August 19, 2007

Online all the time

an interview with...

overnight editor/producer

Associated Press

If it weren’t for the Internet, Jade Walker wouldn’t have a job. Or a hobby. Or a Pulitzer.

Walker works the graveyard shift as an editor for the Associated Press website. She was doing the same for The New York Times website during and after 9/11, and she was part of the team that assembled a special section called “A Nation Challenged.” It ran both in print and online, winning the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

During daylight hours, Walker tends to her half-dozen blogs, some of which have drawn national attention. They range from the morbid (Blog of Death) to the oddball (Eccentric Employment). And even though she’s worked in New York City since 2000, she moderates an online community called SouthFLWriters – because she started it when she lived down here and can’t find anyone willing to take it over.

Rather than let it die, the University of Miami graduate still maintains that listserv, as well as two others for New York City writers. So if anyone grasps the nuances of both the New York and South Florida markets, it’s Walker.

Advice for South Floridians who want to move to NYC and start a career?

New York City is the publishing capital of the United States, if not the world. Most of the major media outlets are here, so it's a lot easier to obtain part-time or full-time work in publishing, TV, radio, newspapers, and online.

Freelancers can meet and pitch editors in person at networking events in Manhattan. And for those writing fiction or poetry, inspiration dwells on every block. But to survive, you really need to network like a fiend and work hard.

So I urge all writers and editors to build a career somewhere else before heading to Gotham. Starting at the bottom here is possible, but doing so and keeping a roof over your head really stacks the odds against you.

Also, save up several thousand dollars before you send out the first resume. Unless a company intends to relocate you – which is rare – you'll need lots of dough to pay for moving costs, temporary housing, first/last/security on an apartment, set-up fees for utilities, food, subway cards, etc.

How do you build that career first?

Learn the trade in local markets and build up a top-notch set of clips before you start applying for jobs in NYC. Create a personal website and/or maintain a blog. Really get your name out there as a reliable source for intelligent and unique content. Join professional organizations, get to know the publishing leaders in your area, and pay attention to what's happening in the industry.

Can you do all that down here? Lots of locals say this market sucks…

Many great writers and editors have launched successful newspaper and magazine careers in the tri-county area. Others have used the Bermuda Trianglesque nature of South Florida as inspiration for their fantastic novels and nonfiction books. Cost of living is also much cheaper there, so writers/editors who are just breaking into the publishing business can find a place to sleep while they learn the trade.

And not many places offer three major daily newspapers and dozens of weeklies to pitch. The alternative papers are always looking for new blood. Online work is becoming more steady, and if you're bilingual, you're already a step ahead of most applicants.

For those who focus on fiction, poetry or screenwriting, location is less important. You simply need a computer, an Internet connection and the willingness to work on your words. If you need help honing your craft, most of the local universities and community colleges offer writing courses. The University of Miami, my alma mater, even conducts a screenwriting workshop online.

You tout SouthFLWriters as one way of succeeding down here. Its biggest strength? Its weakness?

SouthFLWriters is an incredible resource for job opportunities, publishing news, and networking. Best of all, it's free.
The biggest weakness is uneven participation. We have over 400 members, and probably 20 of them post on a regular basis. A few really go above and beyond, dedicating time each week to helping the local writing community, but the majority remain in the shadows. Even when face-to-face events are planned, attendance is spotty.

One thing you wish you knew before you embarked on a media career?

I wish I knew more about the business side of publishing. I knew going in that I wasn't entering this field to be rich. Nor did I expect to work 9 to 5. But I didn't realize how many people would request that I work for free and give away the rights to my content – or worse, promise to pay me and then not do so.

One piece of advice you wish you could surgically implant into the skulls of new grads and young pros?

To flourish on the Web, I urge new grads and young pros to have solid news judgment, snappy headline skills, a passion for accuracy, and the ability to work quickly and efficiently. They should also know how to: copy and paste text and art into templates, edit/create audio, edit/create video, know their target audience, study the changing nature of media/publishing, understand search engine optimization, and know how to interact with the public.

Does blogging help or hurt your paying career?

My blogs have definitely helped my career. They've allowed me to explore my interests, write on a daily basis, and build up a huge readership – my blogs have been featured on BBC Radio, CBSMarketwatch and in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. If I wrote articles for a local newspaper or magazine, that wouldn't be the case.
And when prospective clients/employers Google me, they find the blogs and get a good sense of my personality and writing style.

Advice for those blogging for fun or future employment opportunities?

Be professional. Don't post crap just because it's easy to do so. And put your name on your work, too – anonymity will do nothing for your career.
If you're a journalist, create a blog that doesn't feature opinions. If you're already working for a media outlet, clear your blog idea with your editor and learn the company's guidelines for online posts. Finally, view your blog as an online tattoo. Create something you love, something you're proud to share with others – but assume everything you post will be on the Web forever.