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March 10, 2012 / Gina D.

Print to Web: A personal transformation, Part 4

Catch up: Read Part 1 of this series | Read Part 2 | Part 3

In recent years, mass memos from corporate appearing in our inboxes had become almost Pavlovian. Seeing the words “memo to all employees” immediately caused our stomachs to do fear flips and dread to simultaneously fill the small pockets of soul we felt we had left. We winced as we clicked open the memo we knew we couldn’t not read while wondering what more could possibly be taken away.

A tad dramatic, maybe, but really not much of an exaggeration.

Then, almost overnight, that changed.

Not long after I stepped into my new online role, our company got a new CEO, John Paton, and it instantly changed what it meant to be part of Media News Group. His addition married us to the Journal-Register Co., transforming us both into part of a new — and larger — company: Digital First Media. At the time, it was exciting to imagine the possibilities, and it wasn’t long thereafter that I realized I was lucky enough to already have my foot in a few of the right doors.

A few… weeks? months? …into the transition, we began to get a different kind of company memo. For starters, the subject lines were softer: “A message from John Paton.”

The contents of those first few messages were a little befuddling on the company’s lower levels; it was apparent to us that change was afoot, but all the title-shifting to names most of us had never heard before wasn’t really registering. It was news, but it wasn’t bad news, and most paid it only enough attention to determine just that.

Then, at the end of one of these memos was a question, and an invitation: “What can you do?”

To start, we are going to equip 25 MediaNews Group employees with the latest tools and give them the time and money to experiment with them. Each member of the ideaLab will be equipped, initially, with a Smartphone, tablet and laptop.

The Company will carve out 10 hours a week from their regular jobs to allow them time to experiment with these tools and report back on how we can change our business for the better. And we will add an extra $500 per month to their pay. Other than that — there are no rules.

(snip)

The only thing we had to do to qualify was to submit an idea. In 200 words or less, we had to explain what we would do if given the time and resources to develop our idea for the betterment of the entire company.

Four days later, I submitted a rather loose idea based around social engagement, and highlighted my previous experience finding unconventional ways to use existing resources to achieve results that exceeded those of others with many more tools and much more time. I was disappointed with my entry; it was half-baked, and I knew it. But the right thing just wasn’t coming to me, not in the detail it should have anyway. But I wasn’t coming up with anything more exceptional, and I didn’t want to delay and miss the deadline, whenever it showed up.

A few weeks later, it did.

Days after the deadline, two of our newest news executives paid a visit to our neck of the woods. I was singled out to help one of them navigate the property. It wasn’t entirely unexpected as I’d met the guy down at a Poynter conference some years before. Not that I expected him to remember me — the guy had something like 8,500 Twitter followers last time I looked; but at the time, we had bonded over our respective connections to Nebraska: I grew up and went to college there, and he had worked at the Omaha World-Herald earlier in his career.

Fast-forward to a month ago, and I’m sitting next to the guy again. This time, though, we’re teammates of sorts — he’s our company’s new director of Community Engagement & Social Media — and following his presentation, an informal discussion breaks out among our top news folks and THE top news folks about various corporate partnerships our company was trying to secure to improve various niches of our websites.

Then it dawns on me: This is how we get ArcGIS, something I had been wanting to make use of since establishing inroads at Esri.

About a minute later, another lightning bolt: This should have been my ideaLab entry.

The first entry I had sent off didn’t have a real chance, and I knew it the moment I hit “send.” Normally, I wouldn’t have even sent something I wasn’t fully confident in, but the strains of the new job had been particularly draining at that time, and it had been the best I could muster — I certainly hadn’t wanted to miss out on such a remarkable opportunity by not submitting anything at all.

But the ArcGIS idea — it was too perfect, and right up the alley of ideaLab, as far as I could tell. But the deadline has passed, almost as quietly as the opportunity itself had been presented. Since I wasn’t going to let that stop me, I sent another email to Mr. Paton:

Hi John:

I realize you closed entries for this a few days ago, but during a discussion with Jim Brady and Steve Buttry today at the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, it occurred to me that I had overlooked a unique opportunity — with wider applications — for my ideaLab entry. So I’m writing it to you now in case you might want to consider it anyway:

This past summer, I was lucky enough to get free entry into the Esri International User Conference as well as the conference’s media summit. Coupled with the introduction of social media layers at basically the touch of a button, and the journalistic applications seemed endless. I was mesmerized.

(snip)

The first entry had yielded a polite form response indicating a high volume of submissions. The second entry yielded no response whatsoever.

All that I could do was wait it out like everyone else, knowing I had finally delivered a submission I felt was truly worthy. If it didn’t measure up in the end, or it fell short by not meeting the few criteria put forth, well… those were going to have to be some pretty amazing ideas to top that one, and I’d anxiously read about each and every one, hoping I might be included in the next round — should there even be a next round.

Continue to Part 5

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