I have been completely, utterly pinned

I have a new obsession: Pinterest.

You may have heard of it and you may use it already. It started “way back” in March 2010 and got Time’s attention, landing on its list of top 50 websites of 2011. I’ve known about it myself for several months but hadn’t taken the time to join until this week. I was immediately taken with the concept: a digital pinboard where you can organize your recipes, decorating ideas, favorite quotes, photos, travel bucket list and virtually anything else you can possibly think of. It’s kind of like what Tumblr might be if it matured a little and hit an OCD phase.

I was dismayed to find that most of my friends had no pins at all or had very few. When I start something new like this, I want to dive in and immerse myself in it and set up a good foundation. I began with about four boards for books, recipes, decorating ideas and my travel photography. Four boards became six and six became nine (macarons really needed their own board …) and soon enough I had 300 different pins and had sent invitations to several of my friends who were interested.

My favorite aspect of it is the near-immediate social payoff. I’ve been getting alerts all afternoon and evening telling me that people have been repinning my photos and the links that I’ve added. The functionality appeals to my organizational style: hyper-compartmental, a place for everything and everything in its place. The design is clean, there are multiples ways to follow people (I can follow all of John’s boards or just the ones I’m interested in) and the use of square, 3 x 3 thumbnails for each board is visually appealing.

You can receive an invitation from any friend who is already on Pinterest, or get on the site and request an invitation. There are enough users already to have a good foundation of content, but not so many that it ends up being one big pass-around the way Tumblr tends to be. I’ve found that the “audience is there” for the photos, recipes and links that I contribute myself. The nifty and genius “Pin It” button, added to your browser toolbar, lets you add items to Pinterest while you’re looking at other websites, without having to reopen your full profile.

If you’re already on it, use it! If you’re not already on it, request an invitation and give it a go. Fair warning: You might get hooked.

Advertisements

5 tips for the journalist in limbo

There comes a time in (nearly) every journalist’s career when she (or he) has to take a break from the profession, for whatever reason. I’m in that position now, with graduate school. I admit that at times, without a paper or news site for which to edit, design or write, I have something of an existential breakdown. Am I still a journalist?! Is someone in a trench coat going to revoke my membership card? 

That kind of a break, whether it lasts months or years, or is permanent or temporary, can be difficult to take. Here are some ways for the journalist in limbo to stay sharp (or more accurately, they’re how this journalist in limbo stays sharp).

1. Keep writing. I write all the time — blog entries, academic essays, dissertation notes, tweets, neurotic emails to my mother. It doesn’t have to be publishable or even journalistic. Stay used to writing as much as you can. It keeps your voice, grammar and mechanics sharp. If you’re in school, academic research is good practice for looking up public records. I’m looking up Hungarian electoral data; what are Sarah Palin’s emails compared with that?

2. Keep reading. I read and skim a ton of content every day. The New York Times, Washington Post, Mother Jones, Huffington Post, Guardian, BBC, Poynter, Telegraph, Gawker, Mashable, Slate, Salon and Kansas City Star form my core go-to links, but there are probably dozens more that I visit tangentially. Not only do I stay connected with global, national and local news, but I also get a good dose of quality writing and reporting. Good writing comes from good reading.

3. Keep practicing skills. This could be any one thing, or several small things. For instance, I’m working through HTML and CSS exercises in a workbook, and sampling some free online courses through News University. The code work is a refresher of basic skills I learned in J school, and the online tutorials offer a more theoretical approach to ethics, business planning and management. News University also offers inexpensive online help with several critical applications like InDesign and Photoshop, if you’re interested in that.

4. Stay engaged with social media. I tweet all the time, on a variety of topics — politics, sports, cooking, travel, movies — and it helps me practice brevity in my writing (see #1), engage others in dialogue, learn about different sources of news and practice filtering information. I’m also active in Foursquare (I love leaving tips) and maintain a LinkedIn account. You don’t need a steady journalism job to build an audience.

5. Network, as an extension of #4. Talk to people and follow people in a wide range of professions, not just journalism. Think of everyone as a potential source. Follow accounts that regularly link to job postings, maintain a website for your professional use and keep all of your contact information up to date. I created and ordered my own business cards, which I designed myself from scratch. Use the time when you’re not beholden to a media company to cultivate your own brand and learn how to sell yourself.

I’d be jumping the gun if I told you that the above points were guaranteed recipes for success (I’m still in graduate school and don’t have a job yet), but they’ve definitely helped me to stay in the loop and feel connected to my chosen profession.

I’ve worked for a newspaper of some kind in a staff capacity almost non-stop since I was 15: four years on my high school paper, four years on the University Daily Kansan and consecutive summers at the Indianapolis Star, Columbus Dispatch and Kansas City Star. It’s taken me a while to accept that while it’s awesome to get paid to write and edit and have an official press pass, my writing and opinions aren’t necessarily less valid if I’m not employed at a newspaper. Do I eventually want a full-time job in journalism? Yes, I think I do. But that doesn’t mean I have to sit and twiddle my thumbs until I get one, and neither do you.