A journalist’s rite of passage: The layoff

I had meant to update this space with little morsels like “Lessons learned at the bar” or maybe something about the Royals being in the World Series. But I felt like I was constantly working, and in my downtime, I was moving to a new apartment or attending a wedding in Kansas or I just didn’t feel like firing up my laptop on my day off. But it looks like I’ll have more time to write in the coming weeks, because I’ve been laid off.

My last day at the Press-Citizen is Oct. 31. After a reorganization of the staffs in Iowa City and Des Moines that required all employees to re-interview for new positions, it turns out there’s just no place for me in Gannett’s “newsroom of the future.”

I feel like a loser and a failure. But I also feel free.

The truth is, Iowa wasn’t working out anyway. My husband, who thrived as a social studies teacher and football coach in Kansas, has spent the last year making pizza at Casey’s. Our cars are falling apart. We struggle to make rent. We have few friends and no family for hundreds of miles. And the only reason we were even living in Iowa was this job. Now we’re free to leave.

So we’ve hatched a plan. George (that’s my husband) couldn’t bear the thought of spending another Thanksgiving at Casey’s, so we aim to vacate the state within four weeks. We’re subleasing our apartment (the one we moved into Oct. 1), packing our things, and setting up camp in my mother-in-law’s basement near Wichita.

From there, we enjoy the holidays with our family for the first time in a while, and we look for new jobs in new places. So uh, hop on over to my LinkedIn.

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

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

How to survive a copy editor’s schedule

If you’re like every single person on my timeline/news feed, you probably wrote a Facebook status or a tweet a few weeks ago about the stupidity of New Year’s resolutions (bold stance, by the way). But secretly, you still want to get organized in 2012 and finally stop wasting so much time. Or am I just projecting here?

Time management for copy editors and other second-shifters can be tricky. Going to work in the late afternoon is disruptive. Nine-to-fivers have evenings free to run errands and socialize. Overnighters have the morning after their shifts. But when your day starts at 3 p.m., your free time is split. It sucks. Here’s how I make it work.

Do what you can after work
I’m starting with the easiest tip because, well, I want you to keep reading. In most decent-sized cities, you can find 24-hour grocery stores, Walmarts, and gas stations. So think about what tasks on your to-do list can be accomplished in the middle of the night, and do them after work. Don’t waste daylight hours on nighttime tasks.

Be honest with yourself
Are you really going to clean your house when you get off work at 1 a.m.? Even if you belong to a 24-hour gym, what are the odds you’ll work out instead of going home to mess around on the Internet and watch SportsCenter? Some people can read, write, and pay bills late at night, but I’m pretty much useless as soon as I get home. Timing matters. Don’t let yourself put off tasks until after work unless you know you’ll be up for it.

Make early appointments
If you want to get things done, you’ll have to get up earlier. I’ve promised myself a million times I’d get up at 10 to go to the post office, only to stay in bed until 1:30 because I just felt like watching one more episode of “Frasier” on Netflix. People with normal schedules get up at uncivilized hours all the time, no matter how warm and comfy their beds are, because they have to be somewhere. Then they go do other stuff after work because they’re already up. So copy their style.
You can resist the temptation to sleep in by scheduling things like doctor’s appointments, fitness classes, or lunch with friends before work. If you have to be up and dressed for an 11 a.m. appointment, you’ll be up and dressed when you’re done at noon. And that leaves you with three more hours to do what you need to do.

Accept the idea that you might go to work tired
When I first started copy editing full-time, I was reluctant to wake up early because I thought any less than eight hours of sleep would render me incompetent at work. That’s ridiculous. People who go to work at 8 or 9 in the morning are probably tired three days a week, but they show up anyway. If they can do it, you can do it.  You’re a copy editor, not an air-traffic controller. You can do your job on six or seven hours of sleep if you have to.
Of course, starting your day earlier doesn’t mean you won’t get enough sleep. If you can fall asleep by 3 a.m., you can sleep eight hours and still be up by 11 a.m. A lot of copy editors are in the habit of staying up until 4 or 5, and you might be tired at your early appointments until you adjust. But you won’t die or get fired, and you probably won’t even make a huge mistake. So don’t let a fear of being tired (which, really, is a pretty lame fear) be an excuse to sleep away your free time.

Do you have time-management tips for copy editors? Leave a comment a shoot me an email.

A young journalist’s New Year’s resolutions

Most New Year’s resolutions fail, but I make them anyway. I can’t resist a fresh start. My slate is as blank as ever in 2011: For the first time since 1993, I’m not a student. Life is changing whether I like it or not. With that in mind, I present my New Year’s resolutions.

Real Simple’s Best Recipes

Learn something new. Until now, school ensured that I was constantly learning new things. I doubt I would have learned Latin or classical political theory without a nudge from my teachers, so I worry that post-grad life will make me lazy about learning. But my Christmas gifts will start me off on the right foot. I’m excited to read “The Digital Journalist’s Handbook,” especially the chapters about Web design and data visualization. And, in the rare event that I get sick of staring at a screen, my Real Simple cookbook will teach me something new. Bonus: Real Simple’s awesome photography and design will keep me thinking about journalism while I’m mixing, measuring and marinating.
Get back into fighting shape. Journalists aren’t exactly known for their healthy habits, and I’ve written before about the struggle to make health a priority. While I resolve to get back into the gym a few days a week, I propose a resolution for all journalists: Stop thinking of your bad health habits as a point of pride. Secretly, we all think our fast-food lunches and all-nighters show that we’re busy and important. But couldn’t it just be poor time management? Go for a run already.

Perk up my portfolio. My online portfolio is woefully out of date, and the hard copy has been sitting in my back seat since October. It’s time to settle in with Photoshop for a few hours and hammer out a real portfolio.

This quick snap on my iPhone is the only photo I took of the changing leaves near KU's campus. I guess there's always next year.

Take more pictures. I promised myself I’d take pictures of the leaves changing on KU’s campus this fall, but I never got around to it. Now the trees are bare and the campus won’t be photogenic until spring. Over the holidays, I took a week-long trip and returned with only 19 pictures. Later, I realized I could have written a fun little post about all the great Dallas restaurants we visited, but I didn’t think to take any photos. No more missed opportunities. 2011 will be the year of the camera. From now on, everything fun in my life will be documented with excruciating detail.

Write more. Specifically, write a blog post once a week. I have a few ideas that could finally give my blog a real topic, and they could even lead to a domain name. Without school, I have time to explore my ideas.

Upgrade my laptop. I got an iPad for graduation, but I can’t sync it to my laptop because my operating system is too old to run the latest version of iTunes. I could just buy the upgrade, but my disc drive is broken. So far, attempts to install the update using  flash drive have failed — but I’m determined.