I had mixed feelings when Mandy Jenkins blogged about why she was pleased with the new job I had just offered her. Because I had also offered her one of the “Twitter monkey” jobs she was glad to be moving beyond.
While Mandy and I worked together at TBD, I valued her contributions every day. I thought she had a great job and did a great job. So I was a little chagrined to read in her blog how she had spent the previous four years:
Watching and curating streams, responding to mentions, keeping an eye out for breaking news, promoting reporters’ work – it takes up so much time and mental energy that it’s difficult to do much else very effectively (and that includes being a spouse, friend, parent, pet owner, etc.).
Yeah, I guess that’s kind of what I expected from Mandy when she worked at TBD, though I think the part about being a spouse, etc. was unspoken (isn’t it always?), and I should add that Editor Erik Wemple sometimes added to my own expectations of Mandy at TBD.
And I should add that throughout my career, I could have written a similar description of many jobs I’ve held and supervised: sports writer, cop reporter, assistant city editor, political reporter, national editor. Journalism jobs can sap your time and mental energy and crowd out family, friends and pets at times. We get passionate about our work, and we and our bosses sometimes get excessive.
So I’m not writing this to excuse how demanding I was or to argue that Mandy gave the job more than I demanded (though she did). Instead, I want to continue my occasional blog posts with career advice by noting some lessons other journalists can find in how Mandy moved beyond Twitter-monkey status. (Mandy’s and my former TBD colleague Jeff Sonderman already provided some advice for how journalists can rise above digital typecasting such as Twitter monkey.
Be the best damn Twitter monkey (or whatever) you can be. Whatever your job is and however demanding it is, strive to be the best. By all accounts, two of TBD’s greatest successes were our coverage of breaking news and our mastery of social media. Mandy was at the center of both efforts. She excelled at the Cincinnati Enquirer to get her job at TBD and her continued excellence at TBD and Huffington Post landed her the more strategic job she now has at Digital First Media. Just as excellence at reporting has always helped some journalists rise to positions as editors, excellence in a social media position will bring opportunities with greater responsibilities.
Don’t let the job limit you. Maybe we expected a lot of Twitter-monkey work from Mandy at TBD, but she didn’t let those demands limit her contributions. Though she didn’t supervise anyone, Mandy was a clear newsroom leader, contributing to plans and strategy and speaking up frequently with ideas and suggestions.
Network. Mandy helped me out before we even met, then stayed in touch, to help her land her job at TBD. And she stayed in touch with Jim Brady and me after we scattered from TBD. Her connections helped her get another Twitter-monkey job at Huffington Post and eventually brought her back together with Jim and me at Digital First.
Teach. It takes a lot of work to turn your knowledge and experience into lessons (and it can mean more time away from spouse, etc.). But it’s a great way to build your reputation and increase your value. Mandy has done training for her colleagues as well as journalists in Russia and Egypt and organizations such as the Online News Association and Associated Press Media Editors NewsTrain (she’ll be in Phoenix this week training for NewsTrain), as well as teaching at Georgetown.
Take initiative. I never told Mandy to work with Storify, Crowdmap or Xtranormal. She just did it, and created great content for us with each of those new tools. While she thought of herself as a Twitter monkey, her bosses and colleagues were thinking of her as a pioneer. In one instance, we discussed an idea at one team meeting, and Mandy started working immediately on a prototype. For reasons that aren’t important here, we never launched that idea at TBD, but she is working on a similar project now for Digital First. People notice and remember when you take initiative.
Blog. Mandy’s blog, Zombie Journalism, shares her education, observations and experience as a journalist. She provides journalists and newsrooms with helpful how-to posts on a variety of journalism tools and skills, as well as thoughtful guidance on journalism ethics. A good blog like this can help spread your reputation and give potential employers a great way to assess your potential contributions.
Take responsibility. Of the thousands of tweets that Mandy sent from our official accounts at TBD and from her personal account, I can recall only one that made me wince. She expressed a valid frustration, but should not have voiced that frustration publicly. The details aren’t important (I can’t remember them), but the tweet resulted in a conversation in Erik’s office. Mandy quickly admitted her mistake, apologized and took responsibility. No whining, no excuses, no suggestion that it wasn’t that big a deal (I think the conversation was an overreaction, and she would have been right, but telling your boss something he’s upset about is not a big deal is pointless). She quickly turned around a situation that could have been confrontational and instead demonstrated her maturity and responsibility. (I’m mentioning this conversation here with Mandy’s permission, because, of course, such matters should remain confidential.)
Accept disappointments with grace. Again, the details aren’t important, but TBD handled the job cuts last year clumsily, and gave Mandy lots of reasons to be bitter. She handled herself with class, even training the people who would handle social media when she was gone. She didn’t burn any bridges and left with people admiring her class as well as her ability.
This is the first in a series of three posts I am writing about the work of engagement editors or social media editors. I will post soon about what I think that job entails, then share some thoughts from colleagues doing the job.