Feeds:
Posts
Comments

“This is my baseball tie,” my high school AP English teacher said one day in class. It was black. It was the day the MLB strike landed in 1994.

Mr. Curtiss was one of those teachers who inspired me, which I’m remembering today after asking people on social media to tell us about teachers that inspired them. It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and the stories I’ve read are touching.

I wouldn’t say Mr. Curtiss was the teacher who made me a journalist or made me love something, but he’s the kind of teacher who “got” me. I’m a quirky person, and growing up where I did in Connecticut that wasn’t always a welcome thing. I was the outcast. But I always felt safe to be me in Mr. Curtiss’ class. But he also opened my eyes to a new way of studying literature.

We read all sorts of books in his class (and I actually wanted to read most of them), but we didn’t have quizzes on them or intense essays to write. Someone was picked to find a sentence from our reading assignment for us to discuss. It was fun to see what other people chose, especially the discussion they drove. They were always intense and so often someone would have an epiphany where the light bulb went off.

Strangely, Mr. Curtiss’ wife was my Shakespeare teacher, and she also is another one who inspired me. I don’t think I would love Shakespeare as much as I do today if it wasn’t for her. We watched movies. She gave us fake quizzes. And she loved “Bill.” You couldn’t not love Shakespeare hearing her talk about him. Oh and getting to go see Hamlet on a Broadway stage helped continue to stroke those flames.

Something Mrs. Curtiss said to me also stuck with me forever. She once told me that I was a good writer who needed to be tamed. I think that’s why I look such an interest in self editing and being a better writer as I grew from teenager to working adult. She saw talent in me.

There are so many teachers from growing up I could continue to list who had a dramatic influence on me and the person I have become. Some from later years in college and graduate school became mentors. But I feel like those teachers we had growing up had an even bigger influence because we spent so much time with them. I wouldn’t love literature and Shakespeare like I do if it wasn’t for the Curtisses and Mr. Lippman or the history of revolution because of Mr. Blanc. I got my first break in journalism thanks to my high school guidance counselor. I also had those teachers I wanted to prove wrong and feel like I have.

I also wonder what has happened to a lot of the teachers who guided me through my life. You’d think a Google search would help, but not always. If they are reading this, though, thank you.

Advertisements

I should consider myself lucky. I’ve spent 15 years in professional journalism (realizing this fact frightens me) and only now was I a casualty of a layoff.

A little over two weeks ago 300 people were laid off across my company, and I was one of the people told I wouldn’t have a job come September. The fact I have until September is a blessing since I have some time, but it doesn’t make it sting any less. Plus our layoffs happened during a rough week in journalism with Digital First Media also shutting down Thunderdome.

Since then I keep getting asked what I’ll be doing next. That’s still a hard question to answer since I still don’t know. I’ve done so many different things in journalism that I love that I don’t know what I want to go next. And it adds to the stress of the situation.

But the point of me writing this is to echo what Steve Buttry wrote on his blog about journalists helping each other in hard times. The emails, the tweets, the text messages, the phone calls — They keep coming from people wanting to express their support to me. Most often they come at times when I’m feeling really down with my uncertain future. There are words of encouragement, there are job leads and there are just moments of saying hi.

One of my friends calls the people who are helping me “job angels,” but they’re more than that. As someone who suffers from depression (and who doesn’t hide it), I can’t say how important all of this has been to me. It’s made a rough, stressful time so much better. I cannot say thank you enough.

People ask me why I stick with journalism after all these hard years for the industry. The outpouring of support has been one of the many reasons why I stick around. And, honestly, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.

More than one of my friends has said “I didn’t go into journalism to do math.” They look at me cross-eyed when I tried to explain how to calculate a percent difference, which always seemed like basic math to me.

The thing is math is important to journalism, especially if you’re going to be diving into budgets, financial reports, polling figures and more. Heck, you need to know basic math in sports journalism to calculate your own statistics (I learned in high school never to rely on the stats given to me by the team).

I was reminded of this fact when I read a story earlier this week about average home prices. The Millburn township administrator popped into my head and all the times he ranted about how “average” is not a proper indicator of a town’s statistics, including taxes and home prices. Instead, you should be looking for the median, he’d argue.

His argument is that if there is a significantly higher than most or lower than most home price, it would screw up your average. The median price would be a better indicator of what most people are paying to buy a home (or sell it) in the town. The same with taxes.

But in order to understand this concept you need to have basic knowledge of statistics, which not everyone has.

There’s been a lot of talk about what journalism students need to learn in college and the disconnect between their education and the real world. The conversation will revolve around things like reporting, confirming information, writing better and multimedia skills. But no one ever mentions math and statistics, which is something nearly every journalist will encounter in their career.

When I was in college a billion years ago (OK, maybe not that long ago), math and statistics were not a requirement of my major. I did have to fulfill a math requirement that was not associated with my major, and my major did require you to take an economics class. In my education, though, I was never taught of the kind of math I’d need in the real world of journalism.

The same thing happened in my graduate education, which was far more recent than my undergraduate education.

I still regret not taking a statistics class, though I consider myself strong and math and understanding statistics. That doesn’t mean I know everything.

As we discuss the things journalists need to know, we need to include math and statistics. Colleges should be requiring it of their journalism students and should develop courses that focus on the type of math, statistics and budget knowledge they’d need. Afraid no one will teach it? I’m sure there are plenty of us (myself included) who would be happy to teach that kind of class.

Five years ago I was out of work when I received an unsolicited email asking if I’d be interested to talk about a mystery hyperlocal project. I sat through an interview with Steve Johnson and Brian Farnham where they detailed how they were planning a national network of local news websites. They had no name for the project, but they were looking to hire their first editors.

Three interviews later, I became one of Patch’s first local editors, starting in October 2008. There was a lot of work ahead before we launched the sites in three New Jersey towns — Millburn (my site), Maplewood and South Orange — and no one was really sure what to expect.

Almost five years to the day of that first interview, there is news Patch is going to lay off hundreds and shutter hundreds of its sites across the country. I haven’t been with Patch for over two years, but I can’t help but be sad, especially considering how the company was one the one hiring the most journalists not so long ago.

In the time since I’ve left Patch, I’ve gotten plenty of requests for interviews and declined all of them. People keep telling me I should write a tell-all about Patch, which I don’t want to do. I’d like to write something about all of my local journalism experiences, not just Patch, some day. I like to think I still have a lot of local journalism left in me before I get to that step. I also haven’t written much about Patch in the years since I’ve left.

It’s mainly because people want to focus so much on the negative about Patch. Anyone who knows me knows I have lots of criticisms about Patch both in the months before I left and in the years since then. But I don’t want anyone to think that everything was negative because it wasn’t. Patch, overall, was a positive experience for me doing some work I still am very proud of. I always will be proud of my time at Patch and having helped start and build that company as one of its first local editors.

Those early years of Patch were fun and innovative in a lot of ways because we got to be ourselves as editors and our opinions were heard. If we did something great, we all would try it to see if it worked. It wasn’t a mandate, just everyone trying out things that worked for someone else. If it didn’t work for you, you moved on to the next thing.

Every site reflected the personality of the editor and the community we covered. I like to public safety issues, so there always was fire log items and the police blotter. Education is extremely important in Millburn (and I like to cover it), so I always made sure I was on top of those stories. It was part of why I was able to own the Millburn High School hazing story and stay on top of the issue even after the national press had left. Other editors had their own focuses on education, the arts, taxes, etc.

Everyone was doing their best to serve the communities we covered, and it was a fun time to be a Patch editor.I could sit here and list off all the things that Patch should have done differently since those first 18 months I was an editor, before the large and rapid expansion. I don’t think it’s prudent to do so because the past is the past and you can’t fix it. Maybe some day I’ll address them, but not today.

I do think Patch shuttering sites isn’t a bad thing because it could help in the long-term focusing on places they can get things to work. Patch also should get back to its roots of letting the local editors innovate and make the best choices for their community.

But for now I’m sad to see so many sites close and so many people losing their jobs.

There was a time when live tweeting an event was the standard in social media, and it wasn’t that long ago. It was part of the social media skill set. Tweet updates from the thing you’re covering.

But the reality is live tweeting in its standard, play-by-play form is redundant and of no service to your followers.

I had the thought — again — as I watched the NHL Draft with Twitter open in front of me. My hope was to see what people were saying about the draft picks (and trades), including the many snarky jokes many of us fans make. But the reality was my Twitter stream was filled with play-by-play. What happened on TV was perfectly described on my Twitter feed.

The reality of today’s live tweeting is that for major things everyone is tweeting the same thing. That’s not a service to our audiences when their streams are filled with the same thing over and over or it’s something they can plainly see on television. I know very often I hold back on tweeting something because I know others will say the same thing. I want to offer something different and unique.

We need to rethink how to retweet. What should we be offering our followers in today’s Twitter world? What do our followers want from us? What should our guidelines be today? When is it OK to do play-by-play live tweeting (because there are times I think it’s still OK)?

I’d like to hear feedback from people in the comments of via Twitter on what we should be doing to reshape live tweeting. I hope to use those comments in trying to build some guidelines.

A conversation with Terrence McDonald, of the Jersey Journal, on Twitter today about interns prompted me to think aloud of the awful things I or others have done to interns. But it’s not like we haven’t been the intern who had awful things done to us.

One summer at The Hour we had an intern who seemed to do just about anything we’d tell him. We’d send him on wild goose chases or tell him awful stories about being in journalism. And on one of his final days, a coworker had “the talk” with him.

“When we all graduated from journalism school, we were forced to make a choice. We had to choose sex or money. Be prepared.”

His eyes grew very wide as my coworker went back to his work. We all just carried on and wouldn’t address the issue with him as he tried to clarify if this was a serious choice he would have to make.

I was never given “the talk” when I was an intern, but I did do my fair share of labeling slides and babysitting the copier as an intern at a Washington lobbyist group. The woman who was “in charge” of the interns didn’t seem to care much about us and making sure we had real work. I ended up doing homework for my summer college class too often. I also started a list of “stupid intern tricks” on my white board at my room in the dorm that summer.

On the other hand, I had a wonderful experience interning at The Student Press Law Center where we did real work on real articles that were published in a real magazine. In fact, when I ran into the former executive director at a conference nearly 10 years later, he remembered me and we spent a lot of time catching up.

That doesn’t mean, though, we didn’t have our office jokes. The computer that we used to layout the magazine hated me and would crash every single time I used it. It became a running office joke and some would try to get me on the computer just to watch it crash and me scream out in anger.

I think those experience have led me to be nicer to interns and make sure they are taught and supervised well while having real, fulfilling experiences in their internship. I make jokes with the former interns with whom I am still friends about how I am awful, but I like to think we all had a good time working together.

What were your experiences as an intern or working with an intern? Post about them in the comments or send me a tweet at @jenconnic.

The “debate” that has my social media streams aflutter the last two days is an article that pronounced social media editors dead. Funny because I didn’t read my obit.

There are lots of people who have written about the subject that sum up how I feel about the subject than I ever could say:

You should read all three because each has a unique perspective on the matter, though I more identify with Mandy’s article because my career has been more focused on local coverage. In fact, Mandy’s job description details a lot of what I do in my current role.

But that’s the thing — Every social media role in every organization is different. Expectations are different at every news organization, and, in fact, my role has evolved in just two years at NJ.com for a lot of different reasons.

And this is where my “I hate labels” argument comes into play, like it does when people start yelling about blogger versus journalist.

It’s easy to box people into a certain ideal just because of the label we put on them. Does a social media editor spend their days tweeting snarky jokes and yelling about Facebook privacy setting? No, it’s more complex than that and it’s different at every organization. Just like the role of “community manager” can be different at every organization. The goal of “engagement” varies too.And when you start throwing around labels and pigeon-holing people, that’s when people will start declaring something is dead. But the reality is far from declaring something is dead.Roles evolve and change as the market and technology and the world changes. In two years, my role in social media in this job has changed. My role as a reporter when I graduated from college was drastically different than what it was 10 years later.That doesn’t mean reporting or the role of reporter is dead. It just changed. It evolved.And that’s what the best people do in this industry — they evolve. Because if you don’t evolve, you will perish.