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March 4, 2012 / Gina D.

Print to Web: A personal transformation, Part 2

Catch up: Read Part 1 of this series

Just before the start of Summer 2011, our editor pushed me a little harder into the mix of our web department. Not long thereafter, I was promoted and managing its staff of four.

It seemed a logical step, but one I wasn’t sure I could honestly say, at the time, that I felt really ready for. Not that I was going to let that stand in my way. In some ways, it seemed a natural progression, and lord knows our websites needed an overhaul. I think a lot of folks thought I would step into the role and just try to redesign the sites — and in some ways, I did try to push that along a little. But it didn’t take long to figure out there were much bigger problems with our websites than their aesthetics. But that’s another post for another time.

While I knew the web path was the right turn to take, the initial obstacles I faced were almost as discouraging as the ones I had been struggling with on the design desk.

And then… opportunity? temptation? …knocked. Three times.

In Fall 2010, I was approached by the Society for News Design’s ;Region 2 representative to be the California State Leader for the Inland Empire. I felt obligated to get involved with SND, given how vocal I had been during the organization’s recent growing pains. A glorified volunteer position, all that was expected of me was to act as a cheerleader and conduit for the organization, posting links and such to SND news and events, and uploading noteworthy pages from I.E. papers into the SND Region 2 Facebook page gallery.

It seemed the least I could do to give back to an organization that had been so generous to me earlier that very same year, and I was happy to do so.

Taking on this responsibility also connected me to a lot of folks in other parts of the organization, in and out of our region — though our region is GINORMOUS, so mostly in this region. Before long, there were a few folks I was following on my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts as well — which is how I initially found out that the lead A1 designer for the Arizona Republic was leaving, through a post she left near the start of Summer 2011, if I’m remembering the timelines correctly.

It seemed a good move for her, and I was happy she was happy. Other than the typical sting I felt when anyone I know leaves newspapers, I thought little of it — until they emailed me a few weeks later asking if I was interested in the very job she had vacated. I wasn’t their first choice, but I kinda think I was their second… and I came to find out their first choice — another who had been so vocal during those difficult transitional conversations online and at SND Denver — referred them to me when declining the offer. I was flattered by both the referral and the invitation.

When one of the best-designed newspapers in the country asks you whether you’re interested in a prominent design role on their team, you say yes. And when they tell you the job pays more than the promotion you just got, in a part of the country where the cost of living is considerably lower, you say HELL yes.

And so, talks with the Arizona Republic commenced.

A week later, I got a similar email about a similar position from a paper I held in nearly the same high-regard: the Omaha World-Herald, the largest paper in my home state and one that had gone through significant changes since I’d held an address there. And like Arizona, their interest in me had a lot to do with, I believe, a recommendation from the very same person who’d dropped my name in Phoenix.

I was floored. And honored. Again.

Through conversations with a short list of trusted friends and colleagues, I came to find out that the second largest paper of my home state, the Lincoln Journal Star, also had a fairly prominent opening right up my alley: design editor, the very job I’d recently (mostly) left behind.

When it rains it pours.

Suddenly, I found myself with three promising, even flattering, job leads — two of which would enable me to relocate closer to my immediate family — and I’d only barely started my new job, a promotion, as multimedia editor for The (San Bernardino County) Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and Redlands Daily Facts.

I was torn. But I gave all of it my all.

I was committed to not letting up on my new online role while pursuing the other opportunities. Nevertheless, I took a personal day a few weeks in, and Phoenix flew me in that morning for an interview and home that night. It was the first time I’d ever flown without luggage —ironic, given that my for very first out-of-state interview, my luggage nearly crippled the rather petite editor of the small Indiana paper that ended up being my first job out of college.

Phoenix ran me through the standard gamut of interviews. I worked my way up the Republic’s chain of editors, and even checked out the soon-to-be Gannett hub that was preparing to be housed a few floors below. My job, I was assured, would be kept very separate from the hub. That was what some would call a gut-check moment, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I liked them, and, thankfully, they liked me. I had been somewhat concerned about that very point, given I had worked for the Gannett VP housed there when I first came to California, and I didn’t have too many friends in high places following my time there for reasons I will never regret. He was the last stop on my interview circuit, so the nerves took a beating that day — unnecessarily, as it turned out. I returned home and to work the next day, and waited to hear from the Republic.

Meanwhile, the Omaha job began to devolve a bit as personnel needs shifted. It changed my outlook a little, but didn’t lessen my interest. The homecoming was still a huge plus for them.

A few weeks later, I was on a phone interview with every single editor of the Lincoln Journal Star. It was a little bit strange, and somewhat a last-minute change in plans; I had been expecting to talk with a couple of the editors to determine whether I want to — or they’d want me to — progress to the next round of discussion.

The group grilled me pretty hard. It felt like the full day in Phoenix had been packed into about 90 minutes of discussion, with me doing most of the talking. And I hadn’t even talked to the big boss yet.

He called me a day or two after that, and we had a conversation almost as long as the one I’d had with his key staff. This job, too, had devolved somewhat and began to resemble one I’d had several years prior.

The next day, I had an offer from Lincoln, and they were in a hurry. Since I was still in talks with Phoenix and Omaha, I turned them down.

Then talks with Phoenix and Omaha slowed. Eventually, Phoenix chose to hire from within the ranks. I got the impression it wasn’t the way they’d wanted to go, but these things happen. Meanwhile, the Omaha job continued devolving, but hadn’t altogether disappeared.

I went home for Thanksgiving, and made sure to swing by the World-Herald to meet the editor with whom I’d been exchanging emails, as well as anyone else on the staff they might care to throw me at during the course of an unofficial interview for a yet-to-be-determined position on a holiday week. I had chosen to go home on Thanksgiving this year — rather than Christmas, as I had the past few years — for a variety of reasons, one of which was that I thought I’d have a better chance of securing an interview with the right folks in Omaha. And so I did.

Again, I worked my way up the chain, ending my day in the office of the executive editor who, upon learning I had recently shifted into a web editor job, shared that they had recently hired one of those themselves. Doh.

The Midwest hadn’t been so harshly hit by the bad economy. Couple that with fact that the World-Herald executives had pursued some very wise and profitable investments in recent years, and that meant that the Omaha paper had remained on pretty solid ground, financially, in recent years — a notion that hadn’t even occurred to me when I was pondering a move there. Also, it was employee-owned. Novel.

“Of course, that could all change tomorrow if Warren Buffett buys the paper,” said almost everyone I talked to that day.

Nudge, nudge. Har, har. Yep, yep.

Bring on the turkey-vurky.

The day I returned to work after that vacation+, news broke about Warren Buffett buying the World-Herald, and I haven’t corresponded with Omaha hardly at all since then.

Not that I’ve minded… much.

Amid all the possibilities swirling around me in Fall 2011 was a big one right where I was already standing, and it was bigger than I could have possibly imagined at the time.

Continue to Part 3

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