Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

Category: Uncategorized

Taking on a new role at work

I’m excited to say that I’ve been promoted to a new role at work: managing editor of Poynter.org.

As managing editor, I’ll have many of the same responsibilities that I did when I was associate editor; I’ll be writing and editing stories about the media, overseeing the How To section of the website, moderating live chats, teaching sessions on social media, and helping to grow Poynter.org’s audience. Now, I’ll also be more involved in the day-to-day decisions about what we publish and the storytelling approaches we take.

I’m lucky to work with talented colleagues at a place that encourages experimentation and innovation. When I started working at The Poynter Institute five years ago, the editor who hired me said: “Challenge us to think about things differently.” My current boss has given me similar advice.

I try to put her good advice into action, and I always keep two words in mind: “grounded” and “growing.” It’s important, I tell myself, to stay grounded in traditional journalism values, but at the same time grow — and open myself up to new ways of telling stories.

At Poynter, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to grow. In the past year, I’ve been asked to join committees aimed at shaping the institute’s curriculum and future, and I’ve started teaching more. Teaching has forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and, in turn, has given me a newfound sense of confidence. (It’s much easier for me to “teach” via the written word, as opposed to teaching in front of a live audience.)

It’s been great to see how my teaching and writing overlap. After I teach a session, I often write a Poynter.org piece related to it. My teaching informs my reporting, and my reporting informs my teaching; it’s a creative cycle of learning and discovery.

As I take on my new role, I look forward to continuing to learn new things. I want to keep striking a balance between writing, editing and teaching. I want to grow as a writer, an editor and a leader. I want to work hard, and still make time for fun and the people I love.

I have a good feeling about the weeks and months ahead; there’s lots to be happy about.

Meeting some of the journalists who are in Tampa this week for the RNC

This week, there are about 15,000 journalists in Tampa covering the Republican National Convention. They’ll be covering the political speeches, talking with protesters, taking us behind the scenes, and finding out which politicians are attending local strip clubs. (There are a lot of them here in Tampa Bay.)

Catching up with Howard Fineman, editorial director of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group.

While it’s important for journalists to cover the conventions, I wonder whether we need so many there. Jeff Jarvis wrote a good piece estimating that the news media will spend about $60 million sending journalists to both conventions this year. Just think about how else that money could be spent in newsrooms, which have significantly reduced their staff throughout the past few years.

I don’t like to think about how much money the media business is spending on the conventions. But, admittedly, I still get excited thinking about how many media professionals are in the Tampa Bay Area this week. As a media news reporter, I can’t help but want to be where the action is and meet some of the journalists I cover.

On Monday, I attended a Politico-sponsored breakfast where Karl Rove was the guest speaker. The following day, I covered a Poynter-sponsored luncheon, which featured a talk with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, co-hosts of “Morning Joe.” They had some really interesting thoughts to share on how the news media lost the public’s trust and how they can regain it. (You can read my coverage of their talk here.)

Me and Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post.

At the luncheon, I caught up with Howard Fineman from The Huffington Post. I first met him when he spoke at Providence College, my alma mater, and have kept in touch with him throughout the years. He introduced me to Arianna Huffington, who I’ve interviewed but hadn’t met in person.

Maybe it’s a little unprofessional for me to be taking photos with high-profile journalists, but it’s something I’ve always done. I like being able to go through old photos and see who I’ve met, and where my job has taken me.

I passed on the invitation to last night’s “Rock the Vote” dance party with DJ Steve Aoki in Ybor City. (I feel old saying this, but I didn’t want to drive all the way to Ybor at night and try to find parking just to go to a dance party where I wouldn’t know anyone!)

Tomorrow, I hope to hang out at the CNN Grill and talk with the journalists there about how they use Poynter.org, what they like about the site and what they think needs work. My editor and I figured that since there are so many journalists in the area this week, we might as well take advantage of the opportunity and see what we can learn.

It’s a good week to be a media news reporter in Tampa Bay.

Remembering mentor, friend and leader Jim Naughton

Me, Naughton and the San Diego chicken at Poynter. The chicken made an appearance at a party we threw for Naughton following the publication of his book, “46 Frogs: Tales of a Serial Prankster.”

There are some people who enter your life and inspire you to be better. Jim Naughton was one of those people.

Naughton died Saturday, two days before his 74th birthday. He had battled prostate cancer for more than 15 years.

I probably wouldn’t be at Poynter today had it not been for Naughton. He helped create the Institute’s year-long Naughton fellowship, which I got after graduating from Providence College in 2007.  During that time, I strengthened my writing and editing skills and learned what it’s like to work for a website. After my year was up, the fellowship turned into a job.

Several times during my fellowship, Naughton took me to lunch. Cafe Cibo, an Italian restaurant in St. Pete, was our favorite spot. Naughton would ask me how my fellowship was going, what I was learning, and what I was doing for fun. I would ask him for advice on writing and editing, and talk with him about my goals and aspirations. He always encouraged me and, in doing so, showed me what a great leader he was.

Naughton was president of The Poynter Institute from 1996 to 2003. Prior to that, he was editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and a Washington correspondent for The New York Times. Known for his good sense of humor, Naughton believed that laughter was a necessity in the newsroom. Tom Brokaw called him the “Prince of Pranks” — a title that suited him well. When he worked at the Inquirer under Gene Roberts, Naughton put 46 bullfrogs in Roberts’ office for his 46th birthday. He also brought a camel into the newsroom.

Last year, Naughton published a book about his newsroom pranks titled “46 Frogs: Tales of a Serial Prankster.” In one part, he wrote about covering Gerald Ford for the Times:

Especially for those at major news outlets like the broadcast networks and the Washington Post and New York Times, there was an expectation we would come up with something new every day, even if Jerry Ford was doing the same thing every day. Some reporters could manage this debilitating duty; others turned to booze, some to sex, some to gourmandizing, some to late-night poker games. Some of us turned to pranks …

Naughton’s most notable prank — which gained nationwide attention — involved wearing a chicken head while interviewing Ford. The president later reflected on the prank in this video.

Throughout his career, Naughton showed that humor can create a sense of togetherness, and that hard work needs to be balanced with fun. Even when Naughton was sick, he managed to make people laugh. A few years ago, he sent me and some of my Poynter colleagues a photo of himself wearing a sumo-wrestling suit, just before he was about to receive radiation therapy. It seemed like such a Naughton thing to do.

I was lucky enough to go to lunch with Naughton and his wonderful wife Diana about two months ago. It had been a while since we’d been to lunch, so I couldn’t help but give him a big hug when I saw him. He looked tired, but still seemed like his old self.

I’ll never forget how good he was to me, and will be forever grateful that he created the Naughton fellowship. Journalism (and the world, really) needs more people like him.

Starting to experiment in the kitchen more

When I lived alone, I rarely felt motivated to cook. I was content eating veggie burgers and  salads, and really didn’t like to cook for myself. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and eating more when I’m cooking for someone or eating with someone.

Since my meat-loving boyfriend and I started living together, I’ve been cooking a lot more. I’m a vegetarian, but I don’t mind cooking him meat dishes. I just wince a little when I pull apart shreds of chicken or dig my hands into raw beef. But I do it because I like cooking for Troy and seeing him enjoy the meals I make. I never sample his meat dishes, so I rely on him to tell me how they taste.

“Hmmm, this is SO good!” he always says. “I love your cooking.” (He promises he’s not flattering me and that he’s telling the truth. …)

Cooking has helped me add more variety to my diet, and it’s been a good way for me to build a healthier relationship with food. Lately, I’ve been trying to make meals that Troy and I can both eat. I’ve made a couple of vegetarian pasta dishes that I’ve added chicken to for Troy. I know never to add mushrooms or tofu (two foods that I love and he despises) to his portion. And he knows never to sneak pieces of meat into mine.

Sometimes my tofu dishes taste bland. Other times, I forget to add garlic to a stir-fry, or I measure out a 1/3 cup of cilantro instead of a 1/4 cup. But that’s OK. Part of the fun of cooking is learning as you go, improvising recipes and eventually making them your own. I’ve learned that cooking isn’t always as glamorous or as beautiful as food blogs make it out to be. One of my favorite food bloggers, Joy Wilson, recently wrote about this:

“The truth is, I only show you a small part of what goes on in my home kitchen.  That usually looks like clean, overhead shots of neatly organized ingredients, piles of chocolate chunks, and stacks of cookies.  We seem to have an understanding.  I try to make things extra pretty and wonderfully delicious, and you (hopefully) run to your kitchen and bust out the butter.

I love making things pretty for you, but I sometimes worry that all of this sets up an unrealistic standard in your mind.  Maybe that’s why I’m always over-sharing that my thighs rub together, I used to have frizzy bangs, and  I’m unnaturally afraid of spiders.”

We’re not perfect.

These photos I took of the recent meals I’ve made are far from perfect, but they at least capture the variety of recipes I’ve been trying out. I’ll post more in the future (after I start using Instagram and my old Canon Rebel more!) I hope to keep cooking, and to keep getting better at it.

Pasta salad with lettuce, goat cheese, walnuts & pesto. (My own concoction.)

Yummy curry. Made a tofu version and a chicken version. (Thanks to my colleague Butch for this recipe.)

Colorful tofu stir-fry.

A tofu pasta dish that I added chicken to.

Turkey meatballs for Troy.

Troy sampled this chicken enchilada dish at Publix and really liked it, so I made it at home. (I love that Publix has so many free samples!)

Homemade pizza — half veggie, half meat.

I got the recipe for this lime-cliantro tofu dish from my friend Ileana, who has a lovely food blog called “A Little Saffron Would Make This!” I’ll admit, my photo makes the dish look a little unappetizing, but it tasted great.

Raspberry and white chocolate chip pancakes. We made these once but found them to be a little too sweet for our liking. Typically, we make banana and pecan pancakes.

Troy made us crème brûlée one night. I’m normally not a big crème brûlée fan, but this was so good I ate every bite of it.

Jennifer Weiner: ‘Write the book you wanted to read’

I met Jennifer Weiner a couple of years ago when she came to Poynter and have been following her work closely ever since.

I admire not just her writing, but the way she interacts with her audience via social media, her creative approach to promoting her books, and her relentless efforts to speak out about the role gender plays in literary criticism. I also love that she live tweets episodes of “The Bachelorette” (my guilty pleasure show) and that she has cupcakes on the stops along her book tours. (How fun!)

I recently came across a few interviews with Weiner, who has a new book out called “The Next Best Thing.” Here are some of my favorite quotes from the interviews:

“I remember reading somewhere that you should write the book you wanted to read. So I wrote a book about an unapologetically Jewish, unapologetically plus-size heroine. I gave her a mom who’d come out of the closet and a father who’d dropped out of her life, and a boyfriend who was a lot like Satan — and I gave her a happy ending.

“Then I worked my tail off, getting the next book ready, and getting the word out about ‘Good in Bed,’ because I believed then, and still believe, that nobody will ever love your book more or, hence, work harder on its behalf, than you, the author.” — Salon

“I think that women who’ve spoken out about issues of gender equity at places like the Times and NPR have been ignored. God knows we’ve been belittled. I think now we’re in the fighting stage. I hope that, someday, we’ll win. I hope that if either of my daughters is a writer, she won’t have to jump through an extra, female-specific set of hoops to prove that what she’s written is worthy of serious consideration, even if – especially if – it deals with romance, and friendship, and family, and maybe even shoes.” — Mediabistro

Since I’m sharing quotes, I might as well add a few others from some of my favorite authors:

“I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.” — Anna Quindlen

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” — Anna Quindlen

“To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.” — Joan Didion

“Until we believe we are enough, we’ll never believe we have enough.” — Geneen Roth

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” — Mary Anne Radmacher

“Be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” Nora Ephron

Meeting with Anna Quindlen while in New York City

I went to New York City last week to attend the Mirror Awards ceremony, where winners were announced. I was a finalist in two categories, but I didn’t win.

The optimist in me kept saying, “It’s OK; you should be happy you made it this far! You can just try again year.” Of course, though, I was bummed and wished I had come away with an award.

I met with Anna just before visiting The New York Times newsroom. I also visited The Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed newsrooms.

I came away with something perhaps more valuable, though — writing advice from my favorite author, Anna Quindlen. About a week before my trip, I finished Anna’s new memoir, “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.” So much of it resonated with me — particularly the passages about losing her mom, about her thoughts on Catholicism and about her belief that “a single moment can mark the dividing line between who you are and who you never wanted to be.”

As I read her book, I couldn’t help but think about how great it would be to talk with her in person. I contacted her one night to see if she would be willing to meet with me while I was in New York City.

I thought it was a long-shot, but she replied. A week later, we met for a late lunch and talked about writing.

I was struck by how humble and gracious Anna was; you could tell she was genuinely interested in my memoir and my life experiences. She asked me a lot of questions and gave me such sound advice. She also shared this Ernest Hemmingway quote with me: “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” How true.

I’m grateful I got a chance to meet with Anna, and that I got so much out of our visit; now I have a much better sense of how I want to structure my memoir, and writing it has been easier. It makes all the difference when a writer whose work you admire believes in you.

Seeing 404 error pages as a way to build a relationship with readers

Creative 404 error page that illustrates how you might feel when you stumble across one. (Not quite sure what’s up with the creature, but he’s so ugly he’s cute.)

 

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of TED talks. I love the breadth of topics they cover, and how they add depth to what may otherwise seem like a surface-level experience.

I recently watched one about the experience of stumbling upon 404 error pages that alert people to broken links.

Renny Gleeson, whose background is in advertising, shows several examples of 404 pages in his talk. There are lots of other good examples, including these. The New York Times also has a creative one that links to a list of the Most Popular/Recommend stories.

But too often, 404 pages are dull; they draw people away from a site and rarely turn frustration into satisfaction.

Gleeson makes the point that “[A 404 page] is the feeling of a broken relationship” and says that “every error is really a chance to build a better relationship.” I love that last line and thought about it in light of our recent corrections audit.

It also reminded me of something that my colleague Craig Silverman wrote in his piece on why the public lacks trust in the media: “By publicizing and acknowledging our mistakes and failures, we show vulnerability. We show our human face. We make ourselves worthy of connection — and trust.”

And we build a better relationship with our audience.

Creating, resurfacing memories in my writing/reading room

I love this picture. My friend took it recently after I showed him and some of my other friends my new home office. (I prefer to call it my “writing/reading room.”)

“We should get a picture of you reading!” one friend suggested.

“OK, let’s find a good book!” I said, perhaps getting a little too excited.

My friends started looking through the books on my Billy bookcases from Ikea. (Incidentally, I’m reading a book — “Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books” — which says that as of 2011, Ikea had manufactured about 28 million of these bookcases. I take this as a reassuring sign that bibliophiles are not a dying breed.)

One of my friends gravitated toward a book with a colorful binding — an old copy of “The Canterbury Tales.” My dad, who always used to read to me when I was younger, bought me that book several years ago after I took a Chaucer class in college. He knew my copy was tattered, so he wanted to find me one that had character and was in good shape.

After several visits to independent bookstores, he ended up buying me a copy that was published in 1935. I remember the smile on his face when I opened it up and admired the drawings that go along with each tale, and the handwritten notes in the margins. I love books with notes — they make me feel connected to the people who have turned the same pages before me, and sometimes introduce me to new interpretations.

As my friend got ready to take the photo of me reading, I sat up straight, held the book in front of me and embraced my inner nerd.

Snap.

The photo is both fun and dorky (some might say adorkable), and it reminds me of things I hold dear: friends, books and, most of all, my dad.

Why journalists misspell names & what they’re doing to help prevent the error

My parents loved the show “Family Ties” and named me after one of the main characters, Mallory Keaton.

Hoping to make my name sound more feminine, they spelled it with two A’s instead of the more common spelling (one A, one O.) Ever since, people have referred to me as “Mallory,” “Mallery,” “Malory” “Malary,” and yes, sometimes even “Melanie.” A couple of times, I’ve been referred to as “Mallard.” (Damn you, auto-correct!)

Having my name misspelled irks me so much that I decided to write about the issue last year. After seeing a lot of recent corrections for misspelled names, I decided to write about it again. This time, I interviewed several journalists to find out what names their news sites commonly misspell, and to find out what they’re doing to help prevent misspellings. Here’s what I learned.

Brene Brown: Vulnerability is ‘the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love’

I just finished watching a TED talk that made me think more deeply about what it means to be happy. Sociologist Brene Brown — who speaks humbly and has a great sense of humor — spent years researching the source of people’s happiness. She learned that to be happy, we need to cultivate compassion and courage, allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and embrace our imperfections. We need to allow ourselves to be seen. (More on this later.)

Brown’s 20-minute talk — which focuses on vulnerability — makes me want to read her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection.” If her writing is as good as her TED talk, then I’m sure the book will have some valuable takeaways.

I transcribed some of my favorite parts from Brown’s talk for those of you who want a quick recap. I especially like the parts about courage and banana nut muffins.

“Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

“Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection. Is there something about me, that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection? … It’s universal, we all have it.”

“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.”

“People who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it; they believe they’re worthy. And to me, the hard part of the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not worthy of connection.”

Based on her research, Brown found that people who believe they’re worthy of connection had one thing in common: a sense of courage. She says the original definition of courage was “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” (Love this!) … “These folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. The last was they had connection — and this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity. They were willing to let of go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they were. … You have to absolutely do that for connection.”

People who believed they were worthy of connection also fully embraced vulnerability. “They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. … They talked about the willingness to say ‘I love you’ first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram, the willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.”

“Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”
“One of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability. And I think there’s evidence — and it’s not the only reason this evidence exists, but I think it’s a huge cause. We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. The problem is, and I learned this from the research, is that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say — ‘here’s the bad stuff, here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, there’s disappointment– I don’t want to feel these. I’m gonna have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.’ … You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects or emotions. When we numb those, we numb joy. We numb gratitude. We numb happiness. And then we are miserable and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin, and it becomes this dangerous cycle. One of the things that I think that we need to think about is why and how we numb.”

Children are “hard-wired for struggle when they get here. … When you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say: ‘Look at them, look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect and make sure she makes the tennis team by 5th grade and Yale by seventh grade.’ That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, ‘You know what, you’re imperfect and you’re hard-wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”

We have to “let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen. To love with our whole hearts even though there’s no guarantee, and that’s really hard. … To practice gratitude and joy in those moments of kind of terror, when we’re wondering, ‘Can I love you this much, can I believe in this as passionately, can I be as fierce about this?’ Just to be able to stop and instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, ‘I’m just so grateful because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive?’”

“When we work from a place, I believe, that says ‘I’m enough,’ then we stop screaming and start listening. We’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.”

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