Ebony Reed and I shared a cubicle and a beat (we covered the Cleveland schools together) in the newsroom of The Plain Dealer in the mid-2000s. Looking back, I remember we were wary of each other at first, but covering the Cleveland schools is as good a bonding experience as any for two ambitious reporters. We had some nice journalistic victories and we’re still friends. Ebony left newspapers a couple of years ago, but she definitely didn’t leave the news industry. Now based in Boston as assistant chief of bureau for the AP in New England, she has a firsthand view of changes in the industry. I was thrilled when she accepted my invitation to write something for my fledgling little blog, and she was even game for Q&A at the end. Read on for Ebony’s insights into the evolving state of the news industry, her advice for those in career transition and learn what’s on her iPad.
Transitions, from the point of view of a former newspaper journalist – Ebony Reed
Life is all about transitions, and if we stay in the same place forever we aren’t really moving. Many people in my dad’s generation had the same employer their whole lives. A lifetime at one job seems rare in most fields today, and newspaper journalists definitely know how insecure their jobs are. Newspapers continue to switch business models, decrease publication and circulation days and the move toward a more mobile and tablet market will create more industry change.
So what are newspaper people supposed to do? Evolve. Take a self-assessment of your skills and examine the fields that are most aligned with those skills. Talk to peers who have transitioned into other fields, areas of the business or stayed put and been successful. Use that data to make decisions about your personal situation. And grow, grow, grow your network base to a global scale, which is easy to do with social media. The more people we know, the more opportunities we know about. All of that might sound harsh and scary, but it’s really simple. Our transitions will be different based on our skill sets, appetite for risk and change and ability to stretch. My transition started in summer 2010. I moved from a traditional news-editing job to one that requires more analytical skills, forecasting, market research, sales and business skills.
So, what have I learned? It’s not nearly as scary to do something new as we tend to think. And when we assume success will be the end result, we have a better shot at reaching it.
What was the hardest part of a career transition? Seeing my identity as more than someone who wrote and/or edited stories was the first step. That was hard. I had been part of traditional journalism, both in print and online, for a decade and studied it in college, but I wanted to keep evolving. So I had to make an identity shift again (the first time was when I moved from reporting to editing). I began to see myself as more of a brand, a person who can do many things and still hold on to my core skills and beliefs.
The transition’s easiest part? Connecting with people. I always loved to chat, meet people and discover new things. That’s one of the reasons I became a journalist. My parents say I rarely ever met someone who wasn’t my friend; a saying demonstrating my friendly nature. In my new job, I’d find that the ability to connect was still there, even though I was doing different work.
What was my skills transition like? I began reading more business and technology publications, blogs and news. As a former newspaper journalist, I already had research, organization, people skills and creativity under my belt. This job would force me to look at numbers, financials, analytics, negotiation and problem solving more.
What’s next? Constant learning and growing will continue for me professionally because my current position provides a lot of challenges. I’ve learned my life as a newspaper journalist helped set me up to do almost anything in media or outside.
Q&A with Ebony Reed
Q: When you meet people, how do you explain your job? What question are you most frequently asked about your job by non-AP people?
A: I explain my job as a mix of various executive functions for AP in New England. Mainly, I spend my time looking for digital, print and corporate organizations that could result in a mutually beneficial relationship with AP. AP has lots of content and I’m looking for organizations in New England who need it and can benefit from a relationship with AP, which has text, audio, video and photos among other services. I’m also doing market research, looking at the media needs of the region and communicating that back within AP while working closely with my boss, the region’s chief.
Q: Favorite form of social media, for professional and personal use?
A: Ha. There are so many. But my favorite is Linkedin. I tweet every now and then, but not too often. I love Linkedin. I love the search function, which helps me find people at specific organizations. I think I’m closing in on 800-plus connections. I’m a Linkedin addict. For personal, I use Facebook and only let my co-workers and really close friends in on that platform with me because I’m talking personal things and showing photos of my family.
Q: The MLA (Modern Languages Association) just announced an official style rule for referencing tweets in academic writing. At what point did you think of tweets as attributable pieces of information? (Or are you still unsure? haha)
A: For me personally, that’s still an evolving area. I know several people who have had their Twitter accounts hacked. But what people are saying on Twitter is relevant, so I do think it’s worthy of reporting.
Q: Book that inspired you recently:
A: I have several books on my iPad. I’m probably the last woman to read “Fifty Shades of Grey” in America. And I’m still far from being finished. Lol. So, I can’t say if that book will inspire me. Lol. However, I was really touched two years ago after reading “NewsLady“, Carole Simpson’s story. I have it in print and on my iPad and I go back to it frequently. I have used it as required text in an online class on the history of the black press. I’ve not met Ms. Simpson in person yet, although we are both in the Boston area. I absolutely adore Ms. Simpson and remember watching her anchor the news on ABC when I was in high school. Her personal journey inspires me on days when I need to get pushed back on my path. And on the days I feel like I’m solidly on my path, her story just makes me proud. It really resonates on so many levels with me.
Q: Last time your adrenaline really flowed at work:
A: The day of the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut was a big adrenaline rush. It was a very sad day for the community and very busy for the news staff. I was working to make sure AP members knew where AP posted video and working on member-related issues as it pertained to reporting in Connecticut. But I’ll add that almost every day is a unique challenge, so my adrenaline is flowing every day.
Do you have a question or a comment for Ebony or me? I’d love to hear more stories from the field.