Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Category: Work Stuff & Projects Page 3 of 5

Stuff I’m working on or ongoing developments at my place of employment. Not to be confused with my portfolio, collected under About Mandy.

Making community engagement an everyday process

This weekend, I was fortunate to be invited to speak to the Kiplinger Fellowship program at Ohio State University. Twenty-four working journalists are learning new skills and strategies on social media, new media tools and community engagement.

My presentation, featured after the jump, is aimed at reporters to help them better connect with audiences, brand themselves and work more efficiently in the social sphere. I hope others may find it helpful/interesting.

Farewell, TBD: It was good while it lasted

Today is my last day at TBD – so you’ll have to forgive a little bit of sappiness. I’m one of the last eliminated employees to depart and sticking around to watch everyone leave has been something of an emotional roller coaster.

The early days here, around when TBD launched, will always be a treasured bright spot in my professional life. The group of people assembled for that original staff was one of the brightest, most energetic and creative collections of journalists I think I’ll ever meet. Each person, from the reporters to the community engagement team to the editors, seemed to have been searching for a place that would set them free. For a little while, they had it.

Technically, TBD still exists, but it won’t ever be the TBD it was meant to be without those staffers who created it. It was an honor and a privilege to work with these people. I hope to someday look back at this list of names and, upon seeing all these people have accomplished, be amazed we managed to once work under one roof. Maybe we were meant to be sort of a new media version of “Freaks & Geeks” – promising, well-cast and sadly short-lived.

I owe a big thank you for the career boost TBD has given me – and it wouldn’t have ever happened without Jim Brady and Steve Buttry. I don’t know how I can ever repay them.

I’m going to miss my almost-daily interactions with some particular TBD Twitter followers and the great members of TBD’s Community Blog Network. I hope we’ll still be friends on the interwebs.

Thank you to the tireless TBD editors: Erik Wemple, Andrew Beaujon, Sommer Mathis and Julie Westfall.

And the creative, wonderful reporters: Sarah Godfrey, Maura Judkis, Ryan Kearney, Ally Schweitzer, Sarah Larimer, Kevin Robillard, Jenny Rogers, Sam Chamberlain, Mike Jones, Amanda Hess, Rebecca A. Cooper, Elahe Izadi, Dave Jamieson, John Metcalfe and photographer Jay Westcott.

Also,thank yous go out to the TV folks who managed to teach me a thing or two: Steve Chaggaris, Melissa Reyes, Katherine Amenta and Morris Jones (aka Mojo).

Hail to the unsung heroes that made TBD tick: Bageshri Ghate, Mitch Schuler, Carol Touhey, Jen Dreyer, Ryan Mannion (& co.), Nicole Young, Maya Carpenter, Justin Karp, Allene Bryant, Markham Evans and Heather Farrell.

And finally, the community engagement team:

 

TBD's Community Engagement Team. Photo/Dan Victor

TBD's Community Engagement Team (R-L): Lisa Rowan, Jeff Sonderman, Nathasha Lim, Steve Buttry, Dan Victor, Eliot Kort and me. (Photo courtesy Dan Victor)

The next steps….

It’s been just shy of a year since I posted about my decision to come to TBD. It was such an exciting time and such a great opportunity – I had no idea that less than a year later I’d be out the door and on to the next thing.

After I was laid off at TBD, I was prompted to really think about What I Wanted to Do Next. It was a hard question to answer, because what I wanted to do next was continue working at the TBD I knew. I guess I’ll take the something close, somewhere that’d still let my fly my social media freak flag.

That’s why I’m happy to say I’ll soon be heading up social media for Huffington Post Politics here in D.C. No details yet, but I’m excited to be staying in D.C., still working for an innovative social media shop and getting into the three-ring circus of politics.

It was a tough choice to pick a next path that I struggled with all week, but I think it’s going to be a ton of fun.

Training: Intro to mobile journalism tools

Last week, I taught a mobile journalism workshop as part of APME’s Newstrain seminar at the Newseum here in Washington, D.C. While I’m not a mobile journalist per se, I am a journalist that loves my smartphone. The class was aimed at those who are new to most mobile news gathering, reporting and publishing apps and practices – with and without smartphones.

We got into:

As part of the training, I gave out a handout of entry-level mobile tools for gathering media, reporting news, publishing and being productive on the go. I gathered these from my own experiences and those of other online savvy journos I know. Check it out (also after the jump) – and tell me what, if anything, you’d add. 

Four key things TBD did right

There’s been all kinds of stories, analyses and blog posts written by journalism thinkers about “why TBD failed” or “things that went wrong at TBD”. While these have made some valuable notes for those who want to launch or work for startups in the future, they ignore a few critical points, the biggest of which is that TBD didn’t fail, per se.

Despite how it all ended, there are positive lessons to be gleaned from TBD’s build, launch and brief initial life. Here’s a few things TBD did that I hope other news orgs won’t shy away from trying in the future.

Threw out the org chart

It’s not to say TBD didn’t have an organizational chart of who reported to who, but it had very little bearing on our actual jobs. Being in a small shop of any kind means a lot more multitasking and a lot less adherence to job descriptions. Everyone edited someone else’s work at some point, everyone wrote headlines, took photos, sent tweets, assigned stories and had a hand in developing new products. While some took on one role more than another most of the time, you never, ever heard “that’s not my job” from a TBD staffer when something had to get done.

 

Wasn’t afraid to promote itself

While we caught flak from time to time about talking too much about ourselves or our policies as an organization, nobody can say it didn’t help.TBD had no formal advertising or marketing in the D.C. area (outside of our own properties) throughout its entire existence. Anything people knew about it, every story read, every site visit, every Twitter follower, came to us by word-of-mouth of one kind or another.

At the time of last week’s layoffs, TBD’s web traffic was growing, Twitter followers were at nearly 10,000 and (anecdotally) I’d actually have someone recognize the name of my employer more often. Baby steps, I know, but if we hadn’t talked up our work on-site and off, been transparent with our build-out process, held meetups, aggressively followed and interacted with local people on social media and appeared at meetings of all kinds – we’d never have even had that.

 

Let others in

With only a handful of reporters available to handle breaking news most days (not counting those who covered arts, entertainment and sports), TBD had to reach beyond the newsroom for information on a daily basis. Be it from social media or aggregation, the world outside our walls had a huge impact on what news we could provide.

Sometimes it woud mean highlighting the work of our blog network, who are routinely miles ahead of larger media. Other times, we’d have to (at least initially) link to the work of our competitors. On social media, we’d regularly ask for help when we needed info from a scene we couldn’t reach. We’d regularly (multiple times a day) receive news tips and photos of interest via email or Twitter that would serve as the basis for a breaking news post (pending verification, of course). We could utilize Twitter searches to find out info and eyewitnesses from fires, shootings and events – before ever sending a reporter.

 

Hired for mindset over pedigree

Despite what’s been said about the pedigree at the top, TBD had some of the most unconventional hiring practices that seemed to be more qualitative than what I’ve seen at most journalism organizations. TBD’s hiring editors evaluated recruits based on their personalities and approach to news as opposed to journalism’s typically myopic ideals of merit and value.

I’m sure even Erik Wemple, Jim Brady and Julie Westfall couldn’t really put into words what they were looking for, but they knew it when they saw it. And they saw a LOT of people. I’d estimate about 20 percent of the hundreds who applied to TBD were interviewed in house.

This meant an exhausting cavalcade of interviews with editors and a 30 minute writing test for every position (not just reporters) in which the applicant could write anything they wanted. What people chose to do during this time, I’m sure, revealed a lot about them. Some froze without direction and wrote next to nothing. Some wrote personal essays. Others picked up the phone and reported stories. Somewhere in all of that they revealed something that made them right for TBD.

I didn’t see it when I first started, but as the staff was hired and gelled over time, it was easy to see we all had something in common in our views of the world and how we do our work. We came from a wide variety of places, academic backgrounds and work histories – but we all had something in common that I could never put my finger on. Whatever it was, it made it very easy to collaborate on stories and share ideas.

Nobody was hired because of where they’d worked or gone to school and nobody was automatically shut out for being from out of market. From a lot of past hiring experiences (on both sides of the table), I know that happens at a lot of news outlets – and it pops up in newsroom divisions and ridiculous office politics all over the industry.

TBD to eliminate most staffers, including yours truly

Journalism watchers probably saw the news today that my employer, Allbritton Communications, will be eliminating many staff positions at TBD and refocusing the site on arts and entertainment. Despite what I thought a bit earlier, my job is one of those that will no longer exist in its current form. I don’t really know what my next step will be, but I ask that you keep me and my soon-to-be-unemployed colleagues in your thoughts. Thanks.

Transcript: What does a social media editor do?

Here’s the transcript of my journalism jobs chat on Poynter.org Tuesday. There were a lot of great questions about what I do as a social media editor, the workflow, metrics, handling criticism and managing corrections.

We had more than 200 participants and more questions that I could get to in one sitting. If anyone has a question that didn’t get addressed, I’ll be happy to answer it in the comments.

Chatting live with Poynter today

I’ll be chatting with Joe Grimm and the good folks at the Poynter Institute at 3 p.m. ET today about the role of the social media editor in the newsroom. I expect to get questions about what I do and possibly some inquiries into what’s going on at TBD.

If you’ll be around, hop on to the chat or read the transcript afterward and we’ll see how it all turned out.

First try at using Xtranormal for news at TBD

In a wjchat a few weeks ago, we were brainstorming ways to use non-traditional new media tools for news. One of those tools was Xtranormal, an animation site that allows you to make cartoon videos with no offsite tools or experience. In that chat, I had suggested using it to re-enact conversations or press conferences.

Today, I put that idea into action at TBD, using Xtranormal’s tools to make a cartoon re-enactment of a phone transcript from the FBI investigation of an indicted public official in the D.C. area. I had enough free credits to build the most basic video (though it doesn’t cost much to buy more), so I built the one you see around the web where animals talk to one another.

Xtranormal’s tools made it very fast and easy. You pick a package, background and characters. You enter the dialogue as text in the order you want from the characters you want. To add pauses, sounds, camera angles and movements, just drag and drop them into the text at the right place. All told, it took me about 40 minutes – and that’s just my first try at a long transcript.

Jack Johnson, the former county executive for Prince George’s County, Maryland, is talking to his wife (also indicted) about hiding money and destroying evidence. The video is after the jump.

TBD’s future is TBD, but then again, it always has been

If you didn’t read about all of the drama regarding TBD this week, well allow me to catch you up. On Wednesday, TBD’s six-month anniversary, our staff and the rest of the world found out TBD was going to be restructured internally, leading most to incorrectly assume the site’s going under.

As social media editor at TBD (and still employed!) I figure I can briefly lay out what’s really happening, as far as I know right now.

  • WJLA, the Allbritton sister site whose website had been replaced by TBD, will be getting its own website back – in addition to TBD.com.
  • TBD Editor Erik Wemple and most editorial staff will now fall under the management of WJLA News Director Bill Lord. The way that structure looks isn’t all that clear right now, but then again, we were never big on org charts at TBD.
  • TBD TV will have its branding reverted to News Channel 8, though it’s website will still be TBD.com.
  • Nobody was laid off, though a few jobs are changing. For instance,  I’ll likely be working social media strategy for the new properties in addition to TBD.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll write more about this when I get a better handle on it myself. For now,  I just wanted to explain what I know and share a bit about how it all went down.

And if you’ll allow me to get a little personal for a moment, I’d like to share a favorite anecdote about TBD.

We had a staff meeting on the morning of TBD’s launch that has particularly haunted me lately. We were all exhausted from being up all night for the final switch-flip (I had briefly napped in a shower stall at the Allbritton gym), but triumphant smiles were everywhere. We’d been working for months to build this idea and were antsy to get started on executing it. It was a great moment.

Erik gave us a rallying speech that especially resonates right now. He told us to look around the table and savor the moment. We should remember the team as it was right then and there, because it wouldn’t always be that way. Some people would leave, we might get dismayed along the way, but on that day, at least, we were all together and we’d just started something we’d all poured our hearts into.

That’s the whole reason I’d gone into TBD to start with – I wanted to work toward  common goal with people who inspired and challenged me. I still do. Though we’ve lost far more of the people around that table than I ever thought we would by now, I know I don’t regret any of it for a second.

Despite all the changes – and I acknowledge they may look bleak externally – we have a great group of people who were brought together around the same dream. You don’t just drop something like that overnight. We’ll see how it all goes.

Talking online storytelling in tonight’s SPJ chat

If you’ll be online tonight, join me on the Society of Professional Journalist’s monthly Twitter chat at 8 p.m. ET.

The topic this month is Online Storytelling, featuring Mark Luckie of the Washington Post and 10,000 Words (also author of The Digital Journalist’s Handbook) and Mark Briggs, author of Journalism Next and Journalism 2.0. Oh, and me, repping TBD.

I have no idea why I was invited, as I have not written a book and am not famous – but I’ll be chatting and hopefully saying smart things.

If you’d like to participate, follow the hashtag. More info from the official sources.

What sort of storytelling methods, tools and examples would you like to talk about? Leave a comment or drop me a tweet.

Recommended reading: Investigative social media, new ideas and tools

Sorry it’s been so long, but it’s been crazy busy as TBD’s preparing for the holidays and other events. This’ll be a quick one, just a few links I’ve been reading of late. Have a happy Thanksgiving, folks.

Social media roundup

  • How Investigative Journalism Is Prospering in the Age of Social Media – Great ideas from several resources gathered by Vadim Lavrusik at Mashable on how to use social media in investigative reporting and newsroom projects. Includes tips on Crowdmap, Storify, Twitter crowdsourcing, data searches and more. A great post to pass on to the social media haters in your newsroom.
  • RockMelt: The User Manual– If you don’t know about Rockmelt or want to know more on how to use the new social browser, here’s a great guide from the NY Times.
  • 6 innovative uses of Tumblr by newsrooms – The big media companies are only now getting into Tumblr, but there’s a lot of possibilities out there for it.
  • Engaging Facebook fans with clever, conversational updates – Great ideas from Web Up the Newsroom for writing interesting status updates on a media outlet’s Facebook page to drive traffic to content and drive discussion online.
  • In this disturbing bit from FishbowlDC, a Washington Post editor says “crediting the original source of a scoop isn’t “a requirement or even important” because “all news originates from somewhere” and “unless one is taking someone else’s work without attribution (that is, plagiarizing it) any news story should stand on its own and speaks for itself as an original piece of work.” Hm.
  • How News Organizations Are Generating Revenue From Social Media – Another great Mashable rundown of the top ways online media is generating revenue using social media and more to hit new audiences.

On the TBD Front

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