Welcome to Transitions in Media, our feature about journalists in transition who've gone from working in one medium to another. As we all know, the media industry is changing rapidly and so are the lives of journalists as a result of these shifts in the business.
Whether one decides to leave their role or is forced to do so, it's no surprise journalists try to find similar roles within journalism but in a medium other than the one to which they're accustomed. Sometimes they go out on their own and try to start a media business through blogging or in other ways.
We hope Transitions in Media will provide inspiration and confidence should you find yourself in the middle of a transition. It's possible to start over, move on and continue being a journalist.
Our interview today is with Michelle Maskaly, a former newspaper reporter who is currently a social media program manager for a financial news network. This is the story of her transition from the world of print to online and social media.
How did you begin your career as a journalist and where did you get your first opportunity?
I like to joke that my career as a journalist started in high school when I pushed to start covering school board meetings and local politics because I thought students should be knowledgeable about the people who were making the decisions concerning them.
My first break was a summer internship with The Star-Ledger, and because of that I was able to secure a "real" journalism job as a beat reporter for the Gannett-owned Ocean County Observer on the Jersey Shore covering Brick Township, Point Pleasant and Point Pleasant Beach.
Was journalism something you knew you wanted to do as a kid?
Yes. My mom says I was always fascinated with the local TV news as a baby. For a brief time I wanted to be a veterinarian, but for as long as I can remember I had always wanted to be the next Barbara Walters.
What has been your most memorable story as a journalist?
I have two.
Covering September 11 as it was happening was surreal. Standing in Jersey City interviewing people covered in dirt and dust, hearing their stories of survival, giving them my almost-drained cell phone to call family members and then dictating what they said back to an editor while still staying professional and non-emotional, was a real test of my skills as a newbie journalist.
The other was a series of reports done by me and another reporter at a local paper that uncovered alleged government misuses by a mayor. That mayor ended up serving jail time. It was the epitome of solid reporting, built on creating sources and trust.
What do you like most about being a journalist?
I love the mystery, excitement, history and exclusivity that go along with being a journalist. Yes, we work long hours and get paid close to nothing, but there's something about being first on the scene to tell people's stories to the world that gets my heart racing. It's that running in when everyone else is running out mentality that keeps me going.
How did you feel when the media industry was changing from "traditional" to "new media"?
I fully embraced it, because the more ways you have to deliver your content, the better. New media allows a journalist's work to reach a limitless number of viewers and readers.
Plus, instead of waiting for the next day to "scoop" your competition, you can do it in real time. Although it can present some editorial challenges, it also puts monthly and weekly newspapers and magazines on the same playing field as dailies.
How and why did you decide to take a chance at social media and also stay a freelance journalist?
My first experience with social was using it to promote my own projects and websites. Then the earthquake in Haiti happened, and I used Twitter to find out information I otherwise wouldn't have been able to get unless I was on the ground when it happened. It became an incredible reporting tool.
In social you need to be brief, but also get your point across -- it's what journalists do all the time. So, for me, combining my social expertise and my journalism skills was a natural progression.
You currently do social media work for a financial news network which keeps you in the media business as well. How did that come about?
I had just finished a social stint in the PR world, was working part time for a niche magazine and was doing social media consulting. One night I happened to be looking for freelance projects and came across the listing for my current position.
It sounded like an interesting challenge, combined my passion for social as well as news and was at a company I really liked. So, at 2 a.m. it seemed stupid not to take a chance and submit my resume.
Two interviews and two months later, I was working with them.
What media projects are you currently working on as a freelancer?
My job at the network keeps me pretty busy, so unfortunately there's not a lot of time for regular freelance right now. But, I write two lifestyle websites, and am working on a variety of book proposals, TV pitches, and a line of lifestyle products around them and speak at various conferences about the use of social. In addition, I'm working with a new sports website that takes fans beyond the stadium and looks at the charity side of sports. It keeps me very busy!
What's the biggest myth about transitioning?
That you're not doing "real journalism." Whether it's print, multimedia, newspapers, TV or social, the skills being used are still the same. To be successful in any of these areas you need that sixth news sense and be able to think, and react, like a journalist.
Do you think there's a difference to approaching a new career within journalism when you're forced as opposed to when you decide to do it on your own?
Journalists, especially in the news business, tend not to like authority, or being told what to do. So, it can be a lot easier when it's your idea and you're not being forced to make a change.
That said, when companies are asking employees to do something differently there are right, and wrong, ways to go about it. I've found it's better to win over one or two journalists with the new idea, and then when their colleagues see them doing all this new stuff, they will want to do it, too.
How do you see the media industry in 10 years?
Small, community-based papers, especially in rural areas, will still be publishing. There will still be the big networks, but I think most journalists will become their own type of network, or brands, who are contracted out by the corporate ones, because of their following and influence. You are seeing it now in the blogosphere and on cable lifestyle channels, like the Food Network, and I think the trend will eventually move to the media, too.
The rest of the landscape will likely be something we haven't even thought of yet. Ten years ago I would have never imagined there would be away for me to tweet information to my viewers, or readers, in real-time from the palm of my hand.
What are your tips to a successful transition?
Be open to change, and don't think of it through the eyes of a journalist. As journalists, we're trained to be skeptical. But, when it comes to your career, you have to think like a marketer if you want to stay relevant. Ask yourself, "will this new project/style/tool/way of doing things/transition, help move my career forward?"
What would you say to those attending journalism schools across the country, just starting out in the industry?
Take an acting class, minor in something, learn all aspects of the business and start out at a local newspaper.
Part of being a journalist is knowing a little about everything, because you never know what you will be asked to cover, so take a wide variety of classes.
In the new multimedia world, print journalists, producers and editors are being asked to get in front of the camera, so being good on air, in print and in the editing room is a must.
Even if you want to do broadcast, work at a local newspaper first. It will give you a different set of skills and experiences to lean back on as a broadcast journalist that you can't learn in a classroom.