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. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Success is not all-staff e-mails. A plan, a manifesto, a philosophy for engagement

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. I have been reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin lately (highly recommend) and had a rough day. 

So, I wrote in what is now apparently a journal for my work thoughts. I’ll re-write them here, slightly more coherent.

Edit: Read this with your rose-colored glasses on. I’m not saying anyone this in a bad or derisive way. This is not a stab at anyone but myself. Ultimately, the nut graf on this is that I realized I am the one responsible for my own engagement destiny. Waiting for others to get it was a folly. It’s about believing in myself enough to create something awesome without a memo or permission from others. I have room to do this here, and I need to stretch out.


I had a plan six months ago. A plan I thought would change things. I even gave a presentation about it.

It was two-fold. Build a team of mini-evangelists and get buy-in — complete buy-in — from the glass offices. I would send-all staff e-mails of our accomplishments. I would hold meetings.

I talked to people who loved this idea. And while it may still be a great idea, I might be wrong.

Here’s the issue with getting buy-in: No one wants to buy in. I was operating off the idea that everyone cares as much as I do, that all I had to do was show them the light. They are not standing by my desk every morning, waiting for my brilliance. They simply have other things to care about. 

That’s OK. This is my job and not theirs.

When I started, I told worried onlookers that I would never force anyone to tweet. They simply wouldn’t care enough to do a good job of it. I would lightly push and they would come around and I’d be ready when they did.

And that’s just it. What would getting buy-in on a full scale get me? An all-staff dictate no one would read and maybe Poynter (I miss saying Romenesko) would pick up? Does that really change the way anyone does their job? Does that get them engaging with their audience on a real scale?

I stayed up because I realized that I don’t need that. I don’t need someone telling everyone else this is important. They’ll either get it, or they won’t. Six months of singing the praises of what I do and the biggest headway I made has nothing to do with me — it was because the pope started a Twitter account. That’s disappointing. But on the plus side, when I and the people who are as excited a I am shined on a big news day, people noticed. That day, the work, it converted someone. 

No one is paid to care about engagement. I am. Any good therapist will tell you that you cannot change people. You can change you and you can change your reaction.

As for my mini-evangelists? I set up meetings. No one has time for meetings. They want to do work. I thought I’d show up and prod them and they’d have discussions on their successes. Instead, it turns into a Q&A with me. 

I have a new manifesto.

Motivation: I don’t need the approval of three levels above me to succeed.

I am lucky enough to work with an incredibly excited, loving audience and a few excited, engaged reporters/producer. I can’t change others. But I can show them how much they mean to me. How much they can achieve. When we succeed, they’ll care. 

Action: I will create small. I will create often. I will fail often.

I was so focused on getting approval — from the industry, my boss, my newsroom — that I lost sight of what real success is. It’s much smaller than a gigantic project that wins awards. I wanted impact. I wanted to change lives. It’s why I got into the crazy business in the first place.

There is idealism that cost cast aside somewhere around 2 a.m. I can’t change millions. But I can change a few a day. So small projects, as often as I can. if they work, I’ll build on them. I’ll call on people I can rely on to help. It will get bigger. It wil have impact. 

And if they fail? They fail. I’m allowed to fail. Often.

Action: I won’t, I don’t have time for complicated process. 

If it takes longer to think up than it does to do, I can’t do it. Yet.

To create, to build what I want to build can’t stand by the wayside while someone approves an e-mail or paying for that software. 

And some philosophy: This is not about me.

This is a ridiculous line to put in here, but it’s true. There is so much woe is me, in my own life, in journalism, everywhere. 

In some cases, it’s needed.

But this thing I do, which some days is so far beyond the word engagement, this is not about me. 

I’ve written about trusting the audience. It’s time I remember that I’m doing this for the audience. When they love it, I do to. I do this for the thrill of seeing, hearing people love my work as much as I do. I do this because my soul does cartwheels every time we produce a great story that now other people will know about.

I’m getting a little teary-eyed at my desk. This struggle, it got me, it’s put us, for far away from where and why we started.

Now I’m going to have some coffee and get to work.