Category Archives: advice from professionals

Lauren Custer from the Baltimore Sun


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, 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.


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The Dundalk Eagle


Picture off the Dundalk Eagle web site








I talked with Dundalk Eagle Editor, Wayne Laufert, and Associate Publisher, Deborah Cornely and they gave me some insightful info about the local weekly paper the Dundalk Eagle.  These were some of the questions and answers that I could not squezze into my feature but I still wanted to share the info with my viewers.

How far does your readership reach in each area you deliver to?


–Readership pretty much permeates our coverage area, though there are a few residential pockets where subscription sales are low, most notably within a largely African American community. On the whole our local readership is extensive and makes up about 94% of our total circulation. We mail about 3% to out-of-state subscribers and about the same percentage to subscribers in other parts of Maryland.


What areas do your articles focus on and do you ever report on news in other areas?


–We focus on the Dundalk-Edgemere part of southeastern Baltimore County and a small part of southeastern Baltimore City. When we leave those boundaries to cover something, it’s because there’s a strong local angle, like someone from the area winning an award or a sports team playing a big game.


What are the demographics of your readers?


–We don’t have specific information about the age of our readers, but we suspect we have more readers over 40 than under. The area we cover is predominantly white, and we suspect that’s reflected in our readership too.


What has been the papers biggest struggle with all the new technology in the news room? Have the changes made your job easier or harder?


–The biggest problem with technology is keeping up with new versions of hardware and software and staying compatible without being able to spend thousands of dollars frequently. However, turnaround time on getting something in the paper is much quicker than it used to be.


Is the paper online more or less to be able to reach readers who have moved away and no longer have access to the local news you provide?


–The paper’s online mainly to keep up with technology and modern readers’ expectations. Being able to reach out-of-town readers online is a bonus.



How are the sales of the 6 month subscriptions been online?


–Not great, but at least we are experiencing a little additional revenue from Web sales.       Regardless of online subscription sales, we still maintain an average of 22,600 site visits a month. (Newspapers are taking a second look at how they can obtain revenue from their Web sites. The free-access business model has proven disastrous. It has encouraged large percentages of former paid print subscribers to flock to the free sites and caused revenue to plummet. The expected bump in online advertising sales has never materialized. Web sales have failed to generate the funds needed to support quality news gathering. The result has been massive layoffs of [mostly] news personnel at just about every daily paper. Even if we fail in our attempt to generate some amount of sustainable revenue from our site, we think it has been worthwhile to try. We also believe our Web sub represents an industry wide baby step toward reeducating people so they understand that quality news content is worth paying for.)

I really want to thank Wayne and Deborah for thier time and information. Another local weekly paper told me they would be unable to answer my questions and that they would be surprised if anyone would answer them. So thanks so much!

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ABC 2 news’ Preston Mitchum


Photo by Preston Mitchum

Preston Mitchum is a photographer forABC 2 news in Baltimore. I met Preston when I was interning there two years ago. Preston always had great insight into the business so I thought it would be nice to get some input from him about the media and the changes.

Have you had to move around a lot to be able to find a job in journalism?

I was very lucky to land a great job with ABC 2 while still in school. I was hired three month prior to graduating as a part-time editor and now I’m in my twelfth year at channel two.

How long have you been in the media business?

twelve years now.

Where did you go to school?

 I went to Towson State University, class of 97.

Where did you get your start in photography and where do you currently work?

I received tons of experience working at the Towson State University television station. The ability to use updated equipment was very helpful in my transition to the professional world. I’m currently a photojournalist/microwave live truck operator at channel two.

How long have you worked at your current job?

twelve years

Do you think there have been more positive changes in the media world or negative changes? Please Explain.

First, the bad economy that we are in has not help the media industry. Because of it more and more companies are cutting back on staff. The goal now is to do more with less. We also need to develop an extensive training system to get everyone up to speed on all new technology systems. You will find lots of people losing jobs in the newspaper and TV industry during the next few years. Which in turn will leave more and more people out of work and un-trained for the new media world ahead.

Have you been directly affected by the changes in the media world and if so how?

Yes, the changes I talked about early in the business has required me to learn more. It will require all of us to stay updated on the basic Internet/web technology as well and digital cameras and equipment.

Has it been difficult to adapt all of the time to the changing world of journalism?

Not really, adapting is apart of the human nature.          

Do you think the Internet allows journalists to stay closer to their hometown or it really has had no effect?

 It really matters on what company you are working for at the time. If your company is looking for someone to provide online journalism then the Internet is perfect. We have to remember that you will still need individuals to go out and gather news…. interview people etc…

Do you think technology is making it easier for journalists or harder to do their job?

For me if have made things easier. It’s not so much the technology….it really matters if the company you work for, community and people you want to reach are on the same page with the technology you are using. If folks don’t have computers then you need to make sure you have other ways to provide the news… TV, Radio….

With being a photographer do you believe that the advances in technology are helping or hurting your job security?

The advances in technology are hurting my job security. Companies are trying to do more with less… requiring us to learn multiple jobs. One person can do it all…. shoot, write, edit and upload the story. We have to remember not everyone can multi task so only the strong will survive.

What advice do you give future journalists or photographers?

You must be able to multi-task…. learn how to shoot, edit, write very well. Also be very Internet savvy! The more you can do the more marketable you will be for employers.

What goals do you have for yourself and your career?

Through all of the changes being able to be creative is very important to me. I would love to do more storytelling and long format productions.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think we covered it all!

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Search Engine Marketing

When searching a topic on Google; have you ever wondered how the results that are on the top and down the side of the page, get there? If you look at the picture below it is the words on the right of the green line.

jenny2Jenny Goodwin, Search Engine Marketer, came to my class to give us the lowdown on this fairly new terminology and her advertising techniques. Goodwin says before she was hired at her current job she had no idea what Search Engine Marketing (SEM) was, “I’m glad to be a part of it when it is so small so as it grows, I grow.”

Goodwin’s top priorities at her job are keywords, ad copy and negate. Goodwin goes to a company’s site and looks for keyword tools. She takes the key words and separates them into different groups.

“I look for precise words to put into a precise ad copy.”

 The ad copy is the words you see under the link on the Google search page. (It is circled in yellow in the picture below) Goodwin also puts keywords into the system that are spelled wrong because people misspell all the time when searching and her product could get overlooked if not in the system under the misspelling. Goodwin does have guidelines she has to follow for her ad copy; she has character limits and the ad cannot be in all caps, use the same word multiple times or use punctuation multiple times.

“My job is for the best interest of the advertiser.” And this is where the third part of her job comes in, she must negate. Goodwin has to look for negative press. If there is a recall on iPhones she does not want iPhone ads to come up on that page when it is Googled, so she has to look for keywords that are negative to the product and make sure the product is not linked with those keywords.

Others in her department do the bidding for the ad space on the Google pages. There are two types of deals a company can pay for, for their ad, the first is pay-per-click and the other is pay-per-impression. Pay-per-click is each time the site is clicked on, this is useful to start the business and is revenue. Pay-per-impression is a cost per every 1,000 hits to the site. Her company suggests to the client what type of hit would be best for their product. The people who do the bidding also look for key times the ads need to pop up during the day. They look for certain times in the day when traffic is higher on the search engine sites. The higher the ad is on the page then the more the company paid for the ad. (The ad circled in blue paid the most in the picture below)


You may have also heard the term Search Engine Optimization (SEO) but the two are not related. SEO is when a “spider” crawls across your sight and looks for how often a term comes across your screen. This is useful for me to get hits on my blog. SEM is used by a company to advertise.

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Christian Schaffer from Channel 2


This is Christian's headshot from Channel 2.

Christian Schaffer is a reporter for WMAR-TV, which is the Baltimore affiliate for ABC. I meet Christian about 2 ½ years ago when I interned for Channel 2.

He always gave me good insight into the world of journalism, so I thought it would be nice to interview him and allow him to share is knowledge with all of you.

 Have you had to move around a lot to be able to find a job in journalism?

Yes. I’ve worked in Richmond, VA, Greensboro, NC, Boston, MA, Harrisburg, PA and now Baltimore.

How long have you been in the media business?

I got my first job as a part-time associate producer while I was still in college back in 1994, after interning there earlier that year. So I guess I’ve been in the business for 14 years now.

Where did you go to school?

 I went to the University of Richmond, and then while I was working in Boston I went to Boston University and got a Masters in Broadcast Journalism.

Where did you get your start in journalism and where do you currently work?

I started as an intern at WRIC-TV, the ABC affiliate in Richmond while I was a student at the U of R. Now I’m a reporter at WMAR-TV, the ABC affiliate in Baltimore.

How long have you worked at your current job?

I’ve been here since June of 2006; so about three-and-a-half years.

Do you believe blogs or online journalism have changed journalism standards? And why do you say yes or no?

I think the ‘bloggers’ have created their own standard. It depends on what kind of site it is; some sites are willing to pay people to be interviewed. In ‘traditional’ media this would be an obvious no-no and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

The blogs also have much less adherence to old-school standards like AP style, having two sources before going forward with a story, etc. It’s up to the traditional media to maintain the traditional standards. That means sometimes the blogs will be ‘first’ with some stories, but it also means the blogs will be ‘wrong’ with some stories.

Do you think there have been more positive changes in the media world or negative changes? Please Explain.

There have been a lot of positive changes. But I think two big negatives out-weigh those. Number one has been the decline of newspapers. Nobody buys a subscription to the newspaper anymore, because you can read them on-line for free. Now newspapers are cutting staff and closing down all over the country, and I think this has led to a big decline in original reporting. Instead they just do an easy story based on some press release. Wwhich leads me to the second big negative:

These days it’s much harder to gain access to newsmakers than it was in the past. Now, every company, government agency and sports team has a fully-staffed media relations department. Go back and read or watch “All the President’s Men” and you’ll see Woodward and Bernstein walking around, talking to everyone from district attorneys, to mid-level bureaucrats to secretaries – on the record – and using the information in their stores. Today those people either hang up the phone or refer you to media relations.

Have you been directly affected by the changes in the media world and if so how?

 The technology has changed in TV news (and so has the emphasis on cutting costs). So now the cameras are getting small enough that a lot of stations expect reporters to go out by themselves. They call it a ‘one-man band’ or ‘multi-media journalist’ and it’s coming to WMAR pretty soon. That will be a big change.

Has it been difficult to adapt all of the time to the changing world of journalism?

Sometimes it is difficult, but if you have a grasp of the basics it’s easier to roll with the changes.

Do you think the internet allows journalists to stay closer to their hometown or it really has had no effect?

I think it allows everyone to stay closer to their home town. If you’re living in California but you’re from Baltimore it’s now no big deal to read the Baltimore Sun. Young people don’t realize what a big deal this is, because they’ve grown up with it. But it’s a pretty revolutionary concept that didn’t really get going until after I graduated from college.

The internet has also made it easier to do research on stories, and find the back-ground of people you’re going to interview before you talk to them.

Do you think technology is making it easier for journalists or harder to do their job?

There are some negatives (like going out to shoot a story by myself instead of with a photojournalist) but overall, you have to remember that only about 30 years ago people were out shooting news stories on FILM. They had to go back to the station and get the film processed before they could use it. The audio was recorded separately and matched to the film. What a nightmare.. The changes to cameras and the move to digital editing has made TV news millions of times easier to do over the past few decades.

What advice do you give future journalists?

I once heard someone tell potential actors – if you can do anything else in the world, do it. And I would give similar advice to future journalists. If you don’t love this job, you won’t last. The money and benefits are not that great. You’ll spend time away from your friends and family. So if you’re not totally committed, you might as well find something else to do now.

What goals do you have for yourself and your career?

I never set goals because in this business you don’t get to decide where you go. I could say, “I want to work in L.A.” and send 100 resume reels to all the stations out there, and still never get hired. But then somebody in Dallas might see the tape and bring me in. It’s too hard to predict. All I can do, is do the best possible story every day and let the chips fall where they will.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

In the immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson, “The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.”

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Sam Sessa from the Midnight Sun (Part 2)

10229_1125114942445_1664292095_422330_6785416_n1As promised I am bringing back the advice from Sam Sessa. He had so much good information that I could not just confine it to one post.

Here are some things he suggests about getting ideas for posts.

“I get out a lot looking for things.”

“Start reading random sights. What I see makes me think of other stuff.”

“Gotta be out there every day.”

Suggestions for sources.

“Have to do your homework, call people, get every side of it.”

Sam says his blog helps him to find sources for his copy stories. The example he gave us was the story of K-Swifts sudden death. He got new information and sources form the people who he commented back and forth with through his blog posts.

“Have a conversation with people.”

The public was able to see the story evolve and unfold before their eyes through his blog. The K-Swift story was one or two stories in the Sun and on his blog it was several stories.

Suggestions for writing.

“Best posts, for me, are funny and personable and gets the point across.”

Sam gave us an example of reviewing a sports bar instead of saying something bad about the bar he could turn it around in another way by describing a sports bar he would open and what he would name it and the food he would serve, turn it into a story. This would never be able to happen in the newspaper.

“Some of my best blog posts have been written in five min.” But other times, “2, 5, 6 hours later and I have nothing and I have to walk away. On the whole it has gotten easier.”

But he never knows what people are going to like.

“50 words get lots of comments; 500 words gets no comments but a lot of hits.” Suggestions for hits. “Worry about what you put in the headline.”

He says for him the local hits are the best. “They help to sell ads.”

His suggestions for life.

“Life intersects with your blog life, but you have to draw the line.”

When he is out to eat for fun he has to remember to have fun and not try to turn the experience into a post. People want to know who you are but you have to keep some of yourself to yourself.

Overall Sam says, “blogs were a breath of fresh air. A break from what we [reporters] were doing.” Sam says blogs helped to awaken some reporters. He also says that some old school reporters did not take to the change and are now no longer working for the Sun.

Thanks for the tips and the insight into the blogging world.

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Sam Sessa from the Midnight Sun

10229_1125114942445_1664292095_422330_6785416_nSam Sessa, a reporter and blogger from the Baltimore Sun visited my Writing for New Media class on Thursday to give us some advice on blogging and the world of news in general.

Sam got his job at the Sun right after graduation from University of Maryland in 2005. He said he was lucky to have found a job that fast after graduation.

“I wish they had a class like this one when I was in school.”

When Sam first started at the Sun he was a print reporter only. The Sun then allowed him to start up his blog, the Midnight Sun.

“First and foremost I’m a reporter, that’s what pays the bills. A third of the day is towards the blog.”

Sam said, when he first started his blog he had to run everything by his editors first before it was posted and he felt like he was screaming into a vacuum every time he posted. I felt no one was listening, that’s how I feel too. I guess it just goes with the territory.

He said he had to connect to other bloggers to feel connected in the blogger world. Connection is key.

When you connect with one person and then they connect to you and then the connection continues it is like a snowball effect.

I agree with this, in my short time as a blogger, when I produce a post and let others know of the post through, MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter and then go to other blogs and submit comments, my hits on my blogs are pretty good but when I don’t do any networking my numbers are bad.

I mean they’re not as good as a professional but I’m happy with the results. I just wish I had more time to commit to the blog and post more often.

Sam suggests that you post 5 to 6 times-a-day. Wow that’s a lot. But it’s true, the blogs that are successful post a lot and the best times to post are between 7:30 and 8, 10 to 11 and then again in the afternoon. The reason for this is because many people check their favorite blogs when they get to work in the morning, at lunch, before they leave work and then maybe once again in the evenings. You should always try to post something. People want to see something fresh and new when they click on your page.

 I feel a rush when I post something and then I get another one when I to check to see if I have any hits or comments.  I really enjoy blogging.

I bet there are a lot of you out there who have wanted to try creating a blog but haven’t really been sure how to be successful. I have plenty of more tips to come from Sam and I will be posting them soon.

I’d like to hear from you and see what your ideas for blogs would be. So post the ideas under comments I love hearing from you guys.  

(to be continued)


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