Jeff starts his work with Poynter next month. He will be the final member of the outstanding community engagement team I hired last year to leave TBD. Other than me, he will be the only one to make it to his first anniversary, and just barely.
I first met Jeff when he was an editor at the Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa., and I was leading a discussion for a seminar at the American Press Institute. I probably met 30 editors at that seminar, but Jeff was the only one to stay in touch. I left API to become editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette. We followed each other on Twitter and through reading and occasionally commenting on each others’ blogs.
When I announced that I was leaving Cedar Rapids to join Jim Brady’s as-yet-unnamed and still optimistic local news venture in Washington, Jeff immediately sent me an email saying he wanted to join our team. He stood out among a strong field of candidates and I hired him as our senior community host.
Jeff has the perfect blend of journalistic judgment and technical knowledge for a digital journalist. I can’t recall the exact situation, but I remember an email exchange where Jim was pleased with the initial design of something we were going to publish the next day, but wished for a change of some kind. He worded his wish something along the lines of, “I guess we probably can’t …” and I replied that I always presumed Jeff could do something unless he proved me wrong. He never proved me wrong, and he made that change quickly.
Quoting from my email recommending Jeff to Poynter’s Julie Moos (I learned in the response that Jim was consulting with Poynter at the time and made a similar recommendation):
Jeff is one of the best hires I’ve ever made, and I can’t imagine a better candidate to cover mobile and social issues for Poynter. …
Lots of people as digitally savvy as Jeff are loyal fanboys (or fangirls) of a particular phone (lots of iPhone fans at TBD). But Jeff was curious and saw the value of having multiple phone experiences on our staff. He got an Android phone, persisting through some obstacles from the IT staff, who had a group deal for iPhones. And, of course, he did most of the testing for our Android app.
At one of our first community engagement team meetings, we brainstormed a way of showing what was happening right now (whenever now is) in the DC area, using various selected social media feeds. Before long, Jeff and Mandy had a prototype under development. It would have been really cool, the coolest feature of TBD. Alas, our web developers, editor and product manager decided to make it a post-launch addition. And, well … maybe Jeff can help you work that up for Poynter sometime.
When I started hearing some buzz about Quora, I suggested that we needed to check it out, and the next day (or maybe that day), Jeff had a story and map on our site, taking Quora’s answers about Washington’s best pizza places (and asking our community to suggest more).
One Sunday evening in January (while a good NFL playoff game was on), Jeff sent me an email with a link to a cool tool the Post had used that day, showing random quotes from Keith Olbermann (he had just left MSNBC). I emailed back, asking if he could see what they used to make it, whether it was a product we could use or something the Post had developed. He emailed back shortly that they had done it themselves, but he thought he could make something similar. Before the game was over, he emailed a link to a prototype. I emailed back that it was cool, wondering whether we got a page view for each click. He messaged back that a click just refreshed the widget within the original page. By Monday, he had redesigned it to give a fresh page view (that loaded quickly) for each click. And by Tuesday, we had a State of the Union randomizer online.
I could go on and on. Jeff will not only be an authoritative, engaging voice for Poynter on mobile and social, but he will be an asset to the whole organization. You’ll want to bring him down to St. Pete frequently for seminars and brainstorming. Bottom line: No one is going to be a better fit for this gig than Jeff.
Jeff led the way in recruiting members of the TBD Community Network and in building strong relationships with them. He was a valuable link between our newsroom and our technology staff, excelling in both worlds. When the advertising aspect of the network wasn’t working out, Jeff proposed various approaches to improve it and keep it going. I wish we had tried his suggestions. Jeff was constantly trying different tools to engage our community: All Our Ideas, Qwanz, maps, live chats, that randomizer I mentioned to Julie. Whenever a big story broke, Jeff was thinking of the best way to seek the community’s reaction or give people a way to tell their part of the story.
Feb. 23 was an awful day for TBD. Most of the staff, including Jeff, learned that their jobs would be eliminated. This had to be one of the most emotional days of his career. But Jeff’s a newsperson at his core, so he reacted by covering the story, curating the social media response on his blog using Storify. (Jeff later was named managing editor of the combined web production desk for TBD.com and WJLA.com, which relaunched today, with Jeff handling much of the planning and testing.)
I applaud Jeff’s move to Poynter with a lot of admiration and a bit of envy. I have pitched a few times to work full-time at Poynter, and have worked with extensively with Poynter in a number of ways.
I know Poynter and I know Jeff. This will be a perfect match.