My favorite team of my journalism career is breaking up.
Again and again, I have been blessed to work with extraordinarily talented and friendly colleagues. But I have enjoyed working with the TBD community engagement team more than any team in my career. And I have enjoyed the larger collection of TBD colleagues more than I have enjoyed co-workers anywhere.
I say this recognizing that I am probably a decade or more older than anyone who worked at TBD.com and I live in a distant suburb that’s a long commute from work and a longer commute from the DC hangouts where my colleagues sometimes socialize. I have joined several TBD parties and happy hours, but I miss more often than I attend, and I’m frequently one of the first to leave. So my love of this crew isn’t based in social ties but in my deep admiration for the energy, creativity and integrity they bring to our work.
Without addressing whether our company made the right business decision to cut the TBD staff and redirect efforts, I can say the news business and Washington news consumers are poorer because this group never got the chance to implement many of our ideas or show more than a glimpse of what we could do.
We’ve lost a lot of good people already. Whitney Patton, who started as our general sales manager, left before we even launched, after the company reorganized the sales operation. Less than three months after launch, General Manager Jim Brady left over differences with owner Robert Allbritton. Senior Product Manager Bageshri Ghate, Executive Assistant Carol Touhey, Managing Editor Paul Volpe and Redskins reporter Mike Jones all moved on in the next few months. Since the staff cuts were announced, News Editors Julie Westfall and Sommer Mathis also moved along, as well as reporters Elahe Izadi and Rebecca A. Cooper, photojournalist Jay Westcott and web producer Markham Evans. They were exemplary colleagues, and I can’t take the time to sing all their praises in detail.
But I’ll make the time to tell you how great my community engagement team was.
Friday was the last day at TBD for two members of the community engagement team, Daniel Victor and Lisa Rowan. I hired them less than a year ago with a twofold mission: recruit an extraordinary network of blogs and sites covering local news and life in the Washington area; and engage the public creatively around the events and issues of our metro area.
Lisa was the first member of the community engagement team to come to work at TBD. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone jump into a job faster. We had just settled on the name of our operation, and one of Lisa’s first jobs was to grab “TBD” accounts on every social medium we could think of before we announced the name. Then she dug in on the task of identifying local blogs to recruit for our network. Just a few days after she started work, I had to return to Iowa for more than a week to complete my move to Virginia. Already I knew I didn’t need to worry about Lisa. She’s a self-starter who needed little or no direction from me. If she wasn’t already doing what I wanted her to do, she was usually taking the initiative on a better idea than what I would have assigned.
I remember why I hired Lisa: she was polite and persistent in showing and telling me why she would be good for TBD. That same personality make her a perfect recruiter for our network. Whether she connected through email, phone, social media, private lunches or our blogger meetups, Lisa bonded with people quickly and made them want to be part of the operation that excited her so. And those blogger meetups? She organized them flawlessly, needing little or no work on my part.
Lisa’s so polite that she would raise her hand to seek her turn to speak in our team meetings. At the first meeting, I said we would be informal — no need to raise hands, just speak up. Lisa kept raising her hand in an exaggerated gesture with an impish smile on her face, more willing to poke fun at herself than to stop raising her hand.
Lisa was so passionate about our network that she did double duty, as a community host on our staff and as a member of the network for her Quarter Life blog (covering thrift, vintage and consignment shopping in the Washington area).
She agreed to take our early-morning shift (not because she’s a morning person, but because she’s an incredibly hard worker who was pursuing grad school and a second job in the late afternoon and evening). Those early hours meant taking on a busy shift in aggregating content from our blog network, as well as providing timely news for morning drivers and Metro riders on our @TBDCommute Twitter feed.
Lisa led the way in the community engagement aspects of our Metro coverage. When we checked out every escalator in the system, she visited the most stations, catching an ugly cold in the process, standing hours on Red Line platforms on a cold, windy day. She later launched our weekly Metro Report Card.
When Editor Erik Wemple said we needed to seek more local stories in national events, Lisa quickly pitched a batch of local angles to Fashion Week in New York, then delivered on them (and also pitched an economical plan for spending a week in New York, so we could afford to send her). She also covered DC Fashion Week on her return, showing in a blistering review that she’s no homer.
She probably appeared on TBD TV more than anyone on our staff, filling in viewers with her updates on our ugly-sweater contest and interesting stories from community life.
Lisa will combine her interests in fashion and social media in her next venture. She’s launching her own business(es), managing a line of vintage clothing for Nana when it reopens in late March after moving to Mount Pleasant. She also will be consulting on social media (if your business or website needs an expert hand, I highly recommend her).
The initiative and multiple abilities that helped her rock as a community host for TBD will drive her to success in both of these ventures.
Dan and I have already noted that his persistence helped him land his TBD job when I had overlooked him. That was the last time I overlooked him. Dan’s humor and hard work (and candy jar) made him a staff favorite at TBD.
Like Lisa, he was an effective recruiter for our network, concentrating especially on sports and collegiate blogs, assembling strong contributors in both areas and making friends throughout the community quickly. He engaged our community through live chats, polls, interactive maps, blog posts and contests.
Dan came to us as an accomplished blogger, a veteran of the beatblogging project at New York University when he was a reporter for the Patriot News in Harrisburg, Pa. Long before we met, I had sung his praises on Twitter, in workshops and on my blog for his adept use of Twitter and for his thoughtful blog posts (such as this one about how he used Facebook in covering a breaking story). As he changed jobs, Dan’s blog became a great place to follow what we were doing at TBD. If you wanted to know what a community host did, the best explanation came from Dan’s blog.
Dan rightly saw his community engagement work as an extension of the journalism he had started as a reporter. With stories and blog posts ranging from the Nationals’ new uniforms to Redskins developments to the Rally to Restore Sanity, Dan showed his ability as a digital journalist, blending aggregation, community contributions and original reporting to produce informative, engaging content. He was one of the first and best on our staff to use a new reporting tool, Storify, to report stories using the conversation on social media. When I suggested we need to to explore the possibilities that Quora offers, Dan quickly went to work.
When we needed a little more help in the morning as Lisa’s workload grew, Dan volunteered to pitch in from home when he rolled out of bed.
Like Lisa, Dan appeared frequently on our TV shows.
After we were able to shift some time-consuming aggregation duties away from the community hosts, Dan quickly came up with an idea for a series of stories about dating in DC. They were a delightful combination of reporting, engagement, self-deprecation and lively writing. And they generated strong traffic. And, of course, Dan blogged about the experience.
When our company decided to cut staff and change TBD’s mission, I was not surprised that Dan quickly found another job. Actually, he found two, choosing to accept a job from Philly.com, working again in community engagement. I’d tell you what he’ll be doing there, but whatever I told you would be inaccurate, because a job description is just a starting point for Dan. He never settles for meeting your expectations.
As he was wrapping up work, Dan couldn’t resist going out with a blend of humor and engagement, just as he worked. After Marion Barry wandered across a NewsChannel 8 set, Dan launched a Photoshop contest featuring Barry, as a farewell gift to the TBD audience.
Thanks, Lisa and Dan, for joining our community engagement team and for your amazing contributions. While I wish our adventure could have continued longer, I’m glad we got the chance to work together, even briefly.