Focus on your core competency and what you are uniquely poised to contribute to the information and content ecosystem. Journalism is a professional practice because there are shared standards and best practices.
As a part of our series about “the 5 steps we can take to win back trust in journalism” I had the distinct pleasure of interviewingMegan H. Chan.
Megan H. Chan is the News Ecosystem Lead at Google where she focuses on building tools for journalists and publishers, local news, and evolving news business models. She previously spent over a decade in journalism. As the Director of Digital Operations at The Washington Post, she was responsible for elevating digital performance across the newsroom and partnering with engineering and business teams. Prior to that role, she was the director of digital products at Politico where she focused on digital development, like the launch of Politico Magazine, and oversaw the social media and election results teams. Before that, she was the online Washington editor at USA TODAY where she oversaw election results, social media, and coordinated and wrote the first draft of the Osama bin Laden raid.
Thank you so much for joining us. Before we dive in, our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you share with us the “backstory” about how you got started in your career?
My mom’s a professional musician, so I grew up playing violin and have a deep love for the arts and its impact on culture and society. I always wanted to be a print classical music reporter (talk about niche!). I got my dream internship at The Wall Street Journal in Brussels doing just that, but I quickly realized that I would need to start thinking ahead about what additional skills I would need in my news production arsenal. That led to my role as assistant news director at USA TODAY. If you’re interested in the arts, you’re naturally drawn to culture at large, which is intrinsically tied to politics, which is what led to part of my career in political journalism
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
My parents gave me a comics Bible when I was a kid and in retrospect, it really taught me the importance of knowing your audience and delivering the information in a way that fits the medium and their POV. I also love “No Reservations” by Anthony Bourdain because it really helped me understand the art of the narrative voice.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
One of my roles at Politico was leading the live election results team. During the 2014 mid-term elections, then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary to the primal shock of the entire D.C. establishment. The team and I worked really hard for years on developing a strategy to make sure we had all congressional and state-level results covered well: they were fast, clear, and ranked high in Search and were easily discoverable on other platforms. It was such a shock that Virginia’s election site became so overloaded that they linked directly to Politico.com. It was a powerful lesson to never think you know better than the news and how important strategic long-term thinking is.
Can you share the most humorous mistake that you made when you first started? Can you share the lesson or take away you learned from it?
It was the first few months of my first job at USA TODAY when I accidentally sent a breaking news alert twice. It’s still unclear if it was human error, bad UX, or a faulty system, but it’s how I first met the executive and managing editors as they scurried over to my desk. Luckily, the alert was accurate, but as a beginner, I didn’t know how to troubleshoot or explain the issue. The lesson: know how your technology works!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
An issue reporters grapple with is the tremendous amount of information that exists online. At Google, we asked ourselves, how do we put the best of Google’s search, AI and machine learning technology to help journalists search and organize information faster, more efficiently? That’s where Journalist Studio comes in.
Launched in October, Journalist Studio is the overarching home for two new projects and other tools that leverage technology to help reporters do their work more efficiently, securely and creatively. One of the new first tools is Pinpoint, which helps users rapidly go through hundreds of thousands of documents by automatically identifying and organizing the most frequently mentioned people, organizations, and locations. The second is The Common Knowledge Project, which helps reporters quantify and compare trends around income, crime, employment, and housing within a particular geographic region. We collaborated with news organizations such as The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and Rappler in the Philippines to create these tools based on journalist needs.
Quality journalism is critical to our societies. In launching these tools, we look forward to continuing to use the best of Google to support that important work.
What advice would you give to your colleagues in the industry, to thrive and not “burnout”?
Always prioritize your family because that’s the one failing that you won’t be able to undo and the one you may regret the most. Try to make sure that you balance the ebbs and flows.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main parts of our interview. According to this Gallup poll 45% of Americans trust the mass media. As an insider, are there 5 things that editors and newsrooms can do to increase the levels of trust? Can you give some examples?
- Focus on your core competency and what you are uniquely poised to contribute to the information and content ecosystem. Journalism is a professional practice because there are shared standards and best practices.
- Be authentic to your brand and coverage area. Evolve, but be you. You don’t need to dominate every single platform that exists. Find which ones match your mission and voice.
- Editing is a real skill! Help your audiences understand the skills editors bring to the table in selecting stories and guiding and polishing reporters’ research and writing.
- Make sure your value proposition is clear to your audience in every story on every platform. It can be subtle, but make sure it’s there.
- Unify your newsroom around your mission and message to help amplify it!
As you know, since 2016, the term ‘fake news” has entered common usage. Do you think this new awareness has made a change in the day-to-day process of how journalists craft stories? Can you give some examples?
The core of great journalism hasn’t changed: research and report the facts in a fair and accurate manner. But journalists have had to adapt to different technologies like radio, broadcast, the web, and social platforms — and each of these different mediums require different packages. While that’s always been true, there is a greater awareness around how a story package on the local news is written differently than how it appears in print, or social media. Nowadays, with so many different distribution platforms, newsrooms are trying to do all of this at scale and in real-time all while maintaining extremely high standards. That’s changed a lot about how newsroom workflows and staffing are set up.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. There is great opportunity in change. The news industry is constantly changing and requires new skills and creative thinking. Some of the most dominant social platforms didn’t exist when I was in school and my past few jobs have all been created around my evolving skill set. Roll with it!
2. Don’t be a jerk. The world is small and karma is real. As you rise, you’ll make hard decisions that won’t always be popular. However, you can be transparent and fair and over time your colleagues will respect you for that.
3. If the right answer is “no”, say “No, and …” Be firm in your decisions, but always try to see where you can also help your colleagues or business partners achieve their goals as well.
4. Believe in yourself, know your worth, and keep your focus. This isn’t a novel idea, but it’s easy to get distracted or bogged down in the muck in such an intense and competitive industry.
5. Plan for the life you want. Eventually, your personal circumstance may mean you don’t want to work the production night shift or be on call and ready to travel at all times of day for breaking news. Look for ways to build the skills that will let you use these passions in different roles and organizations.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Greatness and grit are not the opposite of kindness. They are more powerful together.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow me on Twitter!
Thank you so much for your time you spent on this. We greatly appreciate it, and wish you continued success!