Monthly Archives: March 2011

I’m joining Philly.com

I’m thrilled to deliver some great news: In a few weeks I’ll start in a community-building role at Philly.com, and I’m freaking pumped.

I’m a Pennsylvania boy by roots. I grew up in State College, attended Penn State, then spent the first four years of my career at The Patriot-News in Harrisburg. I know to never order a cheesesteak outside Pennsylvania, I was at The Vet to see Curt Schilling pitch a shutout in Game 5 of the 1993 World Series, and I grew up dreaming of being a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Well, this is even better. Philly.com is the website for both the Inquirer and the Daily News, and I’ve witnessed support from the publisher on down to do great, innovative things with the site. I’ll be fortunate to have some say over that direction, and will do so in a role that perfectly captures what made me fall in love with online journalism: Collaboration and community. I can’t imagine a role better suited to my abilities and passions.

And yes, a familiar face will occasionally be there. Jim Brady, the man who brought us TBD, is consulting there part-time. There’s no one I’d rather be working with…again. Jim also deserves major, major thanks for taking it upon himself, at no one’s request, to be a talent agent for ex-TBDers (part 1 and part 2). If you’re reading this and you’re a hiring manager, please hire one of them. You will not regret it.

At the risk of getting too sappy, I was blissfully overwhelmed by the support of the Twitter community after news of the layoffs. Didn’t matter if it was a job lead or just a quick chin-up message; it felt like everyone had my back in some way. I hope to somehow return the favor someday to everyone who helped out.

To my new and soon-to-be friends in Philly, can’t wait to see you. To those who helped me through this whole thing, I offer you this:

How TBD’s candy jar is a seamless metaphor for news site participation

Candy Jar

This is in no way a forced metaphor.

When I started at TBD, I intended to bribe my coworkers into getting to know me by buying them candy.

I bought a $10 candy jar and filled it with chocolate from the CVS. I had a nice spot for it at the end of my desk, and sure enough, colleagues were regularly stopping by to chat and get their sugar fix. I was enjoying their visits, so I continued to buy candy to refill the jar. It was a pleasant transaction for all.

But as they kept coming back for more, some of them realized they ought to pitch in or they wanted more variety, so they started buying their own candy to keep the jar full. Great for me – free candy! And it really was starting to get expensive, so I wasn’t sure if I had the financial resources to keep this great thing going. I couldn’t do it by myself, and my personal candy judgment didn’t always create the best product possible.

So my new mission was to create a sustainable, crowdsourced candy jar operation, beneficial to all but cumbersome to none. To do this, it’s not enough to simply rely on your reputation as the desk where everyone can find candy. Emotional appeals and guilt-pushing wouldn’t work, as that would simply turn people off. No, you have to give them non-financial incentives to participate.

Here were the keys to making that happen.

Give them public credit. When people buy candy, they get public credit for it. They get a nametag right in front of the jar, making clear who was kind enough to supply his or her coworkers with sugar. Whenever someone instinctively thanks me for the candy, I always remind them that it was Nathasha who brought in the Starburst, not me, and that she deserves the thanks.

Mandy Jenkins was the runaway winner.

Mandy Jenkins was the runaway winner.

Appeal to their competitive side. When someone brings candy, they tally a point on the Leaderboard, kept right above the candy jar on my cubicle wall. For large bags of candy, homemade baked goods or other special occasions, they can sometimes tally two or three points. I believe it was reporter Sarah Larimer who, upon discovering the Leaderboard, responded: “I didn’t know it was a competition! Now I have to buy more.”

Open communication. The candy jar has its own Twitter account that updates TBD, ABC7 and POLITICO staffers of when there is new candy available, and makes desperate pleas for help when it is empty. Employees always know the current status of the candy jar.

My point, clearly, is that news sites need to consider the incentives they’re offering readers to contribute, and that new hires should always buy a candy jar.