Monday, April 15, 2013

Chatting with Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz, a political columnist for Seven Days, came to speak to my social media class this morning. It was a really fun and informal Q&A session and we got to hear about his experiences and social media use in the workplace.

Before I dive into the information that Paul gave us, I'll share the mini-bio my Professor gave us before his visit:
Photo Credit: Dartmouth Life
"A flatlander from Connecticut and Massachusetts, Paul got his start in journalism writing for and editing his high school and college newspapers. While studying history and English at Dartmouth College, he took time off to intern for NPR's "On The Media." After graduating in 2006, he worked as a glorified intern, or "desk assistant," for PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" in Washington, D.C. In 2007, he returned to northern New England to write for the Brattleboro Reformer — covering politics, Vermont Yankee and five area towns. In 2008, Paul foolishly quit his job to paddle the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and write about it for the Boston Globe Magazine, only to see the economy tank and journalism jobs dry up completely. So he turned to the Dark Side and became communications director for U.S. Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a job he managed to hold for two-and-a-half years. In 2011, our hero came to his senses and quit his job to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. After completing the trail, Paul spent some time in California trying to write the Great American Novel before conning the editors of Seven Days into hiring him in February 2012. He started out as a staff writer and then took over the "Fair Game" political blog that summer. Paul has never before written about himself in the third person and feels rather sheepish for doing so."

I suppose I'll begin by sharing some of the things that I took away from Paul's visit to my class.
  1. Not all reporters use social media. Paul has been active on Twitter for awhile and is not completely sure how to utilize it for journalistic purposes, but he has colleagues who don't use social media at all. Paul tweets bits of news and makes jokes to bring some of his personality into his social media use so that he can relate to people more. He told us that he wants to "be someone I'd want to follow." Although Paul uses Twitter for his work, not all reporters are required to participate. It's just a common expectation for most journalists to have Twitter and Facebook accounts. "I don't think it's necessary now, but we're getting to where it is necessary," Heintz said. He would like to think that it isn't a necessity but with the competitive nature of journalism it is becoming more and more useful. "I want to think that I can go home at night and read a book and actually think about things," Heintz said. For most journalists it's just another tool to stay connected to the community and that is an important part of the job description. Paul uses social media to stay connected and to self-promote his work.
  2. Tweeting can be dangerous. If you don't think before you tweet you might regret it later on. Journalists love to be the first to break news but if you're working for a weekly publication, like Seven Days, it might be spoiling your work too soon. Other journalists can see what you are putting out there and they might 'scoop' you or try to beat you to the punch. Tweeting is a great tool if you monitor what you're saying and don't give away too much. Some things are better kept quiet until all of the details are pieced together in a complete article.
  3. Break up text online with pictures, gifs, and other multimedia. This is really important because it can really draw in more readers. When there are just large blocks of text it can take a toll on the eyes. Pictures, cool graphics, and gifs that start moving as you scroll past them are really neat ways to tell a story and they add visual flare too.
Paul's visit reminded me of why I love being a journalism major. Even though the job description is changing quite a bit, there is something special about telling stories. When Professor Griffith asked Paul what he would be doing if he wasn't working as a journalist, he said, "I'd probably be unemployed trying to do this." He reminded us that journalism is essential, fun, and plays a role in moving important conversations forward. I'm so happy that I'm learning how to do that, and meeting talented people like Paul reaffirms my love for reporting.

That's all for now, but I'm sure I'll have some more exciting things to share after my visit to WCAX, a local news station, later this week!

-Sheila

(Here's a link to the blog that Paul contributes to often.)


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