The impact of social media on the media and publishing industries has been well documented. Newspapers and magazines are increasing their focus online, which means an investment in social media channels as well as the company website.

Access recently asked USA Today’s new social media editor, Michelle Kessler, a few questions about the evolving state of the newsroom and how social media is impacting news gathering and reporting.

Access: You recently became social media editor at USA Today. How is the role currently defined and what, specifically, are you responsible for?

Kessler: My job is to help reporters and editors use social media to connect with readers and sources.  That includes everything from training to maintaining feeds to helping sign partnerships.

Access: Can you tell us a bit about how the role came to be and what interested you in it?

Kessler: We recently had a big reorganization, and this new job was part of it. We’ve had a social media manager on the business side for quite a while.  But Chet Czarniak, our executive editor, wanted a social rep specifically for editorial.  It’s part of a growing emphasis on digital in the newsroom.

Before the reorg, I was USA TODAY’s online technology editor, running usatoday.com/tech.  I loved that job, but social media editor sounded like a exciting way to explore the intersection of technology and news.  Social media is cutting edge, and I wanted to be a part of it.  And come on – I get paid to hang out on Facebook all day. How cool is that?

Access: Can you talk a bit more about the growing emphasis on digital in the newsroom at USA Today and where social media fits with that? What’s in store over the short-term?

Kessler: We’re aggressively expanding our digital strategy, and social is a big part of that.  For example, this week we’re rolling out a redesign of many of our pages on usatoday.com.  (An example of the new page is here.  The new format will be gradually applied section by section over the next few days.)  The redesigned pages include a social media bar at the bottom, which makes it easy to share the story on Facebook or Twitter, as well as on sites such as LinkedIn and Tumblr.

Another example would be our popular iPad app, which was upgraded just last week.  It also has a handy “share” feature, as does our iPhone app.

We recently partnered with Foursquare to put some of our travel tips on that location-based service.  We have a similar deal for airports on Gowalla.

Access: Generally speaking, how are your reporters and editors using social media to connect with readers and sources? What’s the benefit? Or put another way, how are you tracking success?

Kessler: USA TODAY has a large social media presence, including multiple official Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. (Examples are here, here, and here.)  In addition, many of our reporters and editors are extremely active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites.

Social networking is just a new way of talking to people, which is what reporters have always done.  It’s often easier to ping someone on Facebook, or make a connection on LinkedIn, than it is to chase someone down over the phone.  Twitter can be an extremely efficient way to share news or ask a question to a large audience.

And these sites also make it easier for readers to talk to us.  For example, we monitor every Twitter comment that mentions @usatoday, and respond when appropriate. Last night we asked for our readers’ take on the State of the Union address, and ran a few of the most interesting comments here.

Access: What’s been the most challenging aspect of the job so far?

Kessler: Social media is so broad, and changes so quickly, that it can be tough to figure out what to focus on. I’m still pretty new at this job, but we’re quickly learning that we need to emphasize a few key social media initiatives, rather than trying to do everything.

Access: Thanks Michelle, best of luck!

–Trevor Jonas @TrevR