What Do You Do, Again? Part III

The humans behind specialized news-nerd job titles talk about their work

(WOC in Tech Chat)

As we approach the fifth anniversary of Source’s existence, we’re taking an anecdotal look at the humans who do the often confusingly described work of journalism technology, technology in journalism, data…stuff…in newsrooms, and so on: What exactly does a producer do? How about an engagement reporter? Is “data editor” the same role across newsrooms? We set out to discover what happens behind the titles, one job at a time. (Read Part One and Part Two.)

In our third installment, we spoke with Terry Parris, Jr., Marie Connelly, and Chris Keller.

Terry Parris, Jr., Deputy Editor, Engagement at ProPublica

Source: What do you do in your daily work?

TP: I run the engagement team, which consists of three engagement reporters, a senior engagement fellow, and a social visuals producer. We basically touch everything at ProPublica in some way, whether it’s a huge long-term project or a folo. Our job is to build a bridge between our journalism and the people before, during, and after publication.

We think of ways that the community can participate or contribute prior to publication in order to further that journalism. We think of ways to build community (see Reliving Agent Orange or Maternal Mortality) through the life of the investigation. Or, if we’re not actively building a community, we figure out how we can connect the story with the right audience, which isn’t always the biggest audience. We are often working with reporters, building forms, analyzing and organizing responses, reporting, writing, writing tweets and tweetstorms, writing scripts for our social videos, helping build bots (SMS or Facebook), writing newsletters, talking to sources.

I also work closely with our social visuals producer to make GIFs, graphics, and social videos. We use all of the resources at our disposal to reach the communities that matter in the stories we’re reporting.

Source: Do you think other people with similar titles do roughly the same kinds of work?

TP: For the most part, I don’t think so. In my mind, each project has its own community, and therefore requires a unique approach to engagement. We think about and try to capture that in order to build on our journalism. We do a lot of crowdsourcing (forms, email, bots, etc.)—not engagement for engagement’s sake, but to learn from our community and incorporate it into our journalism. At many other news organizations, engagement is synonymous with social; we are heavily focused on engaged journalism. We are not operating as a social distribution desk. We don’t necessarily have a social media manager on staff. Social is a part of the job but it’s not the driving force of our work or the mission of our team. Sure, we love a tweetstorm that gets 15,000 retweets and a social video that gets a million page views (‘cause who doesn’t). But we really get excited when we’re engaging as many people as possible, as authentically and empathically as possible for the issues that they care about through the stories we’re writing.

Source: Does your title help clarify what you do, internally?

TP: I don’t think the title helps people understand what I do, specifically. This title, which Ryann Grochowski (Deputy Editor, Data) and Sisi Wei (Deputy Editor, News Apps) helped define at ProPublica, is more clear in terms of the org chart because now we have three deputy editors. But does it help define the type of work? Not really. I think, ultimately, when folks see “engagement” they think “tweets.” What does help clarify my day-to-day work is the actual body of work, the success of that work, and me constantly reminding folks that engagement isn’t strictly social.

Source: Are there other opaque or confusing terms that come up for your team?

TP: Yes…basically every single one. Community Editor, Lead Engagement Specialist, Engagement Editor, and now Deputy Editor, Engagement; they’re all engagement related, and I think engagement is something that’s hard for journalism folks to incorporate regularly into their reporting and to see how it might be an integral part of journalism. Over the years I’ve often found myself saying things like, “Sure, I’ll tweet that but have you thought about crowdsourcing that investigation?” Or, “Sure, we can do a Facebook video, but what if we also did a series of social videos that had a callout after each one that helped you do further reporting?” There is a lot of course correction, but ultimately I hope it can help other journalists understand the role of engagement.

Source: Are there other opaque or confusing terms that come up for your team?

TP: I don’t think you can get more confusing than “engagement.” It’s a term that folks have different definitions for, use different metrics to measure, think should relate to reporting differently. In some newsrooms “engagement” is strictly distribution. In others, it’s solely tied to metrics, and “engagement” is narrowly defined as how many minutes someone spends on a story. Engagement can be events, newsletter signups, calling for donations. None of these are wrong—they’re just not how I have defined engagement specifically. For me, engagement is creating an avenue for the community to participate in, contribute to, or make actionable our journalism. Imagine engagement as a pool: there are shallow engagements (an RT) and deep engagements (sharing a story, helping us dig into a document). I like my team to spend most of their time in the deep end of the pool.

Source: When people not in tech or journalism ask what you do, what do you tell them?

TP: I still haven’t figured out the best way to explain my role that doesn’t take 30 minutes and an Internet connection to show examples. So, I generally say I’m an editor at ProPublica and work on a lot of projects, trying to connect the community we write about to the journalism we make. I try to explain that there is a whole world around a topic or issue that exists before we publish a story and a whole world that exists after we publish. My job is to connect the before and after to that story.

Marie Connelly, Community Manager at Vox Media

Source: What do you do in your daily work?

MC: I’m a community manager. I work on the team building Chorus, our publishing platform at Vox Media, so my daily work involves communicating new features to our internal community of users, making sure our training and documentation resources are up to date, and reaching out to our editorial users to understand what’s working, what’s not, and seeing what improvements we can make for them.

Source: Do you think other people with similar titles do roughly the same kinds of work?

MC: I think it’s probably a little different than other community management roles. When I’ve had this “community manager” title in the past, it’s been much more about managing spaces where users interact with one another—platforms, forums, social media, etc. The skills are pretty much the same, but the tactics are different.

Source: Does your title help clarify what you do, internally?

MC: Honestly, I suspect most folks don’t really know what my title is, which I’m totally happy with. Generally when I introduce myself to new people internally, I tell them that I’m the community manager on the publishing team, which means it’s my job to think about the whole community of people using Chorus and make sure the things we’re building actually work for them.

Source: Are there other opaque or confusing terms that come up for your team?

MC: I’ve pretty much always been a community manager, but this is my first job working in media and journalism. Folks were also confused about it when I worked in healthcare too, though!

Source: When people not in tech or journalism ask what you do, what do you tell them?

MC: It depends! Sometimes it’s easiest to just say “I have a weird internet job” or “I work for a media company.” When I’m giving a real answer I usually say that I work on the technical team at Vox Media, doing communications and user advocacy for the team that’s building the publishing platform our editorial teams use to share their stories.

If I can add my own bonus question for folks reading (sorry, community habits die hard), if you’re doing this kind of work in a tech/journalism kind of space, I’d love to chat with you! I’m sure there are tons of folks doing this, but haven’t had a chance to meet many of y’all yet. I’m @eyemadequiet on Twitter!

Chris Keller, Deputy Director of Data Visualization at the Los Angeles Times

Source: What do you do in your daily work?

CK: I am an assistant manager in The Los Angeles Times’ graphics department.

Generally, my primary daily responsibility is to manage our graphics workflow. There are two main aspects:

  • I read the incoming pitches from reporters and editors, and evaluate them on objective and subjective factors. I’ll meet further with the reporter or editor to better understand the story, the data they have, or suggest alternatives. I then match up one of the reporters in our department with the graphics pitch based on available bandwidth, specialties, or interests.
  • The second aspect is basically information management, with aspects of project management. I help to keep track of publication dates and the status of stories and graphics, and encourage our reporters to check in with their counterparts so we’re not surprised when something that has a graphic is ready to publish.

Once those tasks are accomplished I’ll jump in to help on daily work, I’ll work on longer-term projects related to managing the workflow, and I’ll have conversations with reporters and editors to get a better idea of future graphics opportunities.

Source: Do you think other people with similar titles do roughly the same kinds of work?

CK: At the Times, yeah. I think deputy director or deputy editor helps the director or editor manage a team, but perhaps has less experience than an associate or an assistant. At other orgs, I’d think so, but I can’t really say.

Source: Does your title help clarify what you do, internally?

CK: Perhaps because it’s an established title at the Los Angeles Times, I think—at a minimum—it helps others to know they can come to me with questions or suggestions about our work.

Source: Are there other opaque or confusing terms that come up for your team?

CK: I’ve found the titles I’ve had for jobs often make more sense than the official titles on the human resources documents that outline responsibilities. One title though that was pretty ambiguous was digital audience producer, which was a new position as I joined the organization. It was obviously work specific to the website, but within that I had some freedom to be a bit of a programmer, reporter, project manager, and product developer.

Source: When people not in tech or journalism ask what you do, what do you tell them?

CK: I tell them I help to manage the graphics department at The Los Angeles Times, to which they say “Oh you’re a designer.” My usual reply is: “No, but I work with some of the best in the business so all I have to do is give them room to do their work.”


  • Marie Connelly

    Marie Connelly is a community manager on the publishing team at Vox Media. She also run community platforms for WEGO Health and the GHDonline, served as the blog editor for A List Apart , and contributed to The Pastry Box Project. When not nerding out about words and the web, she can be found making ice cream and listening to songs that have handclaps

  • Chris Keller

    Chris Keller is the deputy director of data visualization for the Los Angeles Times. He joined The Times in 2017 and has held a variety of roles in various newsroom departments in his career. Most recently Keller was at KPPC, where his work on officer-involved shootings and California wildfires was recognized with multiple awards. Keller grew up near Madison, Wis., and studied communications and journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

  • Terry Parris, Jr.

    Terry Parris Jr. is ProPublica’s Deputy Editor, Engagement. He also teaches “Metrics and Outcomes” as an adjunct professor in the social journalism program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining ProPublica, he led digital production and engagement at WDET 101.9 FM, NPR’s affiliate in Detroit, and before that he was the lead community engagement specialist for Pennsylvania Media Group (PennLive/Patriot-News); community editor and then distribution manager for Ustream, Inc.; and an editor at Patch. Earlier, he held positions at several media companies in Detroit and Ann Arbor. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University.


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