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March 7, 2012 / Gina D.

Print to Web: A personal transformation, Part 3

Catch up: Read Part 1 of this series | Read Part 2

Amid my transition from my role as a print journalism manager to that of a digital journalism manager, I came into possession of a free pass to the 2011 Esri International Users Conference in San Diego. Since our papers’ graphics (maps included) fell under my purview, it was one of those things I should have been invited to all along — and for the past several years — but I didn’t dwell on it. To be honest, I felt their technology was so far beyond our needs, I wasn’t really sure what I would pick up there. But I didn’t really need much of an excuse to take a few days off work to hang out in downtown San Diego, so… off I went.

Given an all-access pass, I tried to be open in choosing the sessions I attended. Typically, at conferences, I try to attend sessions I believe will have the most immediate impact on my daily work, or seem to have the potential to be professionally advantageous. It’s only after those criteria can’t be met that I just pick things that sound fun or interesting.

Not this time.

I was awash in science. Most of the sessions that sounded remotely applicable soon lost me in slides of data charts and terminology that reminded my why I held a Bachelor of Arts. Not every session, but many of them.

The only session I knew would do me some good was a new session Esri had added that was aimed specifically at journalists. It was my ace in the hole for not feeling like a complete outsider — and my Get of Jail Free card from work. And once I read the list of planned speakers, I felt it rather serendipitous: on the roster was a guy I’d gone to J-School with — or maybe just alongside — back in Nebraska. We bonded some, partly due to the bits of shared background, but also because both of us were about to begin new chapters in our careers: his more notable, as a professor at our alma mater, and I as the multimedia editor for our three papers.

Beyond crossing paths with him, that session as a whole helped validate my decision to be there in the first place. Then I attended the company’s plenary session the following day and realized there was nowhere else I could have possibly ended up that day but right there, in that vast wing of the convention center, watching that Steve Jobs-esque presenation about the latest, greatest mapping software.

Pretty nerdy, right? Except that it wasn’t.

It was phenomenal. Even life-changing.

They had created the capability of instantly plotting the location of online conversations taking place on any topic of the mapper’s choosing. Suddenly, it was Christmas.

I was so re-energized by the end of the session, I later attempted to use the online version of their ArcGIS freeware to construct a graphic for a story one of my editors back home was working on alone in my absence — which meant I was hanging out in the conference media room a little more than most.

I’m sure the other media folks thought it was the free food really keeping me in there, but in truth, I had to talk out some of my ideas with anyone who would listen. Thankfully, they had a guy in the room who’s very job it was to listen to folks like me — and, I came to find out, even try to find ways to help bring some of our own projects to life. With their help. And, of course, their software.

Like I said: Christmas.

I probably thanked him a million times for the opportunity to be there, and did so again in writing after I returned to work. And we kept in touch here and there beyond then; he was always eager to attempt a project for us, but generally our deadlines were much too tight for the partnership to be feasible.

Every once in a while — between the aggravation of the continued degradation of design I was witnessing and the frustrations of limitations and learning curves in my new role — I went back and dabbled in their freeware, wondering in the back of my head what the possibilities might be had we ever had the opportunity for a real collaboration.

Continue to Part 4

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