Wall Street Journal Reporter Left Job, Now Works for Online News Service in Hawaii

While the news industry is frantically searching for solutions and new directions, journalists’ lives have been disrupted by cutbacks and job changes. Poynter Online wants to help by sharing how-they-did-it snapshots from people who overcame employment challenges.

SARA LIN

Age: 29

New job: Assistant editor at Civil Beat, a new online news service launched by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar in Hawaii. John Temple, formerly of the Rocky Mountain News, is the editor. I manage the day-to-day operations on the site. I also work with our reporter-hosts and help them choose which issues they’re going to focus on and write about.

Old job: Reporter for The Wall Street Journal. I wrote real estate features and a weekly luxury real estate column called Private Properties. Before The Wall Street Journal, I worked for the Los Angeles Times.

Biggest change so far: We’re putting together something brand new, so the schedule’s pretty intense — I’m “on” and online at all hours of the day. I definitely miss my friends and my New York social life. But Honolulu’s my hometown, so I’m spending more time with family. I’m on the computer so much that I started wearing a pair of matching black wrist guards around the office to protect against carpal tunnel. Folks in the office think I look like I’m ready for combat.

I left because: I thought the Civil Beat job was a pretty unique opportunity and didn’t want to miss it. Mind you, it’s hard to turn down a job offer that comes from Hawaii in the middle of February, too.

I was out of work for: Two weeks. I joined a start-up on a tight schedule. We waste no time.

I relied on: Savings, mostly.

This new gig is: It’s worked out, though I’m working a lot more hours. No complaints about living in Hawaii. It’s nice to be able to work out outdoors all year long again — saves me the cost of joining a gym!

One thing I miss about my old job is: The people, mostly. I also miss waking up in New York and being in time with the East Coast news cycle. It’s a strange feeling to get to work at 8 or 8:30 a.m. in Honolulu and know you’re already six hours behind the news.

One thing I don’t miss is: At the Journal, I had a specific job and helped fill a page every week. At Civil Beat, I get to wear a lot of different hats: editor, coach, writer, part-time page designer, taxonomist. It’s a nice change.

One surprise about my new job is: No phones awaiting reporters at their desks on the first day. Our reporter-hosts don’t have landlines — they work exclusively off their iPhones.

I’m lucky that: The guys who created the system we use to publish our content and stories work in the same room, about 15 feet away. They’re better than tech support — they’re our teachers.

The hardest part was: What we’re doing at Civil Beat is brand new. We have no template. We had hours-long conversations with our reporter-hosts, deciding together how to craft their beats, their topic pages and subsequently, our coverage. It was an amazing but grueling process.

We’re also retraining our journalists about how to approach their work. They’re no longer observing events and writing from on-high like narrators. They’re opening up their notebooks and inviting members (we don’t call them subscribers, since it’s our hope that many of them get involved in the online conversations) into the reporting process. Our reporter-hosts are posting updates about their reporting — often before the article itself comes out. It’s a different way of being engaged in the issues.

I learned that: It’s a privilege to make money doing what you love. I also realized that it’s OK to make mistakes when you’re learning as you go. It’s actually healthy, though I’ll have a great cheat-sheet for whoever wants to try this next.

My advice:  Be adaptable. Be positive. A good attitude counts for a lot. A little patience goes a long way, too — especially when you’re trying something new.

If you know of a journalism transition story that might help other Poynter Online readers, please e-mail joe.grimm@gmail.com.

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