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Now blogging at 10,000 words, but still keeping tabs here

March 12th, 2011 at 11:50 am

When I started Meranda Writes, I wasn’t sure what it was. That is to say, what I wanted it to be and how to make it that. My early posts discussed everything from car trouble to job hunting. Over time, however, this site became pretty focused on journalism and my personal experiences and opinions. This worked really well when there were few other young reporters blogging about the same things. Today, everybody is (including several I helped encourage to start). Where once I felt like my voice represented an under-represented segment of the industry, today, it feels drowned out.

Beyond the proliferation of similar blogs, Twitter has also done much to eliminate the need to post the shorter posts or to debate in a more stream-of-consciousness method the questions or concerns I have about developments or pass along links others would be interested in reading. There were weeks in the first year or so of this site where I posted nearly daily, sometimes multiple times in a day. I had a lot to say and no other platform. But thanks to the myriad other connections I have with journalists today, including through Twitter, much of the steady posts I used to write are supplanted by 140-character tweets these days.

Finally, because I’m in a very different reporting and editing role today, my experiences are less relevant to the general journalism population. I’d love to talk about how I use Access and databases to find story trends and sources for my magazine articles, but nobody else has access to that proprietary information. That isn’t to say there aren’t some really interesting tricks of the trade and experiences I’ve gained, because there definitely are. Seeing the industry from a different niche in it has made me appreciate some things I didn’t notice before, and it’s also made me miss some things I underestimated. Eventually, I’ll write about some of these things.

For now, however, Meranda Writes has gotten to the point where I post sporadically. So I’ve been looking for a way to get back into the groove and have a reason to keep my head and heart in new media and journalism trends. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to join an already established and respected site: 10,000 Words. As a contributor, not only will I get paid to write things I’ve been writing about for free here (although a modest amount that will likely cause more of a tax headache than any upward blip in my income), but I’ll also have a reason to keep writing because I’ve committed to at least a few posts each week.

My first two posts are already up:

I’m always accepting tips for blog posts you’d like to see me explore: meranda@merandawrites.com

I’ll still blog here from time to time — probably as often as I have been in the past year or so — but for more regular updates follow @10000words, and for my in-between musings, follow @meranduh.

A new camera needs a new project

December 23rd, 2010 at 7:26 pm

So, I haven’t updated. In a really long time. It’s not that I’ve been busy, because, I’ve been working far more normal hours than I ever did at the newspaper. It’s that, I haven’t had my pulse on the news biz. I don’t know what my place is right now. So I’m not sure what to say. I’m still writing and editing on a daily basis. Yes, I’m still reporting and talking to strangers daily, but in a far different and slower way. For the first time since I started college, I’m not out reporting in the field every day.

I’ve been thinking about what that means and how I feel about it. The truth? I miss it a bit. Maybe a lot. (I’m still healing, I think, from the years of breakneck speed as a cub reporter.) But I really like my new job and company, and I love the balance and stability it’s given my life. But I keep thinking, surely, there must be fun and interesting things I can do to get back some of the things I liked about that beat reporting role. I’m creative and outgoing and enterprising. I just haven’t been able to decide where I want to productively expend my after-work hours energy. However, I’ve had an inkling it should be something that allows me to keep two feet in digital media, because although its never been the primary role of my day job, it’s always been and going to be a passion of mine.

So, today, I got the kick in the butt I think I need to start formulating something that will keep me in both places. Otherwise, I’ll have a quite expensive paperweight hanging around my apartment.

Each year, my company collects the swag companies send along and holds a raffle/trivia competition on the half-day of work on Christmas Eve. (This year, everyone gets Christmas Eve and the half-day before Christmas Eve off to make-up for a weekend Christmas. That’s why this event happened today instead of tomorrow.) Well, at the event today, the top prizes included a Nintendo Wii, an iPad, and a Flip HD video camera. I wasn’t expecting to take home anything — because I suck at trivia and because my luck is never good. BUT, they drew my name for the Flip. So I’m the new proud owner of a 16GB Flip Slide HD video camera. (I should put a few exclamation points there, because I’m super excited about this! So !!)

Many of you probably already own a Flip, I know. But I don’t didn’t. I’ve ogled them and toyed with them and envied you all for having them. I’ve thought, that would be really sweet to own one. But I’ve never been able to justify paying $150-$250 for a device (it’s $199 on Amazon) that does one thing, and something that is a function already included on multiple other devices that I already own. I am a young journalist after all, and that’s a fair chunk of change that I could put to better use buying food or paying off student loans.

Also, I’m in the business of consolidating my technology to a single piece I carry daily — not adding. In my home office now, I have a digital camera (that records video), a USB audio recorder and an iPod Nano — none of which I’ve used in more than a month. (I haven’t used the audio recorder since I left the newspaper, and I haven’t used the digital camera since spring, when I realized my phone’s camera was more than adequate for snapshots.) I consolidated those former daily carry-on items into a single cell phone that fits in my pocket and decently does everything those single-function pieces can.

But here’s the thing: If I were going to deliberately record audio for a slideshow, I would go to the audio recorder to get the best quality. If I wanted to take a picture to blow up to a large size or to use in a specific situation, I’d go to my digital camera. And when I’m taking a road trip or (if I were inclined to go for) a run, I’d grab the iPod for a more in-depth soundtrack than I carry on my phone, where music competes with photos, audio and apps for space.

So, I’ve got this new camera. I wouldn’t have paid for it, but I’m super super excited to have it. And I don’t want it to be wasted on me. I consider it serendipitous. Now, I just need to think of a project that will allow it to shine and give me a reason to learn, use and carry it. I’m also hoping it will help me hone my video editing skills, which have grown rusty.

YOUR TURN: So, what’s your favorite video project done by an independent person? It can be journalism-related or not. I don’t see myself as much of a talk-show type of person, nor an artsy filmmaker. But I’m thinking something where I can showcase the place I live or places I visit and the people and animals I encounter. I have the other tools/skills needed: I recently purchased a new external harddrive, I know how to tell a story and what makes a good story, and I’m handy enough to build a new website or video channel to showcase my work. I just need to figure out what I want to capture and why.

I’m off work now until after the new year (did I mention how fabulous it is to not work newspaper hours/holidays?!). So I’ll be spending the next 10 days thinking about and formulating a use for this camera. Otherwise, I may as well list it on eBay today. I’m going to give it some time, though.

Why furloughs aren’t all bad

October 17th, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Even though I took off my Gannett-employee hat two months ago, I can’t help but looking in on my old haunt. Gannett Blog is still in my Google Reader, so I also find myself rubber-necking every once in awhile. Tonight, I came across a post speculating more furloughs may be forthcoming. Some of the comments were bitter, but they got me thinking. Although the decision has no bearing on me, I thought I’d throw my 5 cents in with reasons why I was OK with the furloughs as opposed to say, a true pay cut or another set of layoffs.

  1. A true pay cut permanently lowers your salary. So even if pay raises do happen, your raise will be based on your current salary minus 2-percent (one week is about 2 percent of the year’s salary). That means your raise and eventual salary will be less. It also cheapens your value for every hour you work at the company from then on.
  2. A direct pay cut also means you get paid less for doing the same amount of work. At least with a furlough, your work is still worth the same amount (pittance as it is) to the company. You get a week off in exchange for getting paid less. Of course, furloughs mean more work spread among those working that week, but so do layoffs.
  3. The company cannot contact you during your furlough. When was the last paid vacation you had that wasn’t intruded upon in some way by Gannett/work? I haven’t had one. But my furloughs have been blissfully work-free (if not worry-free — hello rent, I’m looking at you).
  4. You can take an entire week off work and not feel guilty. The company is screwing you, so you shouldn’t feel bad about taking an entire week off even if it means missing meetings or something you should be at. Don’t take a day furlough here and there. You lose absolutely the same amount of money whether you take every other Tuesday or a week straight. Take the full week — it’s harder to make up a full week’s work staying late the day before or the day after (yes, I’ve been there too).
  5. You’ve probably complained about how you can’t find a new job because you don’t have time to put together a resume, portfolio and find and apply. This is a great time to get cracking on that.
  6. A furlough means you have a job to come back to. Instead, they could lay you off, or they could layoff someone else in your department, which means when you’re at work you’ll have their job to do too — not just this week but forever.


One of the beautiful waterfalls I saw on a hike during my March 2010 furlough in North Carolina.

Personally, I enjoyed my furloughs. Don’t get me wrong, they crushed my already tenuous budget. I was already barely paid enough to cover bills. The first year — two weeks of furloughs following a raise that was eliminated by the first week’s furlough — I was shocked at the news. It meant lots of ramen noodles for me, but somehow I managed. I knew by the next year, my third furlough week in the first quarter of 2010, that I’d survive. Still, I ended up taking a part-time job after the third mandatory week without pay because I wasn’t sure I could survive another week without pay. It sucked, but it strengthened me. The actual furlough time off, however, I did not mind. The weeks gave me the longest breaks I had from work since starting college. The first week off, I went home to Ohio to hang out with my mother visiting parks and museums; the second week I took a road trip from Ohio to Orlando with my father for a sister’s wedding; and on the third week, my boyfriend and I traveled over the Smokey Mountains and through the Blue Ridge Mountain area, hiking, dining, touring communities, visiting friends and seeing new places. Each of those weeks was packed with fun times, and I probably wouldn’t have had done any of them without the furlough. So, for those who will be affected by this, please, try to look on the bright side.

Leaving the newspaper biz, but leaving the door open

October 4th, 2010 at 9:15 pm

I no longer work for a newspaper. That’s actually old news by now. But I continue to be asked about it because, well, I haven’t made it official or explained myself here. So here’s the short and long (sorry) of it.

Tuesday, Aug. 17, was my last day as education reporter at the Lafayette Journal & Courier, and potentially at a newspaper. I started Aug. 18 at a new job at Angie’s List Magazine as an associate editor. Before we commence the tar-and-feather “how could you leave journalism??” bit… I didn’t leave journalism at all. I found another niche within it at a magazine that is part of a growing company doing work I think serves a good purpose; it’s actually an award-winning magazine with solid original reporting, so a company newsletter it’s not. I’m still writing and reporting, just about more consumer affairs issues and less (or rather not-at-all) about school boards. I’m also honing a different set of writing and editing skills for a different type of audience, and I’m working in a very different type of setting and keeping regular office hours.

Why change? (Here comes the long part, full of very honest self-reflection) Read the rest of this entry &raquo

QOTD: Give em hell and try to have some fun

July 18th, 2010 at 7:45 pm

“Give ‘em hell and try to have some fun while you’re at it.”
— Julie Doll, parting advice from the now-former executive editor of the Journal & Courier whose last day was this week

This was Julie’s short and sweet parting advice in an e-mail to staff before heading out the last time. It reminds me a lot of another favorite quote about journalism, which actually was emblazoned on the backs of the Daily Kent Stater t-shirts the semester I was editor:

“It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell.”
— Wilbur F. Storey

Either way, I just wanted to post this quote to add it to my collection and to inspire other journalists to keep the work in perspective. It can be incredibly difficult and sometimes you have to put some feet to the fire, yes, but sometimes, you can also have an incredible amount of fun. It’s a balancing act, and Julie managed it well.

QOTD: The future does not fit in the containers of the past

May 12th, 2010 at 1:35 pm

“The future does not fit in the containers of the past.”
— Rishad Tobaccowala

I came across this quote recently, and it seemed to make a lot of sense in the context of journalism. So I wanted to pass it on to my readers. I see its meaning similar to one of my other favorite quotes, which I posted awhile back:

“In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
— Eric Hoffer

Reporter tip: Keep your cell phone number, use Google Voice to get a local one

May 10th, 2010 at 12:43 pm

I briefly mentioned in my post on Saturday that I use Google Voice as a cell phone number for local sources to call. I realized I’ve never written about this great tip for reporters who’ve moved far from home but don’t want to give up their old phone numbers. I use it sort of like a forwarding e-mail address or a redirected domain.

Step 1: Get an invite.

I joined Google Voice in July 2009. I got my invite from Google a few weeks after after signing up on Google’s site. Users have a small number of invites also. So look around.

Step 2: Pick a new, local number.

I was able to scan through a catalog of numbers in Lafayette’s 765 area code. You can even search for words or, as I ended up doing, sequences of numbers. I picked 729 and chose the first option where those were the last three digits. My birthday is July 29, so it’s insignificant to anyone else but it was cool to me that I had some say in the number, so I wanted to take advantage of it.

Step 3: Forward calls to your real number.

You can forward calls to pretty much any number. I chose to send it to my cell phone, which has an Akron, Ohio, 330 area code. You can even send your calls to multiple phones to be answered on the first to pick up. I opted not to do this because at my office, we pick up other peoples’ ringing phone when they’re out of the office and take a message. But if you have your own office or other people don’t answer your desk phone, that may be an option for you.

Step 4: Customize your experience, preferences, etc.

You’ll want to set up your voicemail box at a minimum. But also look around at the preferences (e.g. do you want it to answer immediately, answer and give you a menu, etc.) and set those that work for you. For example, I set it up so my voicemails and SMS texts are e-mailed to me. This way it doesn’t use my phone’s texting plan and it transcribes my voicemail, so I don’t have to listen to them immediately or sometimes at all. (Note: Sometimes the transcription is humorously bad. Usually, I can at least tell who it is, though, and always I can go in and listen if needed.)

Step 5: Start disseminating your new number.

You could send it out as a mass note to your local sources. Or just start giving it out instead of your old number. You don’t need to explain Google Voice to anyone. Just start telling them, as I did, if you want to reach me on my cell phone call 765-xxx-x729. Eventually, they’ll start calling that. In addition to all the cool points above, the nice thing here is people no longer have to call an out-of-area-code number. It’s local, and local for those landline-lovers (and businesses with landlines) means the call is free.

Bonus: Get the Google Voice app.

Or at the least check out the nice mobile site. The app allows you to make calls that show up from your Google Voice number, without having to dial into Google Voice. With the Android app, it actually asks me at the start of every call whether I want to call from Google Voice or not. It also stores all those other messages in one place (though I’ve found it’s somewhat overkill to have e-mails of your sms/voicemails if you have the app).

The other cool thing about this service is if you move to another news organization in another community in the future, you can change your Google Voice number. It’s $10, but honestly, $10 seems a reasonable price to pay to keep your contacts, settings, etc. all tied together but front a new number.

So anyway, there are lots of other ways to use Google Voice, but this is how I use it. Any one else have some tips I missed?