I clearly need to work on my public speaking, but for a last second presentation, this wasn’t half bad. For a quick rundown of Vox’s digital innovation this semester, watch this video:
[9:49] Our Blue Highways — Ride along with Vox reporters and digital editors as they discuss this award-winning multimedia project from Fall 2014.
Members: Atiya Abbas, Bryan Bumgardner, Jenna Fear and Carson Kohler
[16:44] Vox on social media — There’s a right way and a wrong way for publications to use social media. Vox social gurus share some of our success stories, including Renz prison, the Antlers and CoMo cups.
Members: Christine Jackson and Dan Roe
[1:22] Vox’s new website — Publication websites are in a state of constant development. Vox students took a leadership role in the relaunch of Vox’s spiffy new site last summer.
Members: Laura Heck and Justin Paprocki
If you’re reading this, you’re obviously betrothed to the latest social-gaming app Trivia Crack.
The name “Trivia Crack” is a morbid but accurate association — you’ll be hopelessly addicted within minutes.
Now all you have to do is win. Here are some shamelessly competitive tips from a level 60 addict with a 2-1 winning ratio.
1. Focus on your weakest categories. There are six categories, and nobody is an expert at them all. Check your profile to discover your weakest categories, and try to win in those categories first. You might always pick Entertainment first, but is that actually a smart move? If you can get your weakest out of the way first, you can make a swift coup de grâce when it counts.
2. Go with the answer you recognize. Oftentimes the only name that’s familiar is the correct choice. There are few trick questions in this terrible game, so don’t expect them.
3. Eliminate the wrong answers. You could save yourself some coins if you eliminate the clearly wrong answers first. This could turn a 25 percent chance guess into a 50 percent chance. Answers that use “all of the above” or “none of the above” are rarely the right choice — when they are, you’ll know for sure.
4. Trust your gut. Your unconscious often pulls you toward the correct answer at first glance.
5. If you’re dealing with numbers, choose one toward the middle of the pack. As said before, absolutes are rarely the right answers.
6. Play a lot. This goes without saying. I’ve had the same question about Einstein probably ten times now. The more you play, the better you’ll get — and the more coins you’ll win.
7. Play against people you consistently beat and who you consistently lose against. Easy wins will generate coins, losses will make you better.
8. Be smart with your coins. Don’t waste three coins on a skip right in the middle of a game. Save your coins for defining moments, such as when you need to get one question right to win. Same with your spins.
9. Give and ask for spins on social. It isn’t just a cheap marketing idea by Trivia Crack, it’s a way to help you win.
10. QUIT PLAYING. If you manage to reclaim your life from this wretched addiction, you’re the real winner. These wildly popular apps come and go about every six months, conquering the country then quickly fading into obscurity. Remember Words With Friends? Flappy Bird? Candy Crush?
Yeah, me neither. Be part of a movement and break free of the digital specter that haunts you.
I’m a Teaching Assistant for Magazines Across Platforms, a class run by Sara Shipley Hiles, Digital Director of Vox Magazine. These students, known as Digital Editors, make up the majority of the Digital Team, the web-based half of Vox.
As Digital Managing Editor, I’m basically the quarterback of the Digital Team, making sure we’re successfully producing digital content, maintaining our brand across social platforms and constantly exploring new storytelling mediums.
Last semester we only had 6 students, meaning our brand and production power was shoestring. This semester we have 16. I like to say the Digital Team’s accomplishments last semester attracted more students, but who knows?
Either way, this growth presents challenges for our organization. How do we engage these students each week while also hitting our production goals? Can we make this pedagogical, considering improving their skills will improve our content?
Here’s my major goals as a Digital Managing Editor for this semester:
Don’t let the organization descend into chaos. Our strength lies in our ability to organize, making sure everybody knows what they have to do and when. We’ve built a huge color coded spreadsheet with various shifts for each job we’ve defined, and each job has a perfectly clear statement of responsibilities and associated “How-To” documentation. Organization allows for forward planning and less on-the-spot attempts to produce content.
Discover, master and share digital storytelling tools with the entire Vox Magazine staff. The key to improving our digital content is showing people what we can create. If we show the staff all the interactive quiz, graphic design, and social aggregating tools we have, they’re more likely to implement them. Pair this with clear and concise how-to documents and innovation will spread.
Practice a clear and transparent style of leadership. Everybody knows what must happen and when they’re failing or succeeding. I want to drive all my students to improve upon themselves and practice loyalty to the organization. They will tell me what they want to learn, what works and what doesn’t, and how they think we can improve. When they need help, I will be there. Office politics and drama will be at a minimum if everyone knows their role in the machine.
We know this is how to engage millennials in the workplace, so why not try it in class?
Innovate every single week. Digital organizations are in permanent beta, constantly changing and improving with every version of content. This goes hand in hand with technological advancement. We are no different. Each week we should build on the lessons we learned in the previous. As we continue, we set the bottom line for production quality higher and higher.
Teach every single student how to learn. The most important part of digital journalism is teaching yourself brand new tools. Because this industry requires multi-talented and multi-perspective journalists, that’s what we need to create. We need to create young professionals who both know the skills and understand theories. In the end they will adapt just as quickly as their industry changes.
Establish persistent and scaleable digital production methods. I know we don’t really know the best way for legacy print organizations to evolve in response to digital demands, but by God we’re going to try. Already I’ve established some methods that elevate our digital presence – hopefully by the end of the year we’ll have serious, long-term strategies laid in stone.
Here’s to hopefully having the best semester ever for Vox Digital.
Although Wilson isn’t a magazine journalist, he understands quality when he sees it, a side effect of his critical director’s eye.
He also understands the challenge the Vox staff faces as both students and editors. He talked a bit about his experience as a student in film school.
“When you leave film school, there’s a moment where you stop having excuses,” he says. “When you’re putting something out into the public, you don’t have excuses anymore.”
“You just have to let your work stand.”
Even though the Vox staff has other responsibilities as students (Lord knows I do) we compete with full-time journalists at large local magazines like Feast and Inside Columbia.
“That’s the kind of high bar that’s set for you all,” he says. “And generally, pretty impressively, Vox pulls it off.”
After the short pep talk, Wilson dove into some critical review of the issue, bringing new perspectives to certain stories. He focused heavily on the questions reporters asked through the stories, imploring reporters and editors to pose deeper, more insightful questions to the interview subjects.
“Really good interviews take me out of my comfort zone,” he said. Wilson is often interviewed about True/False, and sometimes the interviews fall below par.
“I can almost always predict 75 percent of the questions,” he said. “If I can do that, I don’t need to be thinking. If I’m not thinking, I’m not going to say anything profound.”
Posing harder questions will generate better stories, but with a city magazine that covers lots of local arts and culture, simply grilling interview subjects or writing more critical reviews won’t create good content.
“There’s an idea that art coverage promotes the things that are going on,” Wilson said. “One is rightfully hesitant to level harsh criticism to give a bad review of something, to call someone out on something.”
The intimate nature of local coverage gives these criticisms more weight.
“If it’s gonna be a negative review, [the author] better have a sense of what they’re saying,” he said. “I don’t need to see positive reviews, but I need to see smart reviews.”
He pulled an example of a film critique done for a class that, while negative, wasn’t intellectually driven. The critique was the only English-language review of the film online for five months.
This is an example of how local reporting, due to the relationships between reporters and local sources, is highly sensitive.
“I would welcome a careful criticism of my films, but it’s gotta be smart and you gotta be ready to stand behind it,” Wilson said.
Take these insights and apply them to your work going forward. Good luck!
The husband-and-wife power duo came to Vox and imparted their wisdom, both about how to help the magazine grow and how to survive in this industry. There’s a few lessons we learned:
1. There is no clear path to success, so don’t be afraid to forge your own. Amanda graduated with a degree in advertising before deciding to flip into the editorial side of magazines. “I wondered two things,” she said. “Am I really good enough to do this, or am I going to bomb spectacularly?”
She grabbed her first job for a magazine with a two-room apartment as an office – now she’s one of the youngest editors of a city magazine, and her magazine recently won an award for General Excellence. Her advice? Chase your dream while you’re young and don’t ever stop.
“Sometimes you just have to take a leap and see what happens,” she said. It most definitely paid off.
Justin started as an editor at Vox as his capstone at Mizzou, and took a postgraduate internship at ESPN Magazine. After bouncing around city magazines he launched himself into freelance reporting, building connections and networking himself into writing stories for The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, GQ and Indianapolis Monthly.
“I wanted to see if I could do this thing that I dreamed out, writing about things for big magazines,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m just going to try to write.”
“Nothing that you do will ever prohibit you from getting where you want,” Justin said. “You can take weird paths and go your own ways.”
The common denominators of successful people? Dedication and a good work ethic. At her first job, Amanda helped clean the office, paid bills for the magazine and answered phones. Eventually she landed a temporary job at Atlanta Magazine when an editor left on maternity leave.
“I thought, “At the very least, this is going to be a chance to learn new skills,” she said. She spent that time exploring all different parts of the magazine and gathering as many skills as she could.
She ended up keeping the job, probably because she made an effort to understand and improve her workplace – and she communicated well with her bosses.
“I’m a really big believer in telling your editor or superior what your goals are,” she said. “If they’re any good, they’ll help you get there.”
Be groundbreaking – it’s the key to making an impression. Justin recalls making radical content while at Vox, from editing first-person essays written by drug users to crazy porn star coverage. Amanda challenges writers and editors to push into new territory.
“If we want to cover something, how can we push this farther? How can we help the reader make a connection they wouldn’t have otherwise? She said. “Be format-breaking.”
A high risk, high reward way of getting into magazines is freelancing. Justin started freelancing to get his foot in the door different magazines, a difficult way of life that’s easier when you’re young.
“When you’re just starting out – that’s the best time to freelance,” he said. It can be difficult to support a family or “adult” bills on the inconsistent salary. “But it’s a good way for a young person to get their foot in the door at places.”
So it’s about the time of year that journalism students start looking for internships. I find myself digging for them, even as a graduate student.
Unlike business administration or finance majors that can find well-paid internships relatively easily, journalism majors can struggle. The struggle is worse for high-achievers (I see you) photography students or digital-first students.
Historically, journalism internships are like hazing rituals, horrible unpaid rites of passage necessary to climb the ladder. Ask anybody who interned at a NYC fashion magazine. Coffee runs, emotionally abusive editors, and a total lack of any real-world experience. Some serious The Devil Wears Prada shit.
Pain and suffering doesn’t cover every internship out there, naturally. Some are extremely positive and can lead to full-time employment. So how do you find the right internship out there for you?
1. Decide what you want from the internship. Do you need to develop your writing skills? Are you trying to break into a certain type of journalism? Do you have the skills, but you need a gold star on your resume? Knowing what you want will help you find a place.
2. Take stock of your resources. Do you need to stay close to home at a well-paid internship, or do you know somebody in Chicago who will let you crash on their couch for the summer? Does your school give scholarships for internships? Can you afford an unpaid position? Sometimes you should think about internships as an investment – just make sure you’re making a smart choice.
3. Apply for every internship that interests you, from the dream spot to the easy catch. Rank your internships from 1 to #OHMYGODISTHISREALLIFE and apply for them all. Hold out as long as you can for the highest rank one on your list. You never know if you have what it takes to get your dream internship.
4. Consider the obscure. If you’re looking for skills, consider taking a position at small publications you’ve never read. At larger publications, interns are often grouped together for menial tasks. Yeah, you might have interned at GQ, but if all you did was organize ties, was it worth it? Small publications have tighter budgets and will give you more work. You’ll have the opportunity to shine.
The website got a redesign back in the spring of 2014 to a WordPress custom platform, an iteration of the Genesis theme.
The theme itself is beautiful. The website (while not responsive) is easy to navigate, clean and coherent. It also presents content way better than Django, our former CMS. WordPress is arguably the best CMS out there for a variety of reasons. In most cases, young people have started their own angsty blogs on WordPress, so they’re familiar with the layout. It’s also free and comes with tons of customization options. Even the New York Times uses a WordPress CMS, and if it’s good enough for the Gray Lady, it’s good enough for me.
Like all websites, Vox has equal helpings of success and problems. On this blog I’ll be posting behind-the-scenes views into the efforts of our Digital Editorial Team, sharing strategy, content and solutions.
Expect Vox Magazine to become an even bigger force in Columbia’s digital news scene.
Observations on data science, life, journalism and sometimes other stuff.