The difference a year makes 

A year ago, I lost my job. Gannett was “reorganizing” its newsrooms in Iowa City and Des Moines (among others) and that came with a 15 percent reduction in staff.

I had the, um, “opportunity” to interview for two jobs in the reorganized “newsroom of the future,” but I knew Iowa City wasn’t in my future: the jobs that best fit my skill set were moved to Des Moines. The best-case scenario would have been to sublease the apartment we’d moved into six weeks before and move to Des Moines to work in some really impressive facilities alongside a lot of talented people I still admire.

Instead, I got two weeks to finish up my projects at the Press-Citizen and then three weeks of “transitional pay” to supplement my unemployment insurance.

I was a little salty about it.

OK, I was a lot salty about it.

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I think I’m getting good at something

So here’s a confession: I’ve never felt like I was good at my job. I never advanced past concessions at the movie theater. I found working a drive-thru at Diary Queen overwhelming, and the swirls on my cones always fell apart. As a copy editor, I made too many mistakes. As a page designer, I felt like a failure. But lately I’m starting to feel confident in my skills — at least some of them — and that’s a feeling I’ve waited 26 years for. Continue reading

Announcing my next step

Big news! I have accepted a job as assistant digital editor at the Iowa City Press-Citizen, and I’ll be moving to Big Ten country in a couple of weeks.

What I’ll be doing: This has been the trickiest detail to explain to my family (even as a copy editor most people thought I wrote stories). Basically, I’ll be managing online content — posting and editing stories, photos, videos, etc. — for Press-Citizen.com and HawkCentral.com, a collaboration with the Des Moines Register that focuses on University of Iowa sports. I’ll be handling breaking news, managing social media accounts, and working on other digital projects.

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Three ways to cover live events online (without clogging my timeline)

The go-to medium for live coverage online seems to be Twitter, and for good reason: It lets journalists get the news out almost immediately, without waiting for reporters and editors to craft a full-on story. It’s especially great for breaking news — though the definition of “breaking news” is sometimes stretched.

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This is not breaking, and I’m not sure it’s really even news.

For not-so-breaking news, Twitter can be great or terrible. Live tweets that include commentary or supplementary information can be part of a solid second-screen approach.

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Seven really easy steps to improve your news org’s online presence

A while back, I wrote about seven reasonable things news organizations should be doing to manage their online presence. I think moves like hiring a web editor (or several web editors) and encouraging reporters to cultivate their online identities are perfectly reasonable, but they’re still big steps. Here are some even smaller steps newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations can take today to improve their online products. (As usual, screen shots are taken from my iPhone, where I view tweets in Echofon.)

1. Shorten links on Twitter. Simply pasting a link into a tweet takes up valuable characters and makes the whole thing look ugly. It’s easy to use free services like Bit.ly, Goo.gl, and TinyUrl.com to clean up your links. Twitter will automatically truncate long links to 20 characters, but that usually leaves you with a link like this: http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/06… Still ugly. Still taking up more characters than necessary.

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See how much better that looks? And the link is only 11 characters.

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Seven reasonable things news orgs should be doing online

In journalism school, the only professor I ever addressed as “Dr.” was my multimedia management and leadership teacher James K. Gentry. He was the former dean of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, so maybe I sensed some extra gravitas. But I still referred to him as Jimmy Gentry when he wasn’t around. It’s still j-school.

One thing Jimmy Gentry taught me that really stuck was the management concept of low-hanging fruit: When you’re looking to improve your product or your workplace, start with the the changes that are easily within reach. When it comes to online journalism, news organizations are missing out on a lot of low-hanging fruit.

As a copy editor/designer, I don’t get to do as much online work as I’d like, and I’m definitely no expert. But here are seven reasonable things — low-hanging fruit — news organizations should be doing to manage their online presence, according to Sarah Kelly, for whatever that’s worth.

1. Put someone in charge. The No. 1 thing newsrooms are doing wrong: Not hiring someone to oversee their online product. If you’re serious about becoming the go-to news source in your market, you can’t make your website and social media an afterthought. It should be someone’s full-time job. Hire someone to add stories to the website as they come in, update them with new information when you have it, and correct any errors you find.

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What I learned from my first year in the workforce

A note my boss left on the templates for one of my first solo nights on the desk. At least he was clear.

I hate when people refer to postgrad life as “the real world,” like there was something less real about my college life.  So I chose to call it my first year in the workforce, but that’s not entirely accurate, either. I’ve been working since I was 16. But last week marked one year at The Eagle, so here’s what I learned in my first year of working a full-time job for which a college degree is a requirement.

I borrowed too much money for college.
How did I spend so much money on my education? Even with grants, scholarships, a brief stint with work-study, and several jobs, I managed to rack up a nauseating amount of debt. I guess my freshman year at an out-of-state school with no scholarships probably didn’t help. A few months after graduation, I received grace-period notices for a student loan I didn’t even remember I had. Seriously, that much debt.
My monthly payments to various lenders, worked down to the lowest possible payments, add up to more than $500 a month. That’s $6,000 a year. What could I do with an extra $6,000 in my pocket? I could build up a solid emergency fund within a few months and then start saving up for the wedding. Or I could buy a car. Or replace my six-year-old Macbook. I could get a dog. I could donate more to charity. I could send my family gifts instead of empty birthday cards. Instead, I live paycheck-to-paycheck and try really hard not to overdraw my checking account.
If your parents paid for your college education, give them a big hug next time you see them. If you’re still in school, think about ways to cut back on how much you’re borrowing to pay for it. And if you’re making huge payments every month and wondering if it was worth it, you’re not alone.

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