Lauren Custer works for the Baltimore Sun on the website end of the paper. I meet Lauren when I was in her Digital Publishing Class at Towson University last semester.
Where do you work and what exactly do you do there?
I am the Director of Interactive Design at The Baltimore Sun. My responsibilities include project management (corporate & internal tasks), maintaining consistency in regards to online design/functionality/user experience across baltimoresun.com, main technical production liaison with Tribune Interactive and counterparts across the markets, and streamlining production workflow. How long have you worked at your current job? I started at The Sun in January 2003 as a Web producer. In March 2006 I was promoted to Senior Web producer which changed to Production Technology Manager in August 2007. In March 2009 I was promoted again to Director of Interactive Design.
Was it tough for you to find a job in the multimedia world or did you come out of college prepared for it?
I definitely had the experience in college that I needed to be prepared to begin a career in online journalism. I was lucky in that the one interview I had during my last semester in college was for the Web production position that I started at The Sun about one week after graduation. I think it’s pretty rare for that to happen, however, I wouldn’t have been hired had I not had the experience through my internship at the Baltimore City Paper, my independent study through Dr. Thom Lieb or all of the new media classes I took in the journalism track at Towson University.
Do you feel you were at the beginning of the new trend of journalism?
If you’re referring to online journalism as a whole then I started several years too late. The influence that social media has had on journalism didn’t really gain popularity until the past year or two, so I absolutely felt like I was experiencing the excitement and unpredictability that social networking brought to the newsroom. Technology changes so fast and there is always something new and more efficient than the last; do you think this helps or hinders the media world? It all depends on how prepared the media group is and how many resources they have to take advantage of the next new thing. For example, our community coordinator group was created in April 2009 to lead The Sun’s social networking efforts. Had we not designated people in each department to develop our social media presence, at this point we would probably be pretty far behind the rest of the newspaper Web sites in markets equal to our size. I would prefer that we have a better video presence but technological resources are still working on improving the video player and CMS that goes along with it.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the all the information and ways to get information on a daily basis?
I frequently feel overwhelmed by all of the different social networking accounts I have created and the Twitter users that I follow. Occasionally I’ll take a step back and remove feeds from my Google reader, un-follow Twitter users that I’m not learning anything from and unsubscribe from newsletters. The best thing to do is keep yourself in check so you’re not overloaded on information.
Do you think there have been more positive changes in the media world or negative changes? Please Explain.
I think this is a heavy and difficult question to answer thoughtfully because there are so many aspects to each change. The world of newspapers has been hit really hard over the past several years due to declining circulation, loss of advertising revenue, the overall economy, etc. We all know of a few newspaper groups over the past year that have since closed or drastically reduced staff size to keep out of the hole. With that said, however, new media and social networking have given a new light to how journalists can present themselves and it also gives them more avenues for reporting. In short, if you keep up to date on current trends and start marketing yourself (become an entrepreneur!) then you’ve got a good shot to be a part of the positive changes that are taking place. If you’re afraid of new media and change then it might be a good time to refocus.
Have you been directly affected by the changes in the media world and if so how?
I have been positively affected because my background is in digital publishing and Web production. My interests lie in new media and production management, which is one thing that newspaper Web sites need to maintain a healthy editorial workflow.
What advice do you give future journalists or photographers or multimedia specialists?
Stay with it – start to report/write/produce/photograph as soon as you can and get your work out there on the Web pronto. Create an online portfolio and have it linked through many social networking Web sites (think LinkedIn). Have more than one internship and start making connections across the board.
Do you think the fact that you teach digital publishing helps you stay more connected with the current trends or do you think you would naturally stay connected with current trends?
I naturally stay connected with trends but it certainly helps working at The Sun. I definitely learn a lot working in a newsroom; much of what I learn here I take with me to class to give “real life” examples to my students.
What goals do you have for yourself and your career?
I eventually want to focus my efforts purely on project management and site (production) maintenance.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Keep in touch with your professors even after graduation. You’ll never know when they can come in handy.