work for counter programming.

What tools would you be lost without if you didn’t have them?

I would be lost without access to the major social platforms: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Our team also utilizes several different social analytic tools.  One of my most favorites is Crowdtangle. The tool is one that I look at several times a day to let me and my team know what stories are over-performing and trending for our CNN social accounts, our affiliates and our competitors. It’s a great tool for letting my team understand what types of stories perform the best on social platforms. Since I came from a newsgathering background, one of my other go-to social tools is Dataminr. Since a big part of my team’s role is to vet UGC, find witnesses and clear editorial during breaking news, Dataminr is very helpful letting my team know when a big, newsworthy event is happening.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

What I enjoy most is seeing how important social newsgathering and utilizing social data has become, not only at CNN, but in the journalism field overall. A few years ago, people weren’t utilizing social data to discover and produce the best content for digital and social. Now we see how important UGC has become for major breaking news. CNN can cover news all around the world better and more thoroughly now thanks to social media.

What’s the most challenging part of your job or the hardest problem to solve in what you do? 

Vetting and licensing UGC. There are several companies now that specialize in securing the rights to video during breaking news or to videos that do really well on social and digital. Sometimes it can be hard to get access to some photos and videos.  

Why is it hard to access some photos and videos?

Within the past few years, we have seen companies like Storyful, Jukin and Viral Hog that specialize in this field of distributing UGC video and photos through licensing to news outlets. It’s become a very competitive business among those companies to be the first to gain access to someone’s content. CNN licenses video and images like many other news operations, but sometimes the price may not always be worth it or sometimes the photo or video owner may not respond to our requests for permission to use their content. From a vetting perspective, the issue we sometimes run into is having trouble tracking down the content to the original owner. 

What’s most surprised you about this job? 

What surprised me the most is how a social post can be so powerful. It’s mind-blowing how something that happens on a social platform can become big news stories in a matter of minutes. It’s up to my team to make sure we are aware of and monitoring as much as we can on social media what we think can be relevant to CNN’s newsgathering and priorities.

Who does this job report to?

I report to Samantha Barry, who is CNN’s head of social media and senior director of strategy.

Jennifer Nelson  
   
Senior Information Specialist



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