Tuesday, July 31, 2012

SPOILER ALERT: Surprise coming tomorrow!

I went back and forth trying to decide if I really wanted to do this. After looking back at my blog over the past year(ish) and reading the comments, I decided that as challenging as it may be, it's totally worth it.

So what am I doing?

Well, starting tomorrow, August 1, I am bringing back... (drum roll, por favor)... Thirty-One Days of Photos!

If you didn't follow my blog during December 2011, you can check out my previous Thirty-One Days of Photos, starting with day one. It's basically a "photo challenge" I give myself in which I must take one unique photo per day, then post it here. (Be warned, sometimes I was a little late posting my photo, but I never forgot to take at least one picture per day.)

This time around, to differentiate between December's challenge and August's, I'll be calling it "31 Days Captured" (as much as I hate starting a title with numerals, technically in a headline it's correct). I'm hoping to use my real camera for more of this challenge, but based on how last time went, be prepared to see lots of smartphone pictures. (And probably some with Instagram edits, because as we all know, I'm obsessed!)

I'm also excited to see how the seasonal differences affect this challenge. Last time there were lots of coats, Christmas-themed pictures and mostly indoor photos. This time... well, we shall see!

So, if you liked Thirty-One Days of Photos the first time around, pretty please come check out my photos this time! If you didn't follow the first time, I would LOVE it if you would this time! And as always, please feel free to comment. Feedback is one of the best parts of this adventure! I will be posting links on my Facebook page as soon as a new post is up. If however, you want updates sent to your email, I have a lovely new feature in the right column called "Follow by Email." Just enter your address and soon you'll be getting a picture a day in your inbox!

Thanks for reading and I look forward to embarking on "31 Days Captured" with you! :)

Friday, July 27, 2012

NEW: Friday Picks

I decided to change things up a little bit and start a new feature: Friday Picks. Every Friday (that I can) I will post a list of my "picks" for the week. Picks can include anything, like news stories, interesting websites and blogs, photos, and random things I find interesting. I started small and simple this week, so there's nowhere to go but up!

I welcome your thoughts, feedback and suggestions.

This list was created using Storify. I am rapidly falling in love with it and use it on a weekly and monthly basis for the Clinton Herald.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Social Media and the "Too Old"

After being forwarded this article, Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25 by Cathryn Sloane, I felt like my day had been totally disrupted.

And while there are TONS of spot-on comments and responses to this article, there were a few things gnawing away at the back of my brain. I tried to put this post off, but since my work day had become a distracted mess, I knew my response couldn't wait.

First, for those who don't know, I am one such social media manager (on top of other job duties which you can read about in this post). I juggle lots of different tasks, but a huge one is managing multiple social media accounts. And while I'm still considered quite young in my industry, I am not under 25. I never had any doubts about my knowledge/skills or understanding of social media because I felt like I had been introduced to it in just the right way at the right time.

Sloane begins by stating the year Facebook started, 2004, and how she was in high school at the time. What she fails to mention, and possibly was too young to remember, was that Facebook was only available to college students when it first began. Colleges had to submit information to be allowed access to Facebook. Then, students had to register with a valid, school-issued email address.

Therefore, there were no high schoolers, no parents trying to check up on their kids, no businesses. Just college and university students, clumped into networks denoted by their educational institutions.

Sloane's argument is that her generation was present for the initiation of social media and therefore are the most experienced with it. I beg to differ. While I don't agree that just because you grew up with something, you're the only expert in it (anyone can master and excel at social media, regardless of age), if I were to use that argument, I would actually have one-up on Sloane. I was one of the select few who first had access to Facebook, before she event knew it existed. And though I was technically an adult at this time, I still have had more years of use on the site than she.

So if we're going to use Sloane's own reasoning, anyone who was in college in 2004 is more qualified to be a social media manager than anyone else in the world. (And because I went to school with people of all different ages, I know there were 40-somethings using the site since its inception.)

Also, while Facebook is undoubtedly the global social media giant at the moment, there were rudimentary forms of social media existent before it. We were building personal web pages, chatting on AIM and uploading pictures to MySpace in high school, riding that first wave of internet connectivity. So if we're making the argument that "those who grew up with it know best" then those of us who were in middle and high school in the early 2000s would still technically know the most.

What it really comes down to is not age. There are some extremely immature and unprofessional young people in the workplace today. There are also lots of (by Sloane's article's standards) older people who excel at social networking. Age is merely a number we're stuck with to mark the years of our existence. What social media managers should be judged by are their skills.

We should be examined by our experience (again, not always years but exposure and interaction with the given media). Do we know the social media platform inside and out? Have we mastered its use; do we interact, create, post; have we networked, connected; have we represented businesses before?

We should be examined by our knowledge. Do we know what businesses want; do we understand how best to use the platform; do we understand our market, what the people in it want, and how to gauge success where we're at; do we conceive new ideas, better ways to use the platform? Do we know how to learn and grow with the changes in social media?

We should be examined by our interpersonal skills. Social media is just that, social. It's about connecting with people, interacting. It's about representing yourself or your business on a personal level. Do we understand this fact? Do we know how to interact with a measure of restraint and tact, as well as friendliness? (Because it's a given, there will be someone slamming you at some point and you're going to want to go off.) Do we know how to encourage others to interact, can we build relationships with customers and keep them coming back?

We should be examined by our skills beyond social media. Someone can know and understand social media inside and out, but that doesn't necessarily make them the best social media manager. Managers should possess strong attention to detail, because as any business owner will tell you, accuracy is key. Nothing looks worse that misspellings, over-use of exclamation points and poor grammar. Therefore, a manager should have solid writing skills (maybe I'm biased but nothing turns me off more than having to de-code a business's Facebook post).

Additional skills should fit the desire of the business. Do you want quality photos posted to represent your product? Do you need graphics to be designed and posted? Will your manager be recording, editing and posting videos? Will the manager be creating written content like notes or blog posts? Will the manager be facilitating contests and give-aways, promotions and advertising?

So all of this to say, social media management is about so much more than age. Age can always help, but it's not an instant qualifier--or disqualifier--for the position. To make such a blanket statement, that anyone 25 or older is too old, is insulting to say the least. And it's disheartening to know that after decades of work to get equal employment for all, a new generation is stepping up and basing employability on age. I ask, what will they do after the few short years they've given themselves to build a career in an industry that will no longer need them after 25? Will they willingly step aside for the new, young up-and-comers, or will they do what the rest of us are going to do, fight for the careers we love?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

For the Extremely Driven

I read an article today about the Olympics that said athletes are extremely driven people.

Well of course they are, that's a no brainer.

But then I got to thinking about it, and it really goes beyond simply being driven. To improve and excel as an athlete, you have to have something driving you to improve, to press on. For some, that may be the gold medal, the prize waiting at the end. It may be titles and records and recognition from the top seats in the world. Or it may be a lot smaller.

I was thinking about this driven-ness in my own athletic career, short though it may have been. And though it earned me an award and recognition from my team, that wasn't what drove me. In fact, I really had no aspirations of winning any awards, or really achieving any recognition. My drive was internal.

I started college not thinking I would try out for any sports. Of course I had always wanted to play college basketball, but that dream faded like all the others I left behind when I moved from my home state of Texas to Michigan. By my sophomore year of high school, I had given up on just about everything I had wanted for so long, including basketball.

But somehow, one day after class, I found myself standing on the gleaming wood floor of a basketball court, waiting to sign up to start my one-year college basketball career. I think, even if I had known what I do now (that practices wouldn't kill me as much as humiliation and I would have to turn in my jersey for a job the following year), I would still have signed up. That's how badly I wanted to fulfill one tiny dream.

So I went to my physical, got cleared to play, and that was it. No try-outs, no trial runs, I was a college athlete, getting my butt handed to me. But that was where my drive kicked in. Looking back now, I probably seemed like a crazy person. One year of high school basketball and two years of junior high under my belt, and I was stepping onto a court each day, holding on for dear life.

Practices looked like a lot of running, wall sits, plays, fast break drills, free throws, suicides, down-and-backs, happy feet, defensive slides, weight training, and did I mention running? But in my mind, failure wasn't an option; showing up 110 percent, was.

It started with a drive to improve, to not be the weakest link on an already small team. It grew into a drive to never back down, and it ended with a drive to never quit. I told myself, no matter how hard it got, no matter how many things I had given up on before, no matter how times I rode the pine express, I was not a quitter.

So every day I pushed myself a little bit harder, thinking the rewards of time on the court during games would make everything worthwhile. When my first game came and went and I stayed in my seat, I went into a bathroom stall after the game and cried for one minute. Then I never let the emotion show again.

All star in practice, humiliated bench warmer in games became my status. My teammates always said things like, "You push yourself harder than anyone, I don't know why you don't get more playing time." I told myself, forget about playing, it's not going to happen. Just keep pushing and oh yeah, you're not allowed to quit.

One of my friends on the men's team threw in the towel half-way through the season. His reason? Not enough playing time. I understood more than words would express, because "I know" is never sufficient. But I did know, and I strongly considered following suit during another practice when my muscles were burning and I knew I wouldn't get a payoff.

But quitting wasn't an option.

I saw the most action during "easy wins." Which actually ended up being my time to shine. Blocks, steals, baskets. I knew from those fleeting minutes that I had what it took, and if I kept with it, one day I could be more than a sideliner. Quitting became like a bad taste in my mouth. I told myself that if I quit at basketball, I'd quit at everything for the rest of my life.

So maybe I had something to prove. That a random girl with a broken past could succeed at something. Maybe that's what drove me. Or the fact that I knew if I stuck with this, I could stick with anything for the rest of my life. No matter what, no matter how hard, I conquered something once, I could do it again.

The season ended and we each met with the coach to turn in our votes for team awards. I scribbled down names and honestly didn't once think about getting one. When awards night came, I felt like a deer in headlights as my name was called for the most improved player of the year.

My reward on top of a reward. Because the real reward had been making it through the season still a member of the team. When the final seconds ticked down on the clock and I was still wearing that blue and white uniform, I knew I had done it. And when I was handed a plaque engraved with my name and a basketball medallion I finally saw it in tangible form. There was the desire, the drive, and the proof that the lowly bench warmer could be so much more.

No, I wasn't MVP, but to me I got the best reward of all. It was the reward that said, you, yes you, can conquer anything in the world. Anything at all.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Mimi was the one, if ever a dog could be "the one."

I knew she was the one the night I dreamed about her. Before we got her, before we met her, before I even saw her, I dreamed about a black and white puppy.

In my dream, this black and white puppy became mine. We were running around in a field of tall grass, golden light from the setting sun falling around us. Almost like heaven, if you imagine it that way.

When I woke up, I knew this black and white puppy had been Mimi, a dog looking for a good home according to a hand-written note posted at PetCo. And after we drove out to meet Mimi, that dream came true.

[Mimi, her first mom and sister Dottie before we adopted her.]

Mimi was the dog I had been waiting so long to get. And after begging for what my parents must have determined was a sufficient amount of time, they finally agreed to let me get a puppy in 8th grade.

After a brief search, we settled on the shy and skittish, yet extremely sweet Mimi Marie. She, along with her brother and sister, had been abandoned in a back yard, following who knows what kind of abuse. She was afraid of everything, including us, but with consistent love and care she became happy and brave.

[Mimi and I enjoying the lush St. Augustine grass in our back yard in Dallas, TX, shortly after we adopted her.]

Looking back, it seems like Mimi was always there. I don't really remember what my life was like before she was in it. She was always there, being her sweet, peaceful self. She was smart and beautiful; everyone always said, "What a pretty dog!" We always believed she was part Dalmatian, part Terrier, but we never knew for sure.

I remember taking her for walks by the lake, trying to put her in clothes or tie bandanas to her collar. I remember when we taught her to play dead when we held our fingers like a gun and said "bang!" I remember how she lived in my room in our house in Dallas with her crate at the end of my bed. I remember how she used to hide under tables and growl at strangers in our home. I remember when we taught her how to say "I love you," and it actually sounded like it. I remember when she got into a fight with a Husky who was twice her size and she didn't back down once. I remember how she was just as traumatized by our move to Michigan as I was, because she kept going to the bathroom in our basement.

Mimi was so special, so full of personality, and yet she was just like every other dog. She was always so excited to see you, even if you had only been out of sight for two minutes. She loved to eat random things she could find, either outside or on the kitchen floor. She loved chasing bunnies and squirrels and even tried to eat a baby bird once. She sometimes didn't listen and she shed like crazy. She loved to lay in the sunshine. She always got so excited when the doorbell rang. And she used to come over and sit on my knee whenever I sat on the floor.

Even though Mimi was technically my dog, she loved my mom the most. Nothing but my mom's high-pitched "puppy voice" could get her to wiggle uncontrollably and hop around with excitement. She was mostly terrified of my dad, which was the way it should always be with dogs and dads. Just one look from him and she knew she'd better get back in the kitchen. She loved my brother all his life and probably thought he was just another puppy for a while. The two would wrestle and play on the floor until my mom put a stop to it, saying, "She'll scratch your eye out!"

The truth is, I was the one that was around the least in her life. I left for college after a few years, then later moved to Denver. I sometimes wondered if she would forget who I was. But once we were reunited, we both knew the other one had never forgotten us.

I always knew that the day would come when Mimi wouldn't be with us, but I always pretended it wouldn't come. Sometimes I'd wonder, "What will I do when she dies or has to be put to sleep?" But as soon as I'd think it, I'd push the thought out of my mind. I said I'd face it when the time came.

Well, that time has come. And the truth is, I still don't want to face it. I don't want to face the fact that she won't be there, cold black nose, deep brown eyes, wagging tail. I don't want to face the fact that tomorrow she'll stop being part of our family. That there won't be any "Deewee" (my brother's first pronunciation of Mimi), or "Meeskers," "Weeskers" or "Puppy."

Life, tomorrow, will be a little more empty, a little more lonely, a little more cold. It will be missing a piece that can't ever be replaced, just as it is every time someone we love dies. And even though life will go on, there will be other pets and other adventures, Mimi will never be replaced or forgotten.

Mimi, we'll love you forever. And if dogs can go to heaven, I sure hope you'll be there, running through a field of tall grass, wrapped in golden sunlight.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

About Softball

So tonight we had our second-to-last regular season softball game.

I feel like I've accomplished something, even if all I did was earn an "A for effort."

This was my first time playing organized base/softball anything (minus like two games of intramural indoor softball in college). Talk about stepping out of my comfort zone. Normally I like sports I know I can at least hold my own in. But with this... I felt super inexperienced.

Regardless, I jumped in with both feet. And it turns out, I kinda like it. I've always enjoyed going to baseball games (most people know my love for the Colorado Rockies), so I figured I could at least understand the basics.

So I learned the random rules, I bought my first glove, and I went running to prep for games. I showed up for practices and I tried to improve, even in the little things. And when it came to games, I can thankfully say, I wasn't the worst person out there (not that I'm judging).

Now that it's almost over, I'm kind of sad. No, I didn't become a pro at it, yes I did get on base (and even scored a few runs), but I think more than anything, I enjoyed being part of a team again. I missed the camaraderie, the support, the all for one/one for all mentality. And I think we had a really great team.

All that to say, bring on next season. I'll be ready. :)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Secret Life of a Digital Editor

Last week we had a work conference to talk about all things digital...

Needless to say, I was hyped up on sugar/caffeine and new ideas (hence all the scribbled notes).

I was further reminded why I love my job and why I want to not just be good at it; I want to be great at it.

People always ask me what I do. I say, "I work at a newspaper as the digital content editor." That's when I'm met with quizzical looks and I attempt to explain what I do in 140 characters or less. (No wait, that's Twitter...)

I do try to explain as briefly as I can what I do. It's kind of hard, because there's no quick and simple answer. Then I usually lose people's attention and I scrap the whole thing and just say, "I play online all day."

It's not really playing, though sometimes it does feel like it because I enjoy it so much. But the reality of my writer-perfectionism and numerical goals keep me focused.

(Yes, I do a lot on Facebook and I care far too much about likes, comments and shares. After all, part of my job involves gathering data and looking at numbers--page views, visits, things like that.)

Anyway, here's a little insight into my super secret and impossible to understand job (with photo illustrations to help). :)

Every day I show up here, the offices of the Clinton Herald. The fascinating world of the newsroom is on the second floor to the right.

We're a driven bunch of (somewhat) oddballs who get along surprisingly well. Maybe it's not so surprising, but I am thankful just about every single day that I can go to work with people I genuinely enjoy.

Every morning starts off with coffee. I absolutely have become dependent on it, and I will admit that to anyone. Lately I've taken to having it black with sugar.

(Although, today I made my own iced coffee and it was REALLY good. Granted it had a ton of sugar and caramel, but how else am I supposed to make it?!)

This picture alone tells you the most important things about my job: I work in Mac land and I am addicted to sticky notes.

Everything important that might possibly slip my mind throughout the course of the day/week/month goes on a Post-It. (Multiple colors of ink are also in order.)

When it comes to working on a Mac, for the most part I enjoy it... Except when my computer decides it's a good day to run "like slug" and drive me insane.

That's when this little guy shows up. I have oh-so-affectionately dubbed him The Spinning Rainbow of Death. He usually comes around when I'm under the biggest time crunch of the day and trying to multi-task. On these occasions I sigh/grunt loudly so that my co-workers will know I'm exasperated and I either need attention or to be left alone. (That's up to them to determine.)

One of the most important things I do is maintain our website. I consider this my top priority every single morning.

Each day, I take stories, photos and other content from our print edition and other internet sources and update the website. I work my way through all our key sections, posting correlating stories and content. Local News, Features, Lifestyles, Obituaries, Sports, Opinion, CNHI News Service stories, Associated Press stories all get updated each day.

I also create or assemble unique content for the website (like putting together photo slideshows, editing and uploading videos, writing editorials, creating graphics, etc.). I monitor our comments section and event calendar.

My other top priority has been an ongoing project for about eight months now, and that is our e-edition. The e-edition is the future of newspapers: a digital copy of the entire print product. It can be read on any device with internet access (computer, tablet, smartphone), and therefore can be taken anywhere.

The picture above is actually from our Taste of Home show, where I promoted the e-edition. I got to tell people cool facts like, "You can have the paper read aloud to you!" And "We have varying subscription rates!" Oh, and did I mention, "You can take it anywhere!"

Speaking of taking things anywhere...

One of the best perks of the job is getting to play with big league nerd toys. Of course they're also going to work.

I used this to show people how the e-edition works on a tablet. Nice and easy! (Oh and that cool collage-y background? Yeah, I designed that.) :)

So besides webmastering and enjoying the latest technological gadgetry, I also handle all of our social networking.

This includes occasionally confusing Facebook.

Actually, I post breaking news updates, links to stories, photos and other relevant content. I try to get people talking about the news that affects them and sharing our content. (Of course there's a lot of Facebook mumbo-jumbo that goes into this, like our reach and the virality of our posts and looking at insights, but I think I'll lose most of you if I get into that.)

So suffice it all to say, you should go to our Facebook page, like it and comment/like/share our posts as often as you please! (You can also check out that cool collage up close since it's also our cover photo.)

Oh, and a random fact (that I might be pretty pleased with): We've gotten over 1,000 new likes since I started this position. (Again, this probably only means something to me, but that's okay, I'm still excited.)

So besides Facebook, I also maintain our Twitter account, our YouTube page and videos, our Pinterest boards, our SmugMug photography site, and our Storify account. (Side note: I LOVE Storify, but that could be its own blog post.)

I'm also working to get our newest service running smoothly... Text alerts! People can register and receive updates in a number of different categories from news to sports to schools.

And now that we're on SmugMug, I'm working on getting lots of photos uploaded and some made into slideshows for the website.

There always seems to be something new going on and no two days are exactly the same. The best ways to stay sane/focused are with good music and snacks (and I mentioned coffee, right?).

Mmm Wheat Thins have occasionally sustained me through lunch and dinner on the random crazy days.

Finally, in tribute to the "nerd factor" of my job, I did wear my Converse to work one day. I definitely felt more in touch with my inner geek. And if clothes can affect your productivity, I totally churned out my best work that day.

That is all for now, but come talk to me next week and I'll fill you in on my latest project.
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