Tag Archives: Twitter

An extraordinary grasp of geography

Luke Hellum, who advanced to the top 10 in National Geographic's National Geography Bee in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Erica Bailin.

This is a story about an extraordinary student. But it’s also a story about an extraordinary teacher, and that teacher’s extraordinarily supportive sister.

I came across it because the sister sent me an email. Alison Bailin, who is a senior account executive at HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, frequently sends me tips on stories. She’s one of my trusted “go to” people, who understands our publication and doesn’t waste my time with story ideas that aren’t a  good fit. She also apparently understands my crazy work schedule (and shares it, I think, because we are often communicating at very odd times of the day or night).

Alison first contacted me on Monday at about 6:30pm.  She was facilitating an email introduction to her sister, Erica Bailin, who was at that very moment on her way to Washington, D.C. with one of her students.

“He is the statewide winner of the Geography Bee and will represent Arizona this week at the national contest!” she wrote. “To me, it is a great story.”

About 24 hours later, I got an email from Erica. “My student, Luke Hellum, is in the top 10 finalists for National Geographic’s National Geography Bee,” she wrote. “We have been documenting it. How would you like the photos and explanations shared with you?”

I told her what Alison already knows — that she could reach me virtually 24/7 on my email.

I asked Erica for some background on Luke and learned that he is 13 and an eighth grader who attends the Digital Learning Center for the Gifted at Sunrise Middle School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District. Erica told me that she was in Washington, D.C. to support Luke along with Luke’s father (Eric), mother (Jen) and brother (Noah).

Finalists board. Photo courtesy of Erica Bailin.

“After winning at the school level, Luke went on to the state competition, and won,” Erica wrote. “This qualified him for nationals. Today, in Washington D.C., the preliminary rounds took place. The competition started this morning with 54 contestants, and ended with the top 10 finalists, with Luke Hellum among the victors of the day. He now moves on to the championship round hosted by Alec Trebek. There was a media storm here today that he went through that is really quite impressive.”

At about 7pm Wednesday, I got another message from Erica:

“Here is Luke’s interview by National Geographic. His ‘If I ruled world for a day…’ response is pretty incredible and will give you a better look into the mind of this brilliant young man.”

And more from Erica’s message today:

“Alex Trebek called Luke ‘Mr. Congeniality.’ The former first lady and current Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, read questions to the contestants via a live feed. After the second round, Alex Trebek introduced the contestants and spoke with each one. Luke referred to the Nat Geo bee staff as ‘classy’ and NatGeoLive tweeted, ‘Luke Hellum from Arizona just called Nat Geo staff  classy. Thank you, sir!’

At 8:25pm Wednesday (11:25pm in Washington, D.C.!) I got one more message from Erica.

“Luke finished seventh out of 5.3 million students and 54 that came to nationals,” she said. “We appreciate your interest in this AMAZING child.”

I look forward to learning more about the whole experience from Luke and his AMAZING teacher.

Luke Hellum as he appeared on the big screen monitor during the competition Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Erica Bailin.

Here’s another video. This one was made by Luke’s teacher, Erica Bailin:


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.

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

My biographical Christmas tree

Our family’s Christmas tree ornaments spend most of the year wrapped in tissue paper, placed in plastic sandwich bags and stored in the specially partitioned rows of one of those red-and-green plastic storage tubs created just for this purpose. Tucked into each bag is a handwritten note to help me remember the circumstances of each ornament’s origin. As the Christmas season approaches, I carefully unwrap each ornament, pausing to remember before I place it on the tree.

I don’t decorate our Christmas tree; I read it. The notes, in Twittter-appropriate brevity, tell the story of a family.

There is a baby bootie hand-crocheted by one of my best friends and presented to me at a baby shower she hosted in her home before the birth of my first son. And a ceramic cable car ornament my husband and I bought in San Francisco one spring when I was pregnant with our second.

There are plastic photo-frame ornaments with pictures of adorable, towheaded toddlers and hand-painted cookie-cutter ornaments from the year I tried to get crafty.

Chalky, plaster of Paris stars the boys made at school, and which thoughtful teachers imprinted with my sons’ tiny thumbprints. Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Sesame Street ornaments from one doting grandmother; small plush crabs from another. (That was the year Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” first came out.)

When our sons were studying music I bought tiny violin/viola ornaments to represent their (earnest but ultimately unsustainable) interest in orchestra. When our family visited Washington, D.C. one summer,  I bought a Supreme Court ornament to remember a behind-the-scenes tour we took (to my embarrassment and dismay) in gym shorts and T-shirts because our better outfits were not yet dry from a sudden summer rainstorm that thoroughly drenched us all as we ran to our hotel the night before.

Though not as plentiful, there are ornaments representing the empty nest years of a marriage, too. The golden-threaded kiwi bird ornament from an amazing trip to New Zealand. The bright red wooden crab from a trip to Baltimore.  A regal purple sphere, displaying the words “Scottish Parliament” in a dignified, gilded typeface, a gift from college-age son upon his successful return from a semester abroad. A delicate, metallic disc imprinted with an image of the White House and surrounded by lacy metal snowflakes. This “official” ornament from The White House Christmas 2009, a gift from that same son, reminds me that my home is in Arizona but my heart spends part of each day in our nation’s Capitol, with two grown sons who live and work (very hard) there.

Someday it will not be me reading the Christmas tree biography. One or both of my sons will slowly, reluctantly open the green plastic tub with its bright red lid, dreading the task of sorting through its contents. My boys will have their own Christmas tree ornaments by then; their own family histories. They may not want to clutter their lives with the remnants of mine. And yet I hold out hope — as I scribble my notes, dates and recollections — that some small part of this collection will give added meaning to their own holiday celebrations. That they might share some of these stories with their own children. And that they will remember a time when the four of us were exquisitely bonded in mutual mischief after a mad dash through rain falling on us as hard as a waterfall, pounding, stinging, making us giddy with reckless abandon as we reached our goal and slid across the polished marble floors of a Washington, D.C. hotel lobby, leaving a slippery, impermanent trail of water behind us.

In the company of entrepreneurs

When I get a chance to talk about Raising Arizona Kids to people outside my office, I often find myself repeating these two sentences:

“Everyone on my staff is fully capable of running her/his own company. They’re all entrepreneurs at heart.”

As the original RAK entrepreneur, I know that my imagination just got the ball rolling. It’s been the creativity of dozens of others since then that has molded the magazine — and now our daily eZine — to the current (and still evolving) status.

Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb has always been one to push me past any periods of complacency. When I first dreamed of Raising Arizona Kids, I thought of it as a newsletter for a couple of thousand Valley moms. A former radio sales account executive, enthusiastic new mom MaryAnn came to me through a mutual friend. Her first words to me: “I can’t sell a newsletter. We’re publishing a magazine!” And so we did.

Several years later, when I was mired in a perpetual sense of overwhelm from running a monthly magazine and raising two boys, it was then-Managing Editor Sandy Liberman who had the vision to push our leap to the Web. I went reluctantly, dragging my feet in protest over the extra work it created for all of us, but quickly realized she was not only right — but ahead of the curve in the media industry.

Vicki Louk Balint brought the next dimension to our Web site. Around the time she received her master’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications, she began writing articles for the magazine. Before long, she introduced me to the word “podcast.” Once again squirming at the extra “to do each month” commitment and added expense, I agreed to move our company into the multi-media aspects of the World Wide Web. Once she had RAK Radio comfortably under way, Vicki started talking video. By then, my excitement about what what she could do far outweighed any fears.

Brittney Walker

Then we come to Brittney Walker. Brittney has been freelancing for Raising Arizona Kids magazine for several years. As one of the youngest staffers who attends our weekly editorial meetings, she also has been the voice for the new generation of mommies.

It was Brittney, for example, who first got fired up about creating an interactive RAK family through Facebook and Twitter. She took it upon herself to set up RAKmagazine accounts in both media and did the initial work to build an audience. (I almost laughed outloud when I ran across an email from Brittney dated almost exactly one year ago: “We have over 200 followers on Twitter! Yay!” Thanks to her efforts, and those of Community Relations Manager Katie Charland, another Cronkite School master’s degree grad who joined our staff last fall, we now have 2,850.)

Another brainstorming success from Brittney, our weekly RAK Mompreneur stories, have consistently proven to be among our most popular offerings on the Web. Each week, Brittney profiles a local mom who has created and is working resourcefully to sustain her own business. (Find links to the dozens of moms she already has interviewed.)

Not one to rest on her laurels (or waste a moment of the day), Brittney recently undertook two more weekly projects. Her “How-To’s Day” blog posts offer imaginative ideas for make-at-home gifts and crafts. Beginning next Sunday, she’ll also be filling a weekly RAK Recipes feature that incorporates recipes from local moms and dads and some of the “back stories” behind them.

With such a creative and energetic staff, it’s all I can do to keep up.

Time for climbing trees

This morning, after I checked my email, looked at my personal Facebook page, looked at the Raising Arizona Kids Magazine Facebook page, perused the latest postings on the RAKmagazine Twitter account and logged some tweets in my personal Twitter account, I sat down on the couch to read the morning papers. My husband and I get both the Arizona Republic and the New York Times. (We used to get the East Valley Tribune before they stopped delivering to our area. Now, sadly, they’re not publishing at all.)

I don’t always make it through both papers but I try to at least scan the headlines. Today I was struck by the irony on the two front pages.

If your kids are awake, they’re probably online, warned a headline in the center of the Times. Thanks to remarkable multitasking abilities, children ages 8 to 18 are packing up to 11 hours a day of media activity into their daily routines, according to the story. “The average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.”

Then I turned to the Republic, where I saw that More K-12 classes [have been] approved for online instruction. So now, in addition to “every waking minute” outside of school, children can spend even more of their day staring at a screen?

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I love the efficiencies of today’s electronic devices. I can get a lot more done in the same eight-hour work day than I used to be able to do. But every time I’ve upgraded my personal technology arsenal — from pager to cell phone, from cell phone to iPhone, from one email account to several, from no social media to Twitter and Facebook — I pay a price. These tools allow me to do more in a day, so I feel compelled to do more. And my internal expectations, instead of shrinking, are growing exponentially.

Online learning serves a great need in today’s society and Arizona has many fine schools that specialize in it. Many of these “virtual” schools (which we list in our 2010 Schools, etc. guide to education) are already free, public charter schools.

Increasing access to online learning within our regular public school districts has me feeling a bit uncomfortable. What is the effect to a child’s imagination and inherent need for contact with the natural world when even school time is spent online?

I am reminded of a recent conversation with a career educator. Piya Jacob is the founder and director of Desert View Learning Center in Paradise Valley, a small private school my own two sons attended during grades K-3.

Piya described a conversation she’d had with two parents who were debating whether they should enroll their child as a kindergarten or first-grade student. The mom was leaning toward a kindergarten start; the dad insisted the child was academically ready for first grade.

“What is the goal?” Piya gently prodded. “Is the goal to get this child to into the work world that much more quickly? Because we all have plenty of time to work. We have such precious little time to be children.”

In another story, she described a parent a who was watching students during independent reading time. One child (perhaps her own? I don’t remember) finished reading a book, then ran outside to climb a tree. “Why do you allow them to climb trees during reading time?” this parent asked Piya. “Why don’t you make them read more books?”

“Because,” Piya replied. “They need to climb trees.”