I was thinking of reflecting on the spontaneously-timely debate I live tweeted for work today between Grover Norquist and Ross Douthat on the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. I didn’t know much about this pledge that is sort of the Republican right-of-passage (that they end up breaking most of the time) and has received a lot of heat for the failure of the super committee. I don’t think the SUPERFAIL can be attributed to a pledge that isn’t followed closely, especially when many other factors are at play. But I’ll leave it to the experts to debate.
I almost cringe looking at the date on my last entry, and I feel I have some explaining to do.
Things are a lot different from when I last blogged. Apparently, AEI went through an Internet outage which resulted in a wasted workday during the holidays. Now, I’ve past my one-year anniversary, went through a major website redesign/migration (check it out), personnel changes, and I’ve picked up some new skills in the process. I can now fully understand HTML code, I’ve experimented with online marketing, and most importantly, I’m learning A LOT about politics and policy that will be critical to the next election.
While it’s been great learning new things (which is why journalism and new media excite me), I have lost something important in the process. I’ve grown up writing, telling stories, talking to people about what drives them, and finding new ways of communicating. This past year, I feel like I’ve been in somewhat of a black hole because I’ve been working behind-the-scenes…or I guess I should say, behind-the-screens. I could blame the long hours my job requires, the other qualities I’m trying to carve out in my overall package, and generally being too busy because of other obligations. But I know what they say is true–if you want to call yourself a writer, you better write. And today, where it’s so easy to publish yourself, there’s no excuse not to. My current supervisor, who happens to be an excellent, seasoned journalist, said it perfectly the other day–writing is like a muscle. If you don’t flex it enough, you will lose it.
I’m afraid I’m as wimpy as this guy, and it’s time to drop the excuses. Now that I’ve settled into my routine, finished the department’s major project, and am starting to get my life back, I’m going to try to flex my muscles and give this an honest try.
Last February, I saw the city that never stops working come to a screeching, snowy halt for about two weeks when 3 feet of snow was dumped on it. It was surreal, like from some zombie movie where only the remaining survivors roam the streets searching for familiar faces, booze and the one restaurant with the balls to open. I remember walking in the middle of Wisconsin Avenue, a very popular street here, and nodding at my fellow survivors treck through the slush to my apartment 3 miles away. It felt nice having time stop and not worry about rushing to the next school function, work event or social activity. It was mutually understood that everyone was going to hibernate for a while, at least until the metros started working again.
Although most of us couldn’t physically leave the house for two weeks, it turns out life didn’t stop because one thing sure as hell worked and kept things going: The Internet. We had two classes online (meaning I still had to get up early and focus for a few hours), projects were still due, I was still expected to write, and communication continued between friends. Except for the occasional trek to the nearby grocery store, I was essentially glued to my computer for company (I was living alone at the time), entertainment and work during Snowpocalypse 2010. But last Friday, another inconvenience came about that beat snowpocalypse. Not only did it inspire some of my coworkers to go home early or not even come in, but it literally halted business and made it so we had no choice but to read, do menial tasks, eat and socialize until life started again.
Last friday, the Internet, Intranet, and Outlook all crashed for 8 hours. Most of those hours, nobody was here. But I was.
I get into work at the wee hour of 7:30 every day, so I was among the first to notice something was wrong. Keep in mind that my entire job revolves around the Internet and the ability to use it. I went around and asked everyone if it was happening to them, contacted IT, and stared at the frozen hourglass until the rest of the crew came in. I was frustrated that I came in early so I could leave early, but ended up having to stay late to play catchup. The interns were thrilled because that meant they could have long lunches and an early Friday. For those of us who’s work didn’t magically disappear when the Internet died, we had to stay late and make up for lost time. But that’s besides the point.
It was funny to me that the effects of the Internet and email dying were far worse than 3 feet of snow towering over the District of Columbia. We all felt disconnected, useless, lost and purposeless without it. But during the snowstorm, there was a frenzie on Twitter, everyone was glued to their computers (what else would they be doing? Shoveling their cars out of their driveways to be met with a mountain of snow in the street?). It just goes to show how important the Internet is to running a business. We’re a think tank, so it’s not like the company necessarily revolves around the web like other companies do. And yet, life stopped that morning more so than being snowed in last February.
I’m also realizing just how dependent I am on the Internet to run my life. When I go to work, I am at the computer for close to 11 hours. I come home, and I’m online again doing my social media, talking to friends and Skyping with my boyfriend. I go to sleep, wake up, and am strapped to the computer again. I even got the new iPhone (YAY), to which my mom commented, “that’s not a phone, that’s a mini-computer.” Soon, I’ll become a robot.
What does it mean that life stops when the Internet dies? What does it mean that my life has revolved around the Internet?
Wow…it’s been a while since I’ve last written on my blogs, although I’ve been on a computer for almost twelve hours a day for the past month. Long story short, I accepted a job at a D.C. area think tank where I’ll be managing their social media, website, online communications and spending countless hours reformatting their articles to fit an archaic content management system. But that’s how the story goes at almost every organization. Luckily, I happen to be at one that has the resources and drive to fix problems, upgrade systems and expand rather than grasp on for dear life.
For now, I find myself so busy with the tasks I have to do that I have little time for much else–research, personal website time, sleep and outside education. I’m also helping a new media company write proposals for new clients, which will allow me to think more creatively and strategically about social media marketing. I’d love to have a week off where I could sit and deeply assess what needs to be done at my dayjob to make things run quicker and more efficiently. I guess I’ll save that for the holidays.
With that being said, I still greatly admire anyone who has taken a lesser paying, more insecure job in journalism because I know just how hard it is to do what you love and make a living from it. Maybe one day I’ll go back to reporting, but I love working with websites and thinking of new strategies of connecting with fans and spreading good content. When it comes down to it, understanding the desires of those who explore the web, dispersing valuable information and building a brand are all vital tools in journalism and online communication.
Although I miss engaging with others on my Twitter account, reading all the foreign policy news I can get a hold of and going to bed past 12:00, I am happy to finally feel that sense of security/certainty I’ve been looking for and will make the most of the experience.
Now after months of searching, networking and getting published, how did this one end up working out?
a) Being at the right place at right time
b) Never stopping work (I never stopped interning, freelancing and working on projects)
c) Great references from past places that couldn’t hire me
d) Continued networking (not just to ask for something, but for equal exchange of ideas)
e) Good ideas, new ideas
f) eagerness, enthusiasm, willingness to work long hours
g) mad skills
The most important is “right place, right time.” To do this, you need to BE at the right place, doing the right thing and assert that eagerness, skill and innovation. It also helps to be at a company where your efforts could potentially pay off through good clips, references or hell, even a job. It took three months, but it happened.
The past few weeks have been busy but exciting in the world of journalism. Tonight, I’m camping out at Hearst’s D.C. Bureau with reporters from other regional papers as well. It feels good to be part of breaking news and dive into a subject I admittedly never follow (elections). I never appreciated a John King hologram or a New York Times flash map more than tonight. Seriously, new media has made old media a lot less stressful.
I’ve learned a lot tonight, but I also learned a lot about the more techy side of journalism at the ONA 2010 conference.
I was fortunate enough to attend panels on Friday and Saturday as well as an amazing job fair on Thursday. My live blogs are on the site, but here are some takeaways from the conference based on my experience.
1) Stop saying “journalism” vs “digital journalism.” What we’ve learned is that digital is the new standard. Newsrooms have made the adjustment (God help them if they haven’t) and now they’re playing with new tools (graphics, social media, data collecting) to deliver information to a very digital audience. It is detremental for newsrooms and especially j-schools to see digital as a luxury or advanced skill. It is now a necessity.
3) News is going to be a social experience. When you look at basic sociology, it seems obvious that the best way to provide a successful service is to LISTEN to your audience. How do you listen to your audience? You RESPOND to them (as @WSJ does on their twitter feed), invite input and make changes based on that input. I’m not going to “engage” in a website if I think a human being won’t ever see it or reply. People today follow trusted news streams rather than individual news sites, and crowdsourcing has become more important than ever b/c of the limited resources many newsrooms are facing.
4) J-schools better step it up. I was most intrigued by the “Rewiring the Ivory Tower” discussion b/c it seemed like there was a huge divide between J-schools that are “with the times” and J-schools who still see journalism as a degree for people who like to write. I’ll say that the writing drew me to jouranlism in the beginning, but now it’s part-writer, part-expert internet stalker, part-computer programmer, part videographer and part digital social butterfly. They NEED to require HTML and design courses as well as video. And most importantly, they can no longer separate online journalism from broadcast. We need to know it all, and I feel like I missed out b/c of that divide.
5) Know what makes a good site. I really enjoyed the session on website traffic and search engine optimization. Search engines care about social media (notice the amount of YouTube videos and Tweets that show up for your average search). Some tips the panelists gave included adding “related stories” to stories that get big hits on your page, making SEO-friendly headlines and links, ask for viewers’ zip codes to target information, and monitor interactivity. Engagement is far more important than hits. Also, use written numbers, understand the importance of location, use tags in the Titles, describe what’s going on in your multimedia (those don’t always show up in search engines) and write for your audience!
Gawker found yet another hilarious but telling case of tactless online communication. This one particularly stood out to me because it dealt with an issue relevant to my life on a daily basis–the dinosaur versus the cubby.
First of all, it was rude for this student to essentially call this person a “Dinosaur” by saying his or her job is no longer relevant in today’s journalism world. I’ll skip a rant about this person’s inability to communicate effectively to a potential interview subject and write grammatically correct. But in journalism, if you want anyone to talk to you, the first thing they teach you (and what you should already know by being human) is not to insult them.
Two main things come this post, however, about the merging of the traditional journalism sphere and the introduction of new media and tech-focused journalism jobs. It’s apparent that the “Dinosaur” is probably already extinct or on his/her way out and doesn’t want to be reminded of it, especially by a wide-eyed student who could be taking his/her job upon graduation. The second thing I think of with this post is how unprofessional, unprepared and nieve this cubby is as a SENIOR in journalism school. Both are dangerous to journalism in their own way.
The best part about this was the onslaught of comments that came from the article. Most insulted the kid’s writing skills, but others pointed out the relevancy of a journalism degree that has seniors bug old-timers in journalism as their final projects.
“When I think about how much this student is paying for his worthless journalism degree vs. what the veteran “dinosaur” journalist paid for his journalism degree, which did have worth for many years, I’d say the student is on the losing end of this one.”
Ouch, buddy. We could theorize about the value of a journalism degree these days, but I’ve already got the degree, so I’d rather not get depressed over it.
I did learn valuable tools about new media journalism as part of my degree, but I will admit that because these new skills (video, web design, social media, graphics, interactive, etc) take up so much time and mental energy, the fundamentals can go unnoticed (luckily, my rigorous writing courses and print-intensive undergrad background helped me out). But I still have a lot to learn from both worlds. Right now I’m lucky enough to work with professionals who are reaching their 70s with decades of valuable experience while also working with the innovators of tomorrow’s media landscape.
“How about the person who is “teaching” journalism? You won’t find a bigger dinosaur than that”
This comment also stood out to me because it makes you think about which institution and which professors are teaching you the skills you need to know for this “new” journalism. Sure, some schools might have a history of excellence, but are they in touch with what you need to learn to get a job these days or do they glorify the Woodward/Bernsteins of the past? Are the professors making sure the print kids learn video and the video kids learn web skills? I hope so.
I fall into the wide-eyed cubby category, but I feel like I’m a bit of a mix between the “Dinosaur” and the Twitter, Huffington Post-obsessed cubby. The tools need to be understood and used, but that drive for good writing, research and PEOPLE SKILLS is essential to making these tools significant to society. Otherwise it’s a bunch of wasted messages and pointless graphics.
SEO means improving the visibility of your web site in search engines like GOOGLE, which is the way most people find your site in today’s web environment. SEO allows you to get more hits on your page through natural search results, aka unpaid.
First things you need to think about
- Who comes to my site NOW-demographic
- Why do they come to my site?
- What is the most popular thing on my site (Google Analytics or Review should tell you this)
- What do I WANT to be the most popular thing on my site/what do I want to get more attention on my site?
- What kind of marketing am I doing now to get people to see my articles
- Goals: What audience do we want, how big of an audience, and what do we want to be the “draw” of the site
Most Popular sites today and why
- The most popular sites today (traffic wise) are search engines and social media sites. They include Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Youtube, Blogger, Wikipedia, and Twitter
- Why do they get the most hits? #1—b/c they are excellent search engines/easy ways to get information you want fast. #2 B/c they promote interactivity, they are a part of the “social media” lifestyle and they get you committed.
- Applying it to you—you need to make sure your site gives your target audience what it wants from you in an easy way and you need to promote interactivity to establish some loyalty/commitment to the site.
- Most popular think tank site (based on some Google searches): Heritage Foundation. Why? My guess is b/c they have targeted their audience, given them the content they want (and can only get there) and provide some interactivity.
Ways to improve your SEO-Marketing Outlook
- Know your audience and give them a lot of what they want. Do they come to the site b/c of a particular issue? Nail that issue on the head and give them ways to spread it around to their friends on social media.
- Think to yourself-what do I Google? What kind of phrases do you Google—like “Top 10 election lies,” “Economic experts on immigration,” etc and incorporate those phrases into your URL titles (which are the titles you come up with in your headlines)
- Use social media to your advantage but do not come off as a used car salesman. Target certain groups, media and leaders that would be interested in your issue.
- To find target followers—see who similar orgs are following and follow them but don’t bombard them with ads for your organization via @’s or DMs. Give them a taste of what they want but don’t force it in their mouths.
- On Facebook-announce upcoming events, give away prizes for joining and facilitate dialogue on each post through “comments”
- Promote your video projects on the home page and send out a notice about them in your newsletters (I get them, so I’ll know!)
- Use lists! People Google lists all the time and those will pop up first.
- Have your fellow colleagues and interns promote site content on their personal social media. Nothing’s more convincing than the recommendation of a friend.
Ways to improve your SEO-Tweaking your website
- Search for your Twitter audience using popular hashtags either by issue #iranelection or news event #midterm. Go to hashtags.org for a starting point. But the best way to use a good hashtag is see what others who cover what you cover are using and join those conversations.
- Use tags on your website when posting stories as your personal branding. Do you want to be the go-to source for a certain issue, expert or trend? On every post, tag the story with whatever keyword you want to be associated with.
- When using multimedia—like a photo, image or graphic, people won’t find it in a search if the description or title is built into that multimedia. You have to label them in the body of the text for it to show up in searches.
- LINKS LINKS LINKS! Do not put a hyperlink on “click here.” Rather, hyperlink the keyword you want people to find when they type it in a search. Add lots of links!
- Your title: Make your title search friendly with keywords, phrases and names that will be searchable. In AP style you’re supposed to only put someone’s last name, but SEO calls for full names.
- To show up in area specific searches, you need to specify the location in the body of the text.like instead of “the store,” say “the Houston store,” etc.
- Make sure your URLs in each post aren’t a bunch of mumbo jumbo. From what I understand you can change the URL of a post on most CMS platforms. If your URL is something like http://www.ladannekoomaram/top-10-ways-to-get-fit that will show up more likely than http://www.ladannekoomaram.com/article-13453234. Likewise, when you create URL names, put hyphens in between in each word instead of having them run together.
- Always remember, if you spend a lot of time on a video or fancy piece of flash, it is unsearchable. Put what you need in text too.
- Search spiders love UPDATES, so make sure to update frequently and link to other popular sites that cover what you do. If you get picked up and linked from another popular site, that’s free traffic for you. The best way to get noticed is by the recommendation of someone trusted which is what happens when you get linked by someone or put on their blogroll.
- Surround your links with relevant, descriptive text
- Don’t overuse keywords b/c if a spider sees the word being used too much in an abnormal way, it will count against you.
- People don’t usually read a site for more than five seconds, so give them something clean, visually pleasing and a great lead “above the fold” on the left side. People read screens in the shape of an F (left to right then down).
- Always put captions with images
- Never underestimate the power of the “share” feature, comments and social media
- Your “about” page should have good links, tags and keywords that will make it so your site comes up in relevant searches or similar searches
- If you want more details, I found a great “Beginners Guide to SEO” which is free online, but lengthy http://guides.seomoz.org/beginners-guide-to-search-engine-optimization