Tag Archives: social media

Inspiration from an author’s real-life fairy tale

My mom introduced me to Jean M. Auel‘s Earth’s Children series of historical fiction. She and I both have enjoyed reading the first five of Auel’s novels. So when I saw a story about Auel in Thurday’s Arizona Republic, and realized the sixth and final novel in the series is out, I couldn’t wait to call my mom.

I had other family news to share (my son David just accepted a new job!), so that of course came first. And she had to get to an appointment, so we didn’t have a whole lot of time to talk. But just before we said goodbye, I started jumping up and down, finally remembering that I’d wanted to tell her  The Land of Painted Caves is out.

I love Auel’s stories, which are based in the European continent during the Ice Age. Her heroine, Ayla, is independent, resilient and resourceful. The series begins when she is a young child who is separated from her family, and her tribe, during a terrible earthquake. Her journey to survival and self-discovery is filled with adventure and fascinating, detailed descriptions that illustrate the tasks Earth’s earliest human beings had to perform simply to exist.

Auel did a staggering amount of research to bring a sense of authenticity to her writing. Getting inside the heads of characters from more than 25,000 years ago couldn’t have been easy.

But it’s Auel herself who captivates my imagination. She was 44 when she published the first book in her series. She had never written a book before that. As she promotes her sixth book, traveling around the country to speak and autograph copies, she is 75.

When I read Randy Cordova’s interview, I was enchanted by the audacity of Auel’s creative effort. She writes for herself, doesn’t worry how her books will be received and doesn’t bother with blogging, email, social media or “building a platform” for selling her books, which is what all the industry experts say you need to do. As I struggle in my own writing to bring dimension to characters who are living, breathing and actually telling me their stories, I am awed by the leap of faith and courage her effort required.

Her story is itself a fairy tale — of the very best kind.

The end of a Mothering era

No more Mothering.

During intermission at the Sunday matinee performance of “Spamalot” I learned that Mothering magazine — the print edition, anyway — is dead.

The news came from East Valley mom Brittney Walker, a frequent contributor to Raising Arizona Kids and a catalytic force in our company’s growing online and social media presence. Brittney sent me a link to Mothering’s announcement, “How We Became a Web Company.”

“In the last few weeks it has become obvious that we must cease publication of the print magazine,” wrote editor Peggy O’Mara. “With the March-April edition, after 35 years, we will cease publishing Mothering magazine. We are now a Web-only company.”

This news is sobering to those of us in the publishing world. I think many of us who publish special interest magazines hoped we were somehow invulnerable to the changing face of media. Certainly we weren’t subject to the same pressures faced by daily newspapers and weekly news magazines struggling to compete with real-time access to breaking news. Sure, we were hit hard by the recession. But economic conditions are cyclical, not irreversible. Reading a magazine is “an experience,” some in our industry proclaimed. Niche publications with loyal audiences would surely survive the media fallout.

But then the big guys with family audiences started folding: Child, Cookie, Nickelodeon, Teen, Wondertime. And now Mothering.

Mothering filled a special niche in the national parenting magazine arena. Targeted to “pioneers” in the natural-living movement, the publication was founded in 1976 by Addie Vorys Eavenson (now Cranson) and a group of volunteers. A story not unlike our our own, which came 14 years later.

Mothering grew to a circulation of 100,000 but saw subscriptions and advertising revenues drop for three consecutive years. O’Mara blames the economy’s hit on Mothering’s key advertisers — toy manufacturers, sling/infant carrier makers. She also says today’s parents seek information online and “don’t have time” to read.  I find it hard to believe that’s the full story.

Every company has a natural balance point between growth and stability. Did the magazine get too ambitious? Did it take on too large a staff? Did it lose the flexibility it had as a smaller operation? Did its message fail to resonate with “natural living” parents who saw too much emphasis on product advertising? I don’t have answers to any of these questions but I know that nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

This news certainly gives me pause. But I’m far from ready to pull the plug on print. Thankfully (and Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb would be furiously knocking on wood right now), Raising Arizona Kids is in a very stable place. Our revenues declined in 2009 but by 2010 were already (though slowly) moving back up. We are paying our bills on time. Thanks to fierce budgeting oversight by Operations Director Debbie Davis, we entered 2011 feeling we’d weathered the worst of it.

We, too, are adapting to meet the changing information needs of today’s parents. In the 10 months since we committed to an eZine concept — publishing fresh content daily at raising arizonakids.com — our web traffic has grown by 66 percent. We were the first local parenting resource to jump into social media and continue to have the strongest presence.

I worry for publications like Mothering that give up on print, especially when print remains the strongest potential revenue stream for magazines. No one yet has figured out how to pull in equivalent money from web-based enterprises alone.

And there’s something else I have found interesting. Despite all the attention focused on the new media tools, despite growing online audiences, despite gloomy predictions that print will not survive, nearly everyone who contacts me with a story idea wants to see it in print. Clearly there is something real and lasting about words that appear in print that is not replicated in its digital form.

There is a scene in Act I of “Spamalot” (a musical spoof on “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”) where a tattered peasant is pulling a wagon through the streets, calling to the neighborhood that he is there to collect their dead. Another character enters the stage pulling what he claims to be a dead body by the arm. But the “body” is talking, indignantly protesting that “I’m not dead yet!” By the end of the scene, he is singing and dancing along with others on the wagon who had been given up for dead.

I’d like to believe that print, too, is “not dead yet.”

Social media schizophrenia

I struggle a lot with how much I should merge my work and personal lives in the realm of social media. My ambivalence is reflected in the ebbs and flows of my participation. Sometimes I get really excited and follow, post or comment frequently; sometimes the whole thing feels like one more ridiculously unnecessary thing I have to do, and I boycott — sometimes for weeks at a time — in rebellion.

When I first started a Facebook page under my own name I decided it was going to be very much a personal endeavor — a way to keep in touch with friends for whom I have great affection but rare face-to-face interaction. I was going to keep my list of friends small and manageable. I was going to keep work — and professional networking — out of it.

Then I saw that my husband had four times as many friends as I did, many of whom are colleagues and clients. I started feeling frantic about my lack of popularity. So I shamelessly mined his list, sending friend requests to some of the people on his list who know me, too, and should therefore consider being my “friends.”

I feared that I was missing the boat, failing to take advantage of the organic process of building a community by sharing a bit of what you think and who you are and what you find interesting.

I initially got started on Twitter as an experiment. I wanted to learn what it was all about so I could figure out how to use it use it in my job. When Raising Arizona Kids hired a social media consultant to jumpstart the magazine’s presence on Twitter, I started focusing my attention there, working to build our list of followers and develop a valuable and reliable source of information for them. My personal Twitter account foundered, a neglected sibling in my attentions.

And then there are my blogs. Yes, I have two. I had this idea that I could post about goings-on “Behind the ‘Zine” for work and write more reflectively in my personal quest to be “Making Sense of the Pieces.” But when I started ramping up the frequency of my posts for “Behind the ‘Zine,” (especially after I decided to accept the Post a Day Challenge), I essentially choked the life out of my personal blog. It’s hard enough to find time to write one post a day, let alone two, when you work full time.

But it’s also becoming increasingly more difficult to separate the work from the personal. My work pretty much is my life. Much of my identify and personal growth is wrapped up in my experiences heading a magazine. And now that my two sons are grown, gone and fully self-sufficient, even my time outside of work is largely spent on independent writing projects that have spun off of interests and passions I am now able to pursue.

Intentionally or not, I’ve blurred the lines I’d hoped to draw in my social media presence. There is no logical way to keep these two sides of my life separate. And thankfully, most of the contacts I make through my work are really amazing people with whom I’d welcome a friendship, if only we all had 48 hours in a day.

Making something on the Internet disappear

Here’s an interesting twist on the warning that “once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever.”

That’s something parents typically tell high school or college students who are posting pictures on Facebook that a future employer might use to judge their character. It’s not something you usually think about in terms of what a mother might say or write about her own child.

At 6pm Monday, well after our office had closed, I got an email from a woman we interviewed five years ago for a story about a behavioral disorder her son was experiencing. She had just published a book on the topic, so of course she was perfectly happy to talk with us about the topic, knowing that our article would help publicize her book.

Her son is now 16. She describes him as a “successful, well-adjusted student and athlete.” And therein lies the problem.

“When one Googles his name for sports-related information,” she wrote, “this article pops up. As you can imagine, it is uncomfortable for my son. I do not think it is fair that this information is under [his] name. Those years are behind him and I do not want his name featured on Google connected with [this behavior disorder].

“Would you please ‘kill’ this story so that it is no longer on Google? I have requested this of other articles and they were very understanding of my son’s privacy. Any help you can provide would be very appreciated. As a parenting magazine, I am sure you understand my dilemma. Please remove this story/kill the story and remove it from Google immediately.”

I absolute understand this woman’s desire to protect her son. I Googled her son’s name and quickly identified the problem. Page 1 lists his various athletic accomplishments. At the top of Page 2 is a link to our story.

But I had to think about her request for awhile. We published the story on this particular behavior disorder because we knew it would provide hope and guidance to other parents who found themselves in this mother’s situation. If we killed the story, that value was gone forever.

And, I have to admit, her request kind of got my back up. She wrote a book about it. Now she’s upset with us?

I had a meeting out of the office on Tuesday morning. Before I even got to work, the mom had called our office, repeating her demand to Operations Director Debbie Davis, who happened to answer the phone. So while I was thinking about what to do (between 6pm Monday and Tuesday morning, mind you), she’d gotten increasingly agitated about the situation and eager to see it resolved.

I’m guessing the real problem is that her son is upset with her. But that’s between them. Debbie and I talked about it and decided the right thing to do was to respect the son’s interests and protect him from embarrassment. So we killed the story, which is no longer accessible from our website.

But that doesn’t really solve the mother’s problem. We can block access from our site but we can’t control Google. For that battle, she’s on her own.

Is print dead? Not according to the next generation of journalists

We’ve had a steady stream of bright high school and college students interning at our office over the years. It is heartening to get to know these young people, many of whom aspire to careers in print journalism even as the future of the industry faces so much uncertainty.

I’m one of those (perhaps naive) believers that there will always be people who want to read something they can hold on to — perhaps not newspapers, because we all want our news delivered in real time, but certainly magazines, which offer opportunities for reflection, perspective, in-depth reporting, analysis and beautiful photography.

Between my own experience and that of my 25-year-old son Andy, a reporter for POLITICO, I’ve come to some conclusions about how young people should move forward in the field of journalism.

Continue reading

Close encounters of the javelina (and hilarious) kind

At about 4:30pm Saturday, my husband and I decided to go for a bike ride. Nearly halfway through a 12-mile loop we like to do, my back tire went flat. So Dan rode on ahead to get the car while I started walking.

As I reached a busy four-way stop near the east end of Camelback Mountain, I looked across the street and saw two javelinas rooting around in a wash. I was so surprised to see them that I almost forgot I had a camera in my phone. And as I was fumbling around with my phone, I definitely forgot there were cars in the street. Before I knew it, two lanes of traffic had come to a complete dead stop, with puzzled drivers watching the crazy bike lady in the middle of the street trying to get a picture of the javelinas.

A mom in an SUV rolled down her window, looking at me quizzically. “They’re javelinas!” I shouted. “It’s a real treat to see them!” Another cyclist rode past me saying, “What the…?” He pulled a quick U-turn and followed along as I carefully tried to get closer for a photo.

An older woman in the passenger seat of one car rolled down her window and glared at me. “You know they’re mean, don’t you? They’re vicious!” she lectured.

“I know. I’ll be careful,” I said obediently.

Heading for the storm drain.

The two javelinas got tired of all the attention and disappeared into a storm drain. I ran across the street, assuming they would emerge at the other end. But they were too smart for me. Once they were sure I was out of the way, they came out from the end they’d entered, scampered off through a hedge of oleander and were soon out of sight. I couldn’t wait to share the good fortune of my sighting, so I quickly emailed a photo to my sons in Washington, D.C., then posted it on my Facebook page.

My husband’s 71-year-old aunt has more Facebook friends than I do but spends most of her time playing Farmville, from what we can tell. So I guess she should be forgiven for not understanding that the comment she posted under my javelina picture really belonged  in my photo album, where I’ve uploaded some family pictures. Here’s what she wrote:

“Love the picture. Connie sure looks good. Oh when I look at Dan’s eyes they sure look like his Dad, but his face looks like his Aunt Marilyn.”

Saving the mail

As I was driving to an appointment in central Phoenix this afternoon, I listened to an NPR interview with Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum.

Daum’ column yesterday, “In Praise of Snail Mail” was written in response to a recent announcement by the U.S. Post Office that it plans to close or consolidate as many as 2,000 branches. “As the Postal Service continues its slow fade into history, something will be missing,” Daum fervently believes.

In the radio interview, she talks about her love of handwritten notes, paper and stationery stores, wax seals and even traditional holiday letters, saying electronic cards, email and Facebook just can’t compete with the real thing. She describes the delighted sense of anticipation she once felt as she bounded down to the front lobby of her Manhattan apartment building to meet her postal carrier, with whom she was on a first-name basis.

Mail, real mail, and the people who deliver it, are important to the fabric of life and the weaving together of communities, she believes. I agree with her.

One of the people who emailed during the show shared a story about his mother saving every letter he’d ever written to her — for 30 years. He described how meaningful it was to him to be able to reread those letters, which he describes as the “life journal I never kept.”

My mother saved every letter I wrote home too, from the time I first went away to college at the University of Arizona, through four years I lived on Guam and for three years I was a newlywed grad student in Cleveland. Envelopes, too. Rereading them is like stepping back into my young adult head, and a chance to remember the events, angst and boundless optimism of that time. (Misplaced or not, my confidence in the future was evident in the large round letters of my cursive, the many exclamation points and the bright green or purple ink I’d often use.)

Now I’m the mother of two grown sons who occasionally send emails with small details of their lives. I copy and paste them into a Word document, hoping they will someday enjoy reading them. And I wonder if it will be the same experience, minus the faded envelopes and the innocent, hope-filled handwriting.

New tools, old tactics

We’ve been putting on an annual Camp Fair for seven years—this year’s event, on Feb. 26 (my birthday), will be our eighth.

It’s an incredible amount of work to organize these events. It takes a lot of planning, organization, attention to detail and a heartfelt commitment to making it a good experience for everyone who exhibits, and everyone who attends.

To keep the event free to the public, we charge a fee to exhibitors to pay for publicity, rental equipment and various other expenses. So we were flabbergasted when, at one of our early Camp Fair events, we had some interlopers.

Several companies tried to sneak in that year to distribute their flyers—and even copies of a competing magazine!—at our event.

Why would anyone think that was okay?

Today I went up on our Facebook page to post a new message and found that someone had beat me to it. Someone with a competing publication had posted a message promoting their company. I couldn’t believe it—and of course immediately removed it.

We are blessed to live in a day and age when we have many wonderful tools for communicating and connecting. But now the intrusive distraction of door-to-door salesmen has morphed into annoying, unsolicited phone calls, which have morphed into aggravating and time-consuming email spam, which has now morphed into hijacking Facebook accounts. A few people always have to ruin it for the rest of us.

Technology evolves. Apparently, human behavior doesn’t.

Small world stories – hoops, timing and URLs

Thanks to the office flood, it’s been awhile since we’ve had regular editorial meetings. But my team is tightly knit and, not surprisingly, pretty adept at communication.

So while we haven’t had storytime at RAK in weeks, I am still the delighted recipient of “small world” stories I love to share.

Ann Meyers Drysdale with her son D.J. and daughter Drew.

Hoops connection

Our production manager, Tina Gerami, is married to Essex Bennett, a Valley educator who is working with the Phoenix Suns basketball camps at Thunderbird High School this week. Yesterday, he got to hear a presentation from guest speaker Ann Meyers Drysdale, who is featured on our July cover and profiled in “A Conversation with…” multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint.

After her speech, Essex approached her to say his wife works at RAK and that he really enjoyed reading the article about her. “She said she was really pleased with the article,” Essex reported. He then made another connection: Ann’s son D.J. is working at the camp with him!

Timing is everything

I heard from Calendar & Directory Editor Mala Blomquist last Friday, after her appearance on Arizona Midday on 12 News.

“So I am in the green room talking to this really nice lady named Karen when she asks me what I do,” Mala said. “When I tell her, she says, ‘Wait a minute — two people from your magazine were at my house this week!’ Turns out she is the next RAK Mompreneur! Karen said that staff photographer Dan Friedman was a hoot and that editorial intern Brooke Mortensen [who wrote the story], could not have been more lovely!”

A URL by any other name…

Our July magazine has a story about a precautionary step prospective parents in the digital age may want to take before naming their baby. Some experts at a social media conference recommended that you Google the first and last name before wrapping your heart around it.

“Ha!” wrote staff multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint when she saw it. “I had to laugh at that story. Robert [her 19-year-old son] Googled his name before he wrote his first story for Raising Arizona Kids, when he was deciding whether to be Robert Balint or Robert T. Balint. Turns out there is a hungarian PORN STAR named Robert Balint!”

Obviously, Robert put in the T.