On Wednesday, January 8th I packed up my things and left my first real job.
Two years earlier I had started as an intern at Newsweek & The Daily Beast, eventually becoming the deputy social media editor. 28 months and tens of thousands of tweets later, I willingly sent in my resignation letter.
A few days later I had already un-followed nearly 200 accounts on Twitter, disconnected The Daily Beast’s official Twitter accounts from my phone and my TweetDeck, and cleaned up my Chrome Bookmark Bar. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been looking forward to this digital cleanse (sorry to all you horse-race political reporters who have one fewer follower).
Working at Newsweek & The Daily Beast was an incredible experience, especially during the 2012 election, and I am unquestionably a smarter, stronger person than I was when I left my parents house to go to that interview in 2011.
But in some ways it feels like I’m leaving at a time when the future of the “social media editor” at news websites seems uncertain. As more and more reporters and editors join and learn to use Twitter, writing good tweets and Facebook updates will become less of a valuable skill. Covering breaking news live with social media tools will also become a more common skill (or at least it will at successful publishers).
Also, as Facebook referrals become a higher percentage of total site traffic, editors are becoming more dependent on Facebook’s Newsfeed algorithm: essentially a blackbox of code that determines what appears in users’ feeds whose whims social media editors can only guess at. (To get an idea of how sensitive some publishers are to the algorithm, read Charlie Warzel’s piece about how worried they are about whether or not a recent boost in Facebook referrals will soon end.) Not to mention that social media editors have little to do with organic social referrals— i.e. people who come to the publisher’s site via a friend’s post on Facebook or Twitter, rather than one posted from one of the organization’s accounts.
I still think Twitter is fun, but some folks say it’s becoming less of a new source and more of a crappy cocktail party.
Journalism in general seems to be going through some rather unsightly growing pains as it continues to adapt to new technology available to both journalists and readers. Without a universal metric for “engagement,” editors will keep chase page-views because that’s what advertisers want to see. Content management systems (CMSs) continue to be years behind the current needs of most organizations, meanwhile the ever-multiplying Upworthys, Viral Novas, and other narrative-porn-pushers of the web are making Buzzfeed’s listicles seem respectable. Not to say there’s no hope for news online. But for now I’m taking a break.
So what is next for me? As I tweeted earlier this month, I will be attending the Flatiron School in Manhattan this spring to learn how to code. I want to make things that are more permanent than a tweet or Tumblr post or even an online news article.
The class itself doesn’t start until February 3rd, so this month I’ve been working my way through what Flatiron calls "pre-work": some basic foundational work, from HTML to Git to basic Ruby and Rails, that will help everyone be on more-or-less the same page come day one. It’s nice to work on my own schedule again— I’ve been naturally sleeping in and staying up pretty late. At first I was a little anxious about this, but I quickly learned to embrace a college-like work/sleep schedule.
What’s this “pre-work” like so far? It’s been a lot of advanced CSS and, more recently, an introduction to Ruby (I’ll be drilling in a basic Git workflow and hopefully setting up Rails this upcoming week). For the Treehouse and Code School courses that Flatiron recommends, it’s watching short videos and then taking little quizzes (both services are about $25 per month for all-you-watch). Code Academy’s lessons (which are free!) are just text and coding exercises.
When I need a break I try to see people in real life (rules are important). I’ve read a few books. I played Gears of War 2 from beginning to end over three weekdays. When I’m not watching instructional videos, I’ve found that Grateful Dead has been a pleasant, don’t-freak-out coding soundtrack for me. From time to time I check Twitter, a community I interacted with almost constantly for two years, to get a feel for what’s going on. But generally, for the first time in two years, I’ve kept TweetDeck closed, unconcerned with keeping track of all of Twitter’s wonderful inside jokes, or being up-to-speed on what today’s big outrage is.
It’s been nice.
I’ll try to blog more going forward— the school encourages it. Not sure if I’ll stick with this Tumblr, or even the Tumblr platform I once loved so much. Whatever I decide, I’ll be sure to let you know.