How My Journalism Degree Supports My Marketing Career

I posted this on LinkedIn, and I’m proud of the writing, so I’m posting it here, too.

I’m sure degrees in content management and digital marketing exist. However, way back in 1992 when I graduated from college, the internet was barely a thing.

My BA is in *print* journalism, and while that may sound quaint in this digital age, journalism is the foundation on which I’ve built my current career track.

Journalism taught me how to write short, relevant copy, backed up with supporting facts, and delivered with clean text (with one space after a period!). It taught me that proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation are all important, and that fact-checking is not optional.

1. Style

My journalism professor Clark Edwards, God rest his soul, taught an entire semester-long class on the AP Stylebook. I had had a good grasp of grammar and punctuation rules upon entering college; English was my favorite subject in high school, and I already knew I wanted to be a writer. But AP style addressed the very specific needs of the newspaper publishing industry, answering questions about spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, as well as issues regarding libel and media law.

The AP Stylebook is published each year with updates and clarifications. Above all, AP style strives for consistency, clarity, and professionalism. With the exception of the Oxford comma (in which I default to the Chicago Manual of Style), the AP Stylebook is my source for writing standards.

2. Research

Any good news story starts with the right question(s), and then uses supporting facts to answer the questions. It’s important to know how to find the right answers. Journalism taught me about how to decide if a source is reliable, and how to report on facts. Digital marketing, like journalistic reporting, is less about selling or sensationalism. It’s about being a trusted source for information – and telling good stories.

3. Make it interesting

Blog posts are meant to be short and informative. The most important information goes into the first paragraph. Especially now, the way people take in information online, the lede has to immediately prove to be relevant. News writing taught me the reverse pyramid structure: Put the most relevant information (who, why, where, what, how) in the opening paragraph. The following paragraphs should contain important details to support the lede. Ideally, a blog post will be short and to the point, using subheads and numbered or bulleted lists instead of blocks of text, but the delivery structure is the same.

4. Meeting deadlines

Most of the deadlines in digital marketing are self-imposed. We have a social media and blog posting schedule that we have created as a department. But even a self-imposed deadline is a deadline, and as someone who has worked on actual print newspapers, I find deadlines compelling and helpful.

Digital Is Different

All that being said, digital marketing does expand on the basics of journalism and good writing in different ways than contributing to a news site would. The biggest challenge for me as a marketer who uses social media is making the goal to write for people, not for bots. Yes, SEO is important in digital marketing. But if you fill your article with lots of keywords to show up on Google, and make the headline read like clickbait, you aren’t doing your readers a service. [My work blog] isn’t purely meant as a sales tool. It’s about bringing news to our customers, and making them aware that we know and care about the issues that affect them.

Waiting IS the Hardest Part

Writing a book isn’t easy.

It takes a lot of time, and a big commitment to putting in that time. Spending an hour or two a night in front of a computer, trying to get my characters on paper — after spending eight hours at work, and taking care of my family in those other daytime hours — that was HUGE.

But once I did commit, and I had support from my husband and family, I did it. I sat down daily and got the words on the page. Except for Thanksgiving vacation, I mostly wrote at night, sometimes starting as late as 9 p.m.

Part of my 2015 NaNoWriMo experience was spent in Wilmington, NC, for Thanksgiving vacation with my family. My sister had just had a baby, so we were there for that. It was Thanksgiving, so we were there for that. My parents, my brother and his wife and children, my sister and her family, who live in the area, Dan and our children.

And every day — including THANKSGIVING DAY — this group of people LET ME WRITE. I mostly wrote in the mornings that week, with a cup of coffee or two.

That November, I wrote 50,000 words. In the next three months, I added roughly another 20,000.

Then I put the book (working title: Lone Wolf) away for a few months.

The rest I have mentioned here: second draft, line edits, beta readers. Both my beta readers had helpful feedback AND were very kind, so much thanks to them (Cari and Trista). Third draft.

And now it’s the hardest part: querying and waiting.

So: thing I learned about publishing last year at my very first writers conference: an agent, if you do not plan on self-publishing, is a necessary step. An agent is the one who is going to take your book and help you do the final shaping for publication. One does not send to publishers, one queries agents.

One needs a query letter to do that — I have learned a lot about queries, synopses, and pitching in general.

Yeah, I didn’t know that stuff before I wrote a book. It’s actually good I didn’t know too much about the process, because I would have overthought it.

Of course, as I go forward, I have to work very hard not to overthink it.

At this time, I have a handful of (very nice, very polite, and VERY encouraging) rejections under my belt. Rejections are good, it has been pointed out to me; it means I’m doing something. And, they have, to an email, been encouraging, as I said. The gist being: Thank you for querying; this isn’t for us at this time; keep going because someone is going to love it and pick it up.

Yeah, it could just be a form letter, but it’s better than 1. Being ignored and 2. Being told I stink and should throw in the towel.

Speaking of throwing things, I decided to throw my hat in the ring for Pitch Wars as well. In short, Pitch Wars gives writers the opportunity to work with a published author (mentors) to polish a manuscript. Mentors each pick a mentee from the submissions they get, they spend two months shaping the MS, and then there is an agent round.

If you’d like to watch me and other writers freak out about #PitchWars on Twitter, you can go check out that hashtag. Its both fun and masochistic at the same time.

Pitch Wars closes on August 6, and mentees are announced August 24. At this point, I have subbed to three mentors and one mentor team. They get the query and Chapter 1. I am *trying* to not obsessively track the #PWTeaser(s) on Twitter, but sometimes I just have to give in for a few minutes.

It’s out of my control, now: whether I get a mentor, whether I get an agent, whether I get published. And that is a difficult thing to sit with. If I don’t get a mentor, I will just continue querying agents. I gave myself a year, and I started this process in May.

In the meantime, time to get back to that *other* WPI (work in process), another few weeks of 9 p.m. computer time.

No matter what happens, I have written I book. I am working on another book, and I have yet a third in my brain. I can do this part.

And I can wait. I just don’t have to like it.

Is waiting the hardest part for you, too?

Letter to Congress: Health Care, Yet AGAIN


I drafted this letter before the ridiculous vote in the Senate last week. I was on vacation when I tried to publish this, and a little bit behind. But a version of this did get to Senator Toomey, and a thank you to Senator Casey. 

Dear Senator Toomey,
I am writing regarding the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the healthcare bill from the Senate, and about the Senate’s attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare in general.

Just, stop it.

The BCRA is a disaster of a bill that will hurt Pennsylvanians, not just those who have been able to get healthcare under the ACA. The ACA increased the number of Pennsylvanians who were able to get health insurance, financial security for low-income people, and access to treatment for opioid addiction and mental health issues.

The BCRA is worse than the House bill, the American Health Care Act, which is impression, because the AHCA is pretty terrible. Here is what the BCRA does worse:

  • Kills Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania, leaving the state to cover, over the next three years, 90 percent of the cost of people added to the program. This creates a $3 billion annual funding gap, which would effectively lead our state to dropping the Medicaid expansion program — leading to sick people unable to get care.
  • Reduces funding overall to Medicaid. States will have to make up the difference with their own funds; cut programs by reducing the number of people they serve or the number or health benefits they receive; cut payment rates to providers. This will reduce access to health care for low-income populations.
  • Makes insurance subsidies less generous. This would most affect older, lower-income citizens. A silver plan for seniors under the ACA (with seniors defined as 64 or older) costs $6750 a year in premiums. Under BCRA, that cost nearly triples to $18,250 per year.
  • Consumer protection: BCRA allow insurers to charge people with pre-existing conditions more. It also ends certain essential health benefits at the insurer’s discretion, ending things like maternity care, prescription drug benefits, and addiction treatment.

Don’t pass this bill. Vote no. The President, the leader of your party, has the lowest approval rating of any President, and he’s only six months into his term. Why would you give him a victory at the cost of the people in your state depending on you? You can be a hero, Senator Toomey.

I strongly urge you to vote NO on Trumpcare, and NO on “repeal now and replace later.” Work with your colleagues in the Congress, both moderate Republicans and Democrats, to shore up the ACA, and make it continue to work for the American people, especially the most vulnerable populations, including children, the disabled, and seniors.

Thank you for your time.

Your constituent,
rpm

Source

Give Me Your Money!

Just kidding.

Give the Congenital Heart Walk your money, via my page.

I am walking to raise money. My friends Katrina and Kevin had a little boy who was born with ToF. You can read more about him here. They are pretty great, he is pretty great, and I’d like to do something to help.

Thanks!

ETA: I met my goal! Thanks to all who contributed, especially my father, who donated so much, I actually upped my goal. 😉

Letters to Congress: Health Care, Again

Dear Senator Toomey,
I am contacing you today to ask you to vote AGAINST Trumpcare. It will hurt so many people, including my family. You should work with Senate Democrats to address the weaknesses in Obamacare, instead of trying to ram through this terrible and harmful bill.

Specifically, what I am asking is the following:

  • Vote against any bill that results in anyone losing healthcare coverage
  • Commit to voting against any bill that does not protect people with pre-existing conditions from higher premiums
  • Vote against any bill that eliminates ANY funding for Medicaid

The Republican health care bill that was passed in the House takes health care away from 777,000 Pennsylvanians. More than 300,000 Pennsylvanians will lose Medicaid coverage, and average premiums will increase by more than $1000. This is all unacceptable.
It is time for you to choose your constituents over your party. Pennsylvanians will lose if the ACA is repealed. You could do even more if you would strengthen the ACA, rather than try to get rid of it wholesale.

Dear Senator Casey,
First of all, I want to thank you for all you have done to protect the people of Pennsylvania from the T*ump administration. I’m sure sometimes it feels like an uphill battle. Please know how grateful I am that someone is on our side, rather than rubber-stamping the President’s agenda.

As the Senate Republicans strive to pass their version of the deeply damaging ACHA, I hope we can count on you again to oppose them. What I would like to see from the Democrats in the Senate is the following:

  • Please withhold consent on all Senate business until Republicans hold a public hearing on Trumpcare.

While Obamacare improved coverage for millions of Americans, it does have its weaknesses. Democrats should work on addressing the weaknesses in the law, as well as look at ways to create a single-payer healthcare system. It turns out that Americans like health care! And certainly more Americans approve of Obamacare in its current form that approve of the T*ump administration.

Please continue to resist. We are grateful to you.

H/T to Indivisibleguide.com for giving me the talking points for these communications.

Why I’m Talking About This

On my last blog post, I was challenged. “What gain did you have by posting this?”

I’m pretty sure I was being scolded, but whatever. This is why I blogged about this issue.

1. The most obvious reason: LGTBQ rights are under assault from the right/GOP/fundamentalist Christians, from the top (T*ump administration) on down (parents in my community). Hence,

2. I want LGBTQ children in my life and my children’s lives to know that they have an ally in me.

3. To start discussions, primarily in my household and in my community, about LGBTQ rights and risks.

4. To let parents of LGBTQ children know that I see them.

5. Pursuant to #4, so they know they have an ally who is a fellow parent who cares about their children.
5b. Also pursuant to #4, so they maybe remember that their children have value, regardless of their sexuality or gender. Maybe these parents just need a reminder to think about what it means to accept and support their children, and how best to do that.

6. So my children understand what our role is in the world: to love one another, to show that love, and to treat people with kindness.

7. So my children know I will love and support them no matter what. I have their backs.

(I can safely say that Dan is on board with all of this, especially #7, as well.)

Our children just want to our love and acceptance. I posted “Safe Space” so if children I know don’t find that at home, they know that I see them, I support them, and they can come be in a space without question or judgement.

So to answer the original question: I, personally, don’t have anything to gain. I don’t intend to gain, I intend to give.

Safe Space

Pursuant to our discussion about her hair, Flora also talked about some difficulties some of her friends are having. She says three of her friends have come out to her – and they have also come out to their families, with very discouraging results.

According to Flora, one of her friends came out as bisexual. Her parents have forbidden her to even speak about it at home, and her older sister calls her a schizophrenic. When Flora told me this, I felt like my head was going to catch on fire.

“You tell your friend,” I said, emphatically stabbing the table with my index finger, “that she can come over ANY TIME. Our house is a safe space for her.”

“Yeah, Mom, I already told her,” Flora responded.

Okay then.

I do not understand how a parent can reject a child. Especially on the basis of sexuality or gender identity — not just at this age, but at any age. Don’t they remember how scary this time was in their own lives? Trying to figure out who they were and who they wanted to be? The constant fear of not fitting in, of being rejected, of being alone?

In these years between puberty and adulthood, our children have more questions and insecurities, and do more exploration than they did since they were toddlers. (Apparently, a child learns more between birth and age 3 than for the rest of his/her/their life.) Tweens and teens are seeking their identities, independence, and acceptance. And even though they are pulling away from us parents, they still need us!

  • LGBTQ youth are at increased risk for dating violence and rape
  • LGBTQ youth are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts, behavior, attempts, and suicide
  • LGBTQ youth report higher rates of bullying and substance abuse
  • LGBTQ youth are at greater risk for homelessness
  • (Source)

If a child at this stage feels unloved, unsupported, and unheard, how much do you bet these risks and behaviors increase?

It will not stand, people. Not as long as I have a roof over my head.

I’m going to need a bigger house.

Copyright for feature image: badboo / 123RF Stock Photo

My Daughter Has Short Hair, and She’s Not Transgender

As I documented on other social media channels, my daughter Flora, she of the flowing brunette locks, recently made the decision to chop them off.

Prior to cutting her hair, Flora didn’t do much with it. For gym and soccer, she would deign to put it back in a ponytail. She didn’t want me to braid it. She brushed it, but her style was to usually wear a hat. She still prefers to wear a hat; her current favorite is a Dustin-style baseball cap from Hot Topic.

She asked to cut her hair for the summer because she was finding it annoying and hot. She referred to it as a “neck sweater”. In short, she didn’t like having long hair anymore. She didn’t have her identity wrapped up in it. (Her father, on the other hand… but this is not about him.)

Her father warned her that if she cut her hair, she may be mistaken for a boy, or teased for looking like a boy. (She doesn’t, in my opinion, look like a boy.) Flora said she understood that, and still wanted to cut her hair. It was a decision purely based on convenience and ease, which seems to be working out for her.

However, her father’s prediction has come true. She did get teased a bit by classmates, but when she asked them to not tease her about looking like a boy, most of them complied. Except for one boy, who continues to ask, “Are you a boy now?” To which she regularly replies, “No. I am not a boy.”

He recently went a little further, asking first, “Are you a boy?” then turning to a friend Flora was with at the time — who is a boy – and saying, “Is she your girlfriend now?” To which Flora then said, “That doesn’t even make sense to ask if you think I’m a boy.” To which the boy then said, “Oh you’re right. So, is she now your boyfriend?”

We advised Flora to go to the teacher, and I informed her that if this boy didn’t knock it off, we may have to go to school administration. She is opposed to going to the administration, and she says she did tell the teacher.

One other incident of note:

Flora has a classmate who informed her that her mother will not allow Flora to come over, nor is the classmate allowed to come to our house. Because of what her short hair signifies to this mother, which is either that Flora is lesbian or transgender, neither of which are true. I am simply appalled that an adult can treat a child in this way and make such assumptions. I have restrained myself from asking this mother’s name, because the temptation to give her a piece of my mind is STRONG.

Let me also add here: There is nothing wrong with being transgender or gay/lesbian. If Flora were either of these things, or anywhere on the spectrum of gender identity and fluidity – which, I don’t think she has strong feeling at this point, except “not a boy” – we will love her no matter what.

But this idea that people look at Flora, and see a transgender boy… is troubling to me. I am glad that transgender issues are being addressed and are out in the open these days. However, that people are making the most extreme assumption about my daughter based on her chosen hairstyle worries me a bit. They are putting her in a bucket that she doesn’t belong in. Is she in physical danger? Are there social repercussions that will be long lasting?

My daughter is (in a limited way at this point) being discriminated against because she has short hair, which makes some people think she is transgender. There are two ways to stop this: 1. Flora could grow her hair long again or 2. People can stop discriminating against transgender people. Which sounds simplistic, but is true.

I think it’s clear where I come down on this, but let me spell it out just in case: Flora could shave her head or grow her hair down to her butt. She shouldn’t be discriminated against because of what other people think of her because of how she looks.

No one should be discriminated against because of who they are or what they look like. People deserve to be treated with basic respect, dignity, and kindness. It’s not difficult, people. Be better.

Note: This post was published with Flora’s permission. My friend Daria also read it over to make sure I wasn’t being an ass. Zie gave me zir thoughts on my first couple of drafts, and pointed out perspectives I may not have considered. I am grateful for zir willingness to review my writing and give me honest feedback.

Copyright for featured image, a rainbow for my rainbow baby: hydromet / 123RF Stock Photo

Whiplash

I was getting all set to write my letters to Congress about the ACHA, which passed the House last week. How it’s an awful bill, how everyone in my family now has a preexisting condition, how it would affect our income because of what Dan does for a living, and so on and so forth.

I was even getting ready to lambaste my Republican senator (coward!) who is on a committee in the Senate to write their own healthcare bill, because no women were included on the committee. (Update: One woman senator is now.) I was going to put together postcards with the preexisting conditions in my family and start mailing them one by one with the hashtag I Am a Preexisting Condition.

And then T*ump fired James Comey.

I mean, one gets geared up to make calls and write letters on (at least) one thing, and before one can even open a Word document, this administration does something so outrageous, so NOT NORMAL, that it is literally breathtaking.

And for a moment (or four), I am completely frozen. What do I do next? T*ump-Russia or ACHA?

It’s exhausting.

It’s frustrating.

It’s infuriating.

Never have I realized the impotence of the American voter until now. I didn’t vote for Toomey, Murphy, or T*ump, and yet every cowardly, erratic, and shocking decision they make affects me and my family. And despite my calls and letters, Toomey and Murphy remain blissfully unaffected, unmoved, and frankly, untouchable. For now, at least.

Eventually, of course, I’ll get around to addressing both issues (healthcare and T*ump-Russia, ad nauseum), as well as expressing my anger and frustration. And I will not sit idly by (not that I did last election) when mid-terms come around.

mother giving pocket money to child

To Pay or Not to Pay?

Flora asked for an allowance this weekend.

In general, I am not pro-allowance. For one thing, my children want for nothing. Usually when they ask for something, we are able to purchase it for them. For another thing: An allowance for what? I am of the opinion that my children are part of the family team, and as such, chores are part of their job of sharing space sanely and hygienically.

However, Flora made a counterargument that I found compelling. Simply put, she wants spending cash.

The conversation came up because Flora was going to a birthday party this weekend. I asked her if she wanted to buy her friend a gift, or if she wanted to give her $20 in cash, which is my usual go-to. She wanted to give her a gift, and asked if we could go to Hot Topic.

Which is how I ended up at the mall at 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon. Flora wanted to buy her friend a t-shirt based on a manga character. I honestly felt like she was speaking a foreign language at this point, so I just went with it.

Hot Topic, just in case you have not had the pleasure, is about all things pop culture: t-shirts, figurines, makeup, and tchotchkes of all sorts. Manga, Harry Potter, lots of goth stuff, and Stranger Things all mix. Flora saw about five t-shirts she wanted for herself.

We got her friend a banana cat t-shirt (the manga shirt Hot Topic had was one her friend already had), Pocky Sticks, and a Dumbledore figurine. Flora asked for a couple of things, as did Michael (of course), and we negotiated. She got a Dustin (from Stranger Things) hat and a Pokémon t-shirt. When she heard the total (under $60), Flora actually *felt bad* that it was costing so much. I let her know it was fine; if it hadn’t have been fine, I would’ve said something earlier. But bless her little heart.

Hence: The allowance idea.

We will probably do an allowance, all things considered. I have kind of left it to Dan (who is pro-allowance) and Flora to work out. We are looking at between $5 and $20 a week, depending on what gets done around the house. Some things are simply expected: bedroom cleaned, dishes put away. When she starts going above and beyond, then allowance will be activated accordingly.

We also talked about spending and saving, and that we will expect Flora to save more allowance than she spends. We talked about expectations and limits.

And then Flora cleaned the kitchen, including the windows. So.

I don’t know who’s going to keep track of this. Hoping it’s on Dan’s radar!

Are you pro-allowance? Why or why not?

ETA: Last night, Dan and Flora sat down and drew up a list of chores for each room. They segmented them into daily, weekly, and monthly chores, and agreed on an amount.

I have no doubt that Kate and Michael are going to want to get into the action.

Copyright for featured image: costasz / 123RF Stock Photo