When I was named to the Journal Register Company’s ideaLab in summer 2010, I had no idea that the goal I chose would morph into a full-time job, but it has and I am really excited about the fun in store for me.
As managing editor of Heritage Media-West, my ideaLab goal was to “incentive coworkers to learn new technologies and understand the value of digital. Train coworkers to utilize new tools by showcasing the strength and potential of each offering.”
My new job title is director of community engagement and editorial training for Journal Register Company’s Michigan Group. And among my responsibilities is to head up training efforts in video, developing partnerships, pertinent online tools and SEO for all of Michigan.
This is in addition to leading the community engagement team across the state, running the Community Media Lab, which has been renamed the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, as well as directing blogger recruitment and training across the state, working with editors to recruit citizen journalists, developing a regular live chat schedule for all of our websites, and monitoring and training staff in social media usage.
Had this position, which is newly created, been available 2 1/2 years ago, I wouldn’t have even been considered for it. It’s only through my ideaLab training, networking, collaboration and individual efforts have I become versed in everything that is now expected of me in my new role.
In fact, I was so green to the digital world in the summer of 2010 that I didn’t even know how iTunes worked and what an app was for a smartphone. But still upper management saw that I had an enthusiasm, curiosity and passion for moving journalism forward in a digital world. And through regular conference calls with our leader, Jon Cooper, and his team, members of the ideaLab were encouraged to play, experiment and make use of digital tools — from Storify, Dipity and uStream to CoverItLive, GeoCommons and Many Eyes — in our storytelling. We were equipped with a Netbook, smartphone and iPad, and given 10 hours a week to do our own thing. This led to many discoveries for me and a passion for visual storytelling.
Last April, my ideaLab project — which had focused on podcasting and the phonecasting application ipadio.com and culminating with a virtual walking tour of Saline historic sites — changed direction as I launched the Community Media Lab in Ypsilanti, Mich. A month or so later, I put forth a proposal and my lab was among a dozen across the United States approved for funding by Digital First Media, the company that manages JRC and Media News Group, as part of an effort to open media labs throughout our footprint.
I initially set up the lab so that my staff of reporters would work four-hour shifts and I would put in a full day every week, working one-on-one with members of the community interested in becoming community contributors, blogging partners, or simply wanted to become more familiar with social media, digital photography, or wanted to create video or podcasts.
In the last 10 months, we have helped senior citizens and businesses set up Facebook pages, chambers of commerce, nonprofits and political organizations establish a presence on Twitter, and helped create a YouTube account for a local business to showcases its product demonstration videos. We have taught individuals associated with nonprofits and businesses how to write news releases using AP Style, and helped students and local writers set up blogs so they could partner with us at Heritage.com.
We also have hosted a slew of workshops on marketing, social media, editing audio, citizen journalism, the Freedom of Information Act, news writing, photography, video, column writing, Google Drive for collaboration and online safety, and these workshops have been livestreamed via video with a simultaneous live chat with our audience. Workshop leaders have included myself and staff from across our company, as well as professors from Eastern Michigan University, and marketing, public relations and social media experts.
In my new role, we are expanding the lab and hoping to attract participants from across Southeast Michigan. The goal is to provide a learning-based environment, as well as a vehicle for the community to document and chronicle the important events that will shape their history, using our newspapers and websites, if they choose. The lab is a community service and no one is charged for our help or for entrance to a workshop. It’s also open to anyone, with no obligation to contribute to our publications. Someone could walk in and sit down at our blogging station, check email and work on a personal photo slideshow or video, with or without our help, if he or she wanted.
I will be publicizing our efforts on all of our social media accounts, including The Oakland Press, The Macomb Daily, The Morning Sun, Heritage Media, Advisor Source and The Voice newspapers. Our workshops have attracted up to a dozen people at times and a small online audience, but I would like to double or even triple that number as the year progresses.
My hope is to encourage members of each community we cover to get involved in sharing the news, much like they do on social media. I also have a goal of recruiting 100 blogging partners across Michigan.
When I first started as a reporter in 1992 in Dexter, Mich., educators, parents, local business owners, church leaders and volunteers with nonprofits wrote news releases and shared photographs with The Dexter Leader about every facet of the community. This supplemented my local reporting of city government, the schools and police news, as I was the lone reporter for the newspaper. Dexter had an actively engaged community who took pride in their town and wanted to share news about it. We see this today in the communities we cover, but more so on Facebook and Twitter because of the immediacy and convenience factors. My goal is to re-establish these relationships and develop more news-sharing partnerships. Anyone can start a blog, Twitter account or launch a Facebook page, but they won’t have the same reach — online and in print — that we do in our communities.
So, why not take advantage of that? I think the key is letting people know that we want them to think of us when they hear of breaking news or a touching story in their neighborhood or school. We invite you to share your own story or guest column; take a photograph while cleaning up debris after a spring storm; share video of the winning shot in the varsity basketball game; create a Storify compilation of local chatter on Twitter about the mayor’s State of the City address; create a timeline of the community’s 150 years; create a map pinpointing all of the community’s landmarks; or hold a live chat on an issue impacting your community.
Contact me and I’ll walk you through the process, help you learn a digital tool to achieve your goal and connect you with the local editor who will share your contribution. Let’s work together and build community. Message me on Twitter.