Thursday, April 17, 2014

The real answer to “How are you doing?”

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this for a few days. Whether it’s a bulleted learning-type post or just a flat out public diary entry. I’ve vacillated between being very open about all this, to closed and calculated.

But the hell with it. Open up. Today is my last day at Thunderdome.

I’ve known that for two weeks now. And it’s been a hell of a two weeks. Everyone has been amazing. The support, job help, kind words and tweets have blown me away. I am pretty sure I haven’t even responded to them all, but I’m trying.

About today

Today is a terrible, rotten, no-good day. In a way, spending three months at Thunderdome was a taste of the good life. I had just gotten into my rhythm when this all went down. My snapchats were perfect, to start with.

So, today, I am spending threatening to cry, as I have been for two weeks. It’s been up and down. On a day with a job interview, I think that it will all be OK and I’ll land well, as everyone says. Some days, I wake up, thinking about and missing the amazing people I work with. 

It is hard to walk away, forced or not. I feel like a part of this, even after three months, and I feel like an fraud in everything else, thanks to Impostor Syndrome.

You’d think that being laid off twice before would have prepared me for this, but it didn’t. Honestly, getting laid off will rip your heart out every time. It can also be an amazing twist in the road, but it always hurts.

Three things

Bullet-pointed, three things I’m trying to remember.

Good bosses are there for you . I have this feeling Robyn, Jim and Steve will be there for me when I need it. So far, they’ve given me advice and left kind words behind them as they scoop through the journalism world, trying to get us all hired. In an interview yesterday, I was surprised to learn Jim had gotten there first and talked to the person about me without my knowing.

That’s not to mention Julie, who I was already friends with, and was just as an amazing boss as I had hoped. I’ve had a few bad bosses in my career, and these guys reminded me that a boss can be a mentor and a friend.

Thunderdome will live forever.  I sometimes have a hard time with failure, mostly because it’s a key part of the sadness that can sometimes plague me. But it also excites me, once I get to the good part. We didn’t fail. We tried. And we learned. We’re all walking away with ideas and plans in our heads. I’m pretty sure we’ll be conspiring and drinking for the rest of our lives, in some fashion. 

There are good things next. The question of what is next is pretty open. I’ve already had some amazing discussions with places I can’t believe even know my name. And I’ve talked to places about things that make my skin prickle with excitement with the sense of doing something new. I will be OK. You won’t catch me announcing anything soon. I’m going to take my time and think about what sort of shop I want to be at, and hopefully help lead. 

Meanwhile, I’ve made minor attempts at getting somewhere with my fiction writing, something I’ve never really given up on.

tl;dr How am I doing? OK. Just OK. But I will be better. Mostly, I will miss all of the fine people I’m now lucky enough to call friends.

(Sorry that this is eerily similar to my post two weeks again. Again, writing as processing.)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

To the end.

I’m a writer, so I automatically have to process everything via writing. So, given the news, here goes.

I spent three months with Thunderdome. When I made the decision to go there and leave KPCC, I was so excited. It was a room full of some of my favorite people, and others that I wanted to work for for a long time.

And God, those people were amazing. Everyone believed I was competent. Everyone had faith in me. We all pushed each other to try new things, look at a story a different way, write about that idea. We laughed, and I never felt alone even though I was across the country.

I had no fear, no anxiety, nothing but excitement about work and I felt empowered.

We were working on some cool shit. I was working on some cool shit.

I’m, um, crying as I write this, because I’ve been laid off before, but I’ve never been laid off when I was in the middle of working on something I think I would be proud of for the rest of my career.

Do I regret taking the job now that I know it wasn’t for long? Not one bit.

So thanks to everyone there. I could list names but I would end up listing everyone. I would work with every one of you at Thunderdome (and at LANG, too for that matter) in a heartbeat. You are all welcome at my house in LA. We will get beers and Snapchat everyone else.

So hire these people. Hire me, for that matter. We are smart, young, and we want to make journalism better.

That’s it, for now. Thanks for reading my weepiness.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Notes to myself from #ONA13

I hesitate to call these lessons, because some of them aren’t even journalism related, but hey, maybe someone can gain insight from them.

Find new ways to serve ONA

It took me awhile standing at the table with all the buttons with years on them to remember how long I’ve gone to ONA. I think I found it when I wanted to get into web and figured there must be some form of organization out there that would help. I joined, and (I think) six years later I’ve been on small group think-out-louds, working sessions, spoken at the conference, helped plan the conference, joined the membership committee, help keep ONALA somewhat functional, and now volunteered.

I realize that even if I don’t get elected to the board, I can help folks out in so many way. I said it to a few people, but this organization has breathed life into what was once a dream for me and has found me a network of cross country friends and colleagues. The least I can do is donate some time.

Mobile / Product / Responsive / Platform intelligence

There was a blog post I wrote long ago about platform intelligence and all this jabber about product and platforms and mobile during sessions has me kind of jazzed for that area of journalism.

I’ve been extremely grateful to spend the last few month at KPCC working on product and it’s something I want to continue doing for a long time. It was mentioned in one of the mobile sessions, but the overlap between product, editorial and IT is getting bigger and bigger. We need editorial people who get it.

I was speaking to Jason Tuohey about this for a minute and I said something I’ve been thinking about mobile that I should write down before I forget it. For those of us who are not the NYT, WaPo or other national brands, we have to have a responsive site so people can find out news first when they search. Apps (like the one I was lucky enough to work on briefly) are made for experiences. Only places with national names get to do a dump of content for an app and get away with it. The rest of us will never get any users if we pretend that anyone wants an app that makes our content look nicer. You’ve got to provide people with a thing, an experience, that they’ll link to your brand and come back for.

Stop being so apologetic about being ambitious

@cschweitz and @jimbradysp were kind enough to offer me some career advice based on the management session. Here’s what is applicable (and things I can say on the interwebs)

  • Prove that you are worth it. If you want something, and no one else gets it, write a memo, do the work, do it on the side. Prove it to folks that you are worth investing in. If they still don’t listen, then….
  • Not everyone is going to have your back. Some folks watch out for their jobs, some watch out for their careers. You want the person who sees your ambition as a way to not only support you, but support them and improve their lives. I’m butchering this, but that’s more or less it.
  • It’s easier to create your own box, than to fill someone else’s.
  • Managing is not about org charts, hierarchy, meetings or emails. It’s about the people, the team you have with you. If you’re a manager, you have to be about the people, not the cogs. If you are aspiring, find what you are good at, and have a headline and subheads for every job. Put all your energy into that.

Look at the big picture, and stop having rules.

I was all about “pageviews are bullshit” until I listened to @BrianAbelson talk about looking at data stacks as opposed to discrete metrics.

He compared promotion (tweets and homepage love) to pageviews, plugged them in with some variables, and got interesting results.

Must remember to think analytically about making rules and maxims for things. So easy to be wrong.

Finish that damned novella, already

Had a long talk with @markstencel about his post-NPR life, my life and his book. Excited for him and I need to get mine out the door.

Sad I missed @GregLinch's unconference about what you love other than journalism, but I'm so happy I have a support system within journalism, but also outside. I joke a lot about saving journalism, but part of me really wants to do it. To do that well, I need to take time off, hand someone my cell phone on the weekends (shoutout to @pickhoffwhite on that), and make sure this industry doesn’t burn me out before I can accomplish that.

I’m sure there is more, but that is what needed to be downloaded from my head.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Random advice: I can feel your negativity

It’s been a pretty long, yet pretty rewarding week.

In the middle of it, I had a long talk with a friend that resonated with a topic that keeps coming up.

Without sounding self-helpy: We have to get rid of all the negativity in newsrooms.

Why? It’s killing us. And not in a “death to journalism’ way, but more in a “burning everyone out” way. 

In more precise terms…

It’s hard to get ahead if you’re a complainer

I can’t think of a single manager I know that says “Man, I really want to hire that sour puss over there.”

You want to hire someone who is capable, but also energizing. It’s the reason we go to conferences. You want someone who, just by working near them, you get inspired by.

I never will tout a co-worker, boss, or anyone who makes me feel worse about myself, who stabs me in the back, who plays politics more than teamwork.

I could list dozens of people who I work near that make me better at my job. I could also list dozens who are so grumpy that they make me want to go back to bed. That leads me to…

Creativity demands positive action

Even when we fail, it’s not a failure. It’s that whole failing up Silicon Valley thing.

We can’t build the best journalism ever if we all hate our lives and each other. We can if we look at what we could have done better and say, “This was good, but man, next time it’ll be awesome because instead we’ll do…”

We’ll drive ourselves, and our readers out of this business

I am not even sure why I have to explain this. Ever worked in a newsroom around layoff time? Yeah, you don’t do the best work. Or work at all, really.

——-

It’s a shame to me that someone has to preach positive thinking. I know we’re a cantankerous, skeptical bunch, but at heart, we’re also writers, artists, creatives and people who want to tell a story. 

</self-help book>

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Did print beauty get lost in the scramble for digital?

Last night, The Boy got a lovely package. It was a couple of books from the Folks at For Print Only. Each year, they do awards from print design and print them in a lovely little book.

I went to their site to check out some of the projects that didn’t make it into the book — namely magazines and journals. As I clicked through the sparse 3 pages of magazines, I realized something. Not one paper news outlet that I subscribe to is this beautiful. The magazines highlighted used words like bespoke, and low-fi, words I would not use to describe anything I have on my coffee table.

Wired is one of my favorite print subscriptions. It is pretty and well-designed. It is nothing like these. They have foil print, custom typography, paper that is heavy, things that I do not even know the word for.

Many of the amazing page designers I know have jumped into online wholeheartedly.

I’m not saying that online is responsible for the death of print design. I am obviously a huge proponent of online. But I simply cannot remember the last time I looked at a print product and said “Wow,” unless it was from the maker/artisan/Etsy community. What does that say about beauty in what we do?

I find the artisan community an interesting contrast to what has happened in journalism. I’ve been on Etsy since….ever, and many presents of mine come from there. I enjoy the curated, small shop experience. Etsy has brought back crafts that were thought lost like papercutting.

That feeling is one of the reasons I used to read Good Magazine and others. It’s a feeling that is all but lost in today’s print journalism.

Printing has gotten more expensive than ever, and online is cheap to make. A web site is nearly free whereas a piece of paper and ink costs. But Etsy is small scale. You want to own it before it is too late not to own it. I used to collect magazines for that reason. It’s why my father had a whole shelf full of National Geographic — it was something to save, something to look back at later. Why do that now when you can just archive it on a web site?

When the web first came about, it was the complement to the traditional product. Let’s archive it online, we would say. Cheap. Easy.

As web becomes predominant, what if we flipped that? Why has print not become the complement to online?

The notion of the dead newspaper might stay a notion if we change our thinking about what print can do that it has never done before.

Tell me, what’s the last beautiful piece of print journalism that you’ve seen?

(Note: This is probably the most strongly written thing I’ve said in a while and I do not confess to being a designer, just a consumer of design. I do want to be wrong about this — show me.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Three reasons I gave Homicide Watch money

I am no Clay Shirky, guys, but here is my schpeel. Read it and back their Kickstarter, please.

1) Laura and Chris are two amazing human beings.

I may call a lot of people great and awesome, but these two….I met Laura at a fellowship last year. She wowed every single mentor and every single entrepreneur there with her spirit and her passion toward her project. I met Chris slightly later and he is no less awe-inspiring.

In an industry full of cut-backs and bankruptcies, it’s nice to have people with energy around.

2) Simple, amazing reporting.

I told someone yesterday about backing them on Kickstarter and they mentioned how impossible it seems that this crew gets so much information about each and every murder. But they do. Because they are not only amazing human beings, but they have a simple, fresh and unique way of reporting. Something I wish all reporters did.

3) Innovation on any level needs to be funded.

God Bless the Knight News Challenge, but some things don’t need $1 million. Some things need less. We need to find a way to fund medium-scale projects. I’m part of a newsroom that gets large foundations to help fund our journalism, but I’d like to be part of an ecosystem that funds all amazing journalism. $50? I can afford that.

Monday, July 2, 2012

On when to embed tweets {gripes}

I love embedding tweets in stories. I’m all about it, especially when it takes the place of a quote.

The idea being, sometimes, people will tweet things that they wouldn’t say into your mic, or in front of your notebook. Sometimes, Twitter brings a truth serum to our lips.

Or, Twitter will be a good place to find sources, where you can quote their tweet and follow up with an interview later.

Social media sourcing can be a great way to get parts of the story you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. It’s a good way to display that in-the-moment thought, or quip.

But it’s not a good way to fill space. 

Take this HuffPo story: 

To take a step back, social media shouldn’t be used to fuel lazy journalism. It should never be a replacement for shoe-leather reporting. For a phone call.

And it should always be verified. Were they there? Did they see it? Do they have something to add?

What worries me is the idea that social media reporting is a good substitute for actual reporting. It’s not. It’s a good tip-sheet. It’s a good tool, not a replacement.

The telephone is used to make the call. Twitter is the telephone. It’s the mechanism by which we can touch our audiences. Using it does not mean you know how to ask the right questions, or call/tweet the right person.

There still needs to be good reporting behind it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Remembering where you are from {journalism philosophizing}

I was realizing the other day I never properly wrote out a response to Mandy Jenkins’ very true post about social media editors and Twitter monkeys. Now that no one is talking about it, it is an apt time to write down my thoughts on that plus some.

We tried a new thing the other day and I sat down and talked to our business blogger (along with a reporter) about Facebook and the free labor we give them. My decided position was to defend Facebook (or at least talk about them from the stance that I make my career off them). This is relevant because I had to remind them that just because I work in Facebook and Twitter, that doesn’t mean I live and die by them.

We were other people before we were social media editors. We were reporters, community organizers, editors, copy editors, designers. We came to this field for different reasons. And the fascinating thing is because I was lucky enough to be in the first “class” of social media editors, many of those who come after us will most likely not have the same perspective.

So who are we really? Who am I? (Man this is going to get existential). Twitter monkeys? Reporters who came to this because we wanted a job?

Here’s why I am here, and why I don’t think this is what I will do forever.

I came to social media because it was fun. I like the web. I like the logistical problem of how to make a story fit into 140 characters and then the conversation it generates. I am an oversharer. Always was.

I am not, by any means, in love with this medium. There are so many challenges, so many problems. Facebook changes that keep you up at night. How to make that media buy work better. When to launch that contest. Why an important story was not RTed. These are things that I do not love.

I love talking to our audience. I like telling stories in unique ways. When I was a city council reporter, I decided I would have to write one less story if I just picked the 5 minor things that happened from each council meeting and write a blurb about each. This is why social media is fun. It’s finding new ways to tell stories. Every day. And it’s not a tweet. I want it to be a story flow, or a Facebook page or an interactive, social video player

We are a conduit. We are air traffic control, customer service, speechmakers, trainers, researchers, reporters, and editors. We are so much more and we could be so much more. The skills my colleagues have baffle and amaze me and most of us rarely get to use them. 

I should, and I want to, build stories that talk with and to our audience. And if that does not have the title “social media editor,” I do not care. 

We have made our own future (and I’m not just talking about social media editors here). We are on the precipice, the edge of journalism (supposedly). We can’t look over the edge with fear. We have to look at it and say, how do we go higher? 

There is so much frustration in trying to change minds and processes. I’ve changed my own mind about how to train and work with reporters. At this moment, I could name 20 things I’m frustrated with.

My commute is my meditation time and lately I’ve spent that time reminding myself why I am driving to a place that frustrates me so often. It’s because this is where I am from. This precipice. This uncertainty.

As aggravating as it is, sometimes it is wonderful and sometimes I get to tell the most beautiful, important, amazing stories with a staff who, sometimes, remembers where they are from. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How a tweet turned into a DDOS attack {stories from the front}

Sometimes, I play reporter (for those of you who do not know, I was a reporter for years before I moved over to social/web).

Last night was one of those nights. 

Earlier in the day, our friends at the LATimes broke a story: Someone had posted a bunch of personal information on LAPD officers. The immediate question was “who?”

Around 5 p.m., the reporter who sits next to me figured it out. It was a hacker group called CabinCr3w. 

What did the other news sites do? They said “a hacker group.” The initial stories did not list the group’s name at all.

I have a personal interest in Anonymous, and the cloak-and-dagger side of the Internet thanks to dating one too many developer/nerd types. 

As Tami called the LAPD, I hit up the internet. I looked at the group’s tumblr, their twitter, and all their various profiles trying to find the post where they listed the info and anything else I could get. Then, using what we had, I tweeted.

Here’s what happened after that tweet.

I had more questions, so I asked them to DM me. We followed each other and then I got a DM that linked to an IRC chatroom.

I interviewed them.

Right about this time, we experienced a heavy load of traffic — what amounts to a denial of service attack. If you’ve ever experienced one of these you know it’s either that you hit something big or that there was an organized attack. We’ve had one before, but that was as a result of our stuff living on the same server as conservative news outlet. 

What is important about this to me is that no one else thought to tweet these guys. Other news outlets were too cautious or didn’t know to link to them or call them out. 

Because I sent out one tweet and @ mentioned the subject of the story, we got the story behind the story. 

That’s important to me. Being “of the internet,” I have always felt like few people have gotten Anonymous and hacktivism. I barely get it myself, but I’ve made an effort to learn as much as I could.

I asked CabinCr3w is they launched the DDOS attack. They said no. I asked if we had reported their involvement correctly and fairly. They said yes.

Just because they’re a part of a cloak-and-dagger movement doesn’t mean they are any less legitimate than any other source. 

The lessons?

  • @ mention subjects of stories, even if you haven’t interviewed them
  • Everyone is worth of an interview
  • Getting a better story using social media doesn’t take a large amount of mining or work. Sometimes, it’s a simple tweet.
Monday, December 5, 2011

#newsfoo distillations: audio, occupy and werewolves {braindump}

After every conference or gathering I attend, I’ve built in the habit of sitting in the airport (if it has wi-fi) or on the plane and typing up everything. It’s almost necessary to ensure that I go back home and remember the conversations I had and things I learned.

But to get this out of the way. Yes, newsfoo was an invite-only conference. I consider myself far from the media elite, because I’m fairly young to the high level tech discussions that happen at these sorts of things. The moment I walked in the room, saw who else was there, I was flabbergasted. I only knew 1/3 of the room. It was full of people I respected from afar, considered good friends and others i had only dreamt of talking to. 

Even if I don’t get invited back, I can’t thank the kind folks who organized it and everyone who came enough for filling my brain with the awesomeness it now contains.

I actually got the guts to propose a session I led with the amazing Monica Guzman of GeekWire, Ryan Jones of Frontline SMS and Jon Vidar of the Tiziano Project. It was about the psychology of sharing. But I don’t want to write about that.

The Takeaways

Occupy the News

I arrived at News Foo after a very, very long week of covering the Occupy LA raids and ridiculous wind. The challenges, successes and failures of how our coverage went down were very fresh in my mind. 

I had a couple of really long conversations with Michael Levitin and Sasha Costanza-Chock about Occupy LA, the resulting media coverage and the general issues and quandaries that come along with covering one of the most well-documented national movements in recent memory. 

I also attended a session where I shared some knowledge about the media pool in LA and how well (or alternately not well?) we dealt with citizen media as a whole. 

Personally, I do not think Occupy is going away. I do not think the resentment and anger will go away. This is not the last time I will have to debate whether to put an activist tweet under our name, or when a protest becomes a movement or how to reliably verify reports that come from “biased sources.”

I am a very transparent person and the work that Andy Carvin and others have done has already begun to shape a precedent. We can work with and utilize movement-based journalism. We can still filter it through out lens, whatever that lens is. 

Also, my plane reading is the Occupied Wall Street Journal. A printed product. How cool is that?

Audio is the new cool kid

I’m not a radio producer by any means, but working on the digital side of a radio station has a bit pitfall — seeing radio as the “old folks.”

So it surprised me that in several sessions I went to, that we talked about audio and it’s potential. (Note: I only went to sessions that had nothing to do with what I do for a living, so I actively avoided social media themed sessions)

This is alternately great and terrible in my eyes. 

Great: Public media, in particular local stations, has a great opportunity. It could build something that starts at passive consumption and span across multiple devices and locations and builds toward interactive. Audio is not doing much for us right now. We can do everything with it, and there are evidently interested people.

Terrible: Innovation in public media has been centered around digital. Blogs, social, etc. NOT audio. We are missing something here. The innovation is happening on the web site and the web site is rebelling against the radio, instead of making it cooler. I’ve seen this in my own newsroom, the divorcing of audio and web content. Why haven’t we done it yet? Why are non-public media people pointing out to us that we could do more? Are we so blind?

Fight for fun

The dense pessimism that has infested us media types is killing us. My newsroom spent a week kicking ass and taking names (on air and online) and it took over a week for a positive sentiment to be e-mailed.

The day after, no one said to the newsroom, “We kicked ASS!”  They said: “Well, that could have gone better. Let’s have a meeting.”

What. The. Fuck.

That pessimism I speak of is killing the souls of innovators. Someone needs to be our champion.

I consider a good chunk of foo-ers my colleagues (sometimes more so than my colleagues). They are optimistic. The believe. They subscribe to the Church of Making News Better. Yet, I saw a bunch of tweets from people angry that we were tweeting about werewolf, a game we played until the wee hours to bond, instead of the future of news.

What. The. Fuck.

Aren’t we allowed to be optimistic? Aren’t we allowed to have fun?

Robots+humans=good

Algorithms were a huge topic of discussion. Automating some of our news process so we could focus on the best of what we do.

I don’t have much more to say on this than let’s go.

Let’s go build something. 

One last thing..

A few tips for anyone doing this next year (I can only dream of being invited again):

  • They are not kidding when they say arrive well-rested. I was exhausted and felt like I could have gotten more if I hadn’t covered all the things I did the week prior.
  • Bring a jacket. I’m a terrible packer, apparently.
  • Participate. Host a session you do not know the answer to. I talked about the psychology of sharing and I definitely learned just as much, if not more, than I shared.
  • Make it a point to go to sessions you know nothing about, and talk to people you’ve never seen. There are some of the most amazing people there, but you have to get out of your bubble.
  • Jenny 8 Lee is *always* a werewolf.