December 2, 2007

Finding his mojo

An interview with…


mobile journalist

Forum Publishing Group

After graduating from college in May, Jason Parsley was hired as the West Boca reporter at Forum Publishing Group, a chain of community weeklies owned by the Sun-Sentinel. In September, he got a bad case of the flu. When he came back to work two days later, his job was gone.

Parsley was no longer on the West Boca beat. He was now a “mojo.”

He’d heard the term before. Short for “mobile journalist,” a mojo been has been loosely defined as a reporter who’s booted out of the newsroom and spends the workday filing many short web stories from a laptop.

Depending on your view of the newspaper business, it’s either a timely innovation or a panicky overreaction. To Parsley, it was simply a pain in the ass.

He didn’t do well at first. A former editor of his student newspaper at Florida Atlantic University, Parsley had won a half-dozen awards – and more than $5,000 – for his investigations into FAU’s Student Government. He exposed financial corruption that forced a student body president to resign, as well as ethical lapses that resulted in the ouster of a chief justice. He was named Florida’s College Journalist of the Year and was runner-up for the national title.

But by his own admission, Parsley was a slow writer. So he figured a job at Forum would build up his speed. As a typical community weekly chain, Forum pays little, asks a lot, and is full of writers and editors who are both brand-new at their jobs. It’s a meat grinder, but those who survive come out the other end as better journalists – or not journalists at all.

As a Forum mojo, Parsley is expected to file three stories a day that he has to find on his own. At 150 to 350 words, these are far from the investigative reports he hopes to do one day.

“I’ve done a lot of previews of local events,” he says, “like nature center lectures, construction projects, gas stations that closed, the reopening of a golf course, the opening of a county bus station – basically, all the things going on out there that readers have seen but they’ll never make the time and effort to look into it.”

What did you think when you first heard the term "mojo"?

The first time I heard it, a mojo was explained to me as “a journalist who drives around all day and looks for stories rather than sitting in an office.” I thought it was ridiculous.

Were you asked or ordered to be a mojo? How exactly did it go down?

I wasn't asked to be a mojo – I was told I was going to be one. Basically, I had been sick for two days and when I came back to work, I found an email waiting for me that said, "Today you are a mojo." They gave me a laptop, camera, and video camera and told me in a month I'd no longer have a desk. After that, I'd be working and filing my stories, pictures, and videos from the field everyday.

How was the first week or two?

The first week was excruciating. I didn't really know what I was supposed to do. The first day, I drove 60 miles around West Boca looking for a story. Finally, after several hours, I found one: a restaurant that had closed for renovations was reopening.

What about after that?

After that, I found my own mojo, no pun intended. After the first few days, I didn't think I was going to enjoy my new job very much. But then one day, it clicked and everything fell in to place. Now I'm very happy and I love having the opportunity to add more to my stories than just words.

Pros and cons?

Since I just graduated from college in May, one of my weaknesses as a writer is that I'm not very fast. Writing several stories a day, sometimes in only 15 minutes, is teaching me to write fast, get to the point, and cut out the fat.

The biggest con is that the stories we're writing aren't in depth. Some of them may only be 100 words or less. Of course, for the readers this may be a pro. In the past, if we needed to fill a page with 500 words, we'd have to stretch the story out to make it fit, even if it didn't deserve that much attention.

Is mojo a fad or trend in your opinion?

Readers want more local news. Readers want shorter stories. Mojos are meant to give the readers what they want. The job description and title may change, but the idea won't. It's here to stay.

Any advice for brand-new mojos, or those forced into it?

For those forced into it, keep an open mind and have fun. Also, don't start your day blind as I did in the beginning. Make sure you plan and think ahead.

If you were a multimedia baron, how would you do mojo differently?

Ask me this question in a few months, after I've been doing the job for a bit longer.

As a new journalist, do you look forward to the future, or do you wish you were working a decade ago?

I'm glad I'm working now. If I were working a decade ago, I don't know how I would have reacted to the Internet revolution that would eventually come. I feel bad for those older journalists who aren't willing to accept the fact that things are changing. They're going to be stuck in the past and left to rot.