Embracing ‘New Normal’ Stokes Passion for Journalism

Jennifer Morrell editor of Masonry, the official publication of the Mason Contractors Association of America, reignited her passion for journalism again by embracing the “new normal.”  This means writing for print as well as online and making full use of social media channels. Time-management tricks such as keeping weekly, monthly, and quarterly calendars help one editor produce two quality publications and remain employed in a difficult economy.

How many publications do you work on?

I work on two print magazines: Andalusian is a quarterly publication with two ancillary printed handbooks, and Masonry is a monthly with all of the typical supporting cast members: Web site, Facebook page, Twitter account, blog, LinkedIn profile, and a monthly email newsletter that previews two features in the next print magazine with links to the two features posted on the Web site.

I am the only editor working on Masonry, so it’s demanding. Andalusian has an association member designated to coordinate editorial, so I act more as a layout and copy editor. Masonry and Andalusian share one designer with two other magazines.

Until 2010, Masonry averaged about 68–72 pages. Lately, it’s been running at 48 pages because the construction industry has taken a hit. Andalusian is typically 44 pages.

What are your most difficult challenges?

I’ve had to learn to fall in love with journalism all over again. Dividing my already-packed day between our print product and our various online channels has been a challenge. It became doable once I embraced the “new normal” of journalism.

Getting on board meant learning to write for the Web and to repackage our content. When I see a webinar on Web content creation or social media leveraging, I check it out. I bugged our IT guy until he let me to take over a portion of our Web postings so I could get more control and update on my time. This experience helps keep me marketable. I want to understand all aspects of today’s editorial role.

And I’ve had to learn to do more with less. Talk about a lean staff, I am the only editor who works on Masonry.

As the economy tanked, other niceties, like a freelance budget, went away. I had to experiment with different industry experts as writers. I do a good bit of re-writing, but also I have found a few diamonds. Professors are good candidates for writing, too, since getting published helps their résumés.

Time management is more important than ever. Updating our Web site with news and our social media channels daily is more manageable because I’ve set up some automation. For instance, when I post information on our Facebook page, it automatically Tweets the post.

Other time management tips?

I use different calendars — weekly, monthly and quarterly — so I can manage upcoming deadlines and business trips. I always keep the editorial calendar with me and jot notes when I get ideas on business trips. Working in advance is particularly necessary when you rely on “experts,” rather than freelancers. Experts are known to be late and sometimes even back out.

Also, I set up three and four news items at a time in Word so that I can grab them daily to post. I format a few at a time. When I talk to a source, I always have a few standard questions. I can use the answers for a post.

None of these ideas are new, but I just tend to use anything and everything, since I am running Masonry alone.

How do you handle the “push-pull” relationship of association goals, advertiser
influences, and journalism values?

Keeping the association, its members, and the publication’s advertisers happy can be quite a dance. I think a mutual respect between the editor and the association executives and officers is paramount. One hopes the association respects the position and expertise of the editor such that the editor isn’t asked to publish anything that is uncomfortable, but it does happen. Exceptions are made if the association wants something done to appease a member or an advertiser, but if compromise is done correctly, everyone walks away feeling good.

Do your association clients, advertisers, and readers want useful content based on solid journalism values? Or are you required to be more an extension of a marketing department?

Some association magazines are treated like trade magazines, while others are just promotional vehicles. It all depends on the association’s leadership — some want the magazine done right, while others don’t care at all about journalistic quality.

What effect does social media have on your publications?

Social media today is like what Web sites were at the beginning: Whether or not it is monetized or has direct payoff, you have to do it. No publication can afford to appear to be behind in any form of communication, since that is what we do, after all. We should be pioneers and leaders.

Social media is also a game of layers. Facebook is neither the end-all, be-all answer, nor is LinkedIn, blogs, and Twitter. But together, they dramatically hike a publication’s exposure.

During two industry shows recently we plugged into several social media channels. Our savvier clients appreciated it. It showed we were serious about getting our message and content.

I’ve not necessarily seen better story concepts resulting from social media, but I think seeing tweets coming from our industry, and knowing the market is seeing ours, creates a bond, an awareness that we are attuned to the trends. Tweet brothers unite.

What major accomplishment have you had the last 6–12 months?

I still am employed in THIS economy.

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