Recently I had the chance to interview my best friend about his experiences as an intern at the New York Times. During the summer of 2012, Kevin Kaplan was an intern copy-editor at the famous newspaper company located in the heart of New York City. Now a recent college graduate from the University of Illinois and Champaign-Urbana with a degree in journalism, Kevin wanted to pass down his experience and wisdom to any young, wanna-be writers and editors. Sit back college students; you’re in for a treat.
DJ: During your entire time at the NYT, what was the biggest thing you learned about the media world? and how is it going to help you in your future career?
KK: Being there gave me a very good sense of the state of print media. It’s not too hot right now. I’m not talking about quality, because The Times is still strong, if not the best, in that regard. So far, the worst year for print media was probably 2009, when I was an underclassman in college, and I believed that everything had more or less stabilized after that. But being at The Times, which is a trailblazer in the industry, showed me the print medium still has a lot of hurdles to overcome, and that gave me valuable perspective regarding my goals for the future.
DJ: What were some things the higher-ups at the NYT were brutality honest about?
KK: They were candid about the state of the industry (print media are in trouble), but there is always going to be work for the people who are the very best at what they do. The overall expectations were sky-high for their writers/reporters (I was an editor). If you’re not the best, you have to compensate by working extremely hard. Some of the worst writers (not just at The Times, but in general) are the most polite people I’ve worked with. They have to be good with people, or else they wouldn’t make it to a high level. Good writing is a treasured skill that is honestly very rare. If you are an above-average writer, there will definitely be work for you somewhere, if for no other reason than most people are so bad at it.
Kathy Latus is a designer for the San Diego Union Tribune. Initially, this was set up as an informational interview for myself, simply to learn about the industry and gain any contacts I could. After landing the interview, I realized how nicely it would also work for the purposes of this assignment and fit perfectly into the scope of Diversions: A Journal of American Experience. The interview was recorded and then transcribed into text:
Me: How would you describe the state of newspapers in America today?
Kathy: Well, I think that it’s a thriving business. I think it probably will continue its decreased readership for the print. But the appetite for people to have news and information has really increased. People go online, go on their phone minute by minute. Our company is a multimedia company, we do have newspaper products, which used to be the main, the bigger thing, but now it’s not. Now it’s online, television, digital. Mobile is where it’s all gonna go. As far as a viable industry, news and resources is still hot, but the actual paper, the printing of the paper, your generation, no, they don’t read the newspaper. So it’s really gonna hurt the paper industry. It’s mostly gonna hurt them.
Me: So, can you comment on the positive and negative influences technology and the internet has had on newspapers.
Kathy: Well as I’d mentioned, the negatives are for print because it’s gonna hurt the printers that print the paper, the paper companies, lumbermen, all the way down. It also has decreased, because of technology and how information can travel so fast, you need fewer people to write it. The mainstream media I’m talking about, not bloggers because that’s opened up a new pocket of writing. Social media has introduced new jobs but they’re not taken as journalistically as serious, you know? It doesn’t have to stand up to any rules or anything. Like as a writer for the newspaper, you have to follow AP guidelines, there’s a guidebook that we follow as far as grammar and how we handle things and how we do things. You make sure you follow things and are grammatically correct. So the negative is the newspaper going away, but with everything, like the Industrial Revolution, we have to move on and evolve. Gotta get better at whatever you do. I’m a believer in technology and believe it will help mankind more than hinder it. It’s phenomenal what it can do, but there’s also a scary part. There’s always good and evil.
Me: Can you describe your work for the newspaper and how you got to where you are?
Kathy: As a designer that deals in communications, we work completely digitally now. Everything you do is digital. I’ve worked for publications, internal communications, ad agencies, and that capacity is different from what I do here. It was more selling, I’d have to give presentations, go in and brand somebody, tell them what their brand is. And in doing that, you have to do a lot of research, you can’t just make stuff up. That’s where the technology has really come into play. Especially with the internet now, I know who clicked, how many times, how long they stayed on the page, how far they went in, etc. So I will go back and talk to the sales team and the customer and I will change the creative. I do everything: logo design, stationary, corporate ID, branding, it can go small, large, whatever’s needed. I also happen to write, so they can use me to do multiple tasks. But I’ve worked with teams before as well. I would do selling in addition to the artwork, not every designer does that. I don’t want to just be sitting at a desk every day, I like to get out and talk to people, engage them, learn things. You do production, you come up with a concept, you have to work with a team, interact with different people.
Me: Do you have some rough figures on the number of newspapers distributed?
Kathy: I think our combined figures, since buying the North County paper and one in Riverside, we’re about 1.4 million on a Sunday. While news sales have gone down, our paper is, I think, the second leading metro paper last year, we made quite a profit, #2 in the country. We have a unique market where there’s a monopoly. But that doesn’t include the internet reach. Now we’re all just one brand, we’re the top website people go to for information. There’s so much analytics we do now with statistics. But ultimately it’s quality over quantity; does it bring people in the door? Does it reinforce the brand? There’s a lot of dynamics about the target markets and demographics. It’s important not to waste time and money and product. You’ve got about 1.2 seconds to get somebody’s attention. It used to be over 3 seconds. You have to maximize what effective and efficient rather than focusing solely on what you want to include in an ad. You want to make sure that whatever you create as a designer fits what you’re selling. It’s gotta make sense. Sure, being different and going out on a limb can pay off, but don’t make it so far-out that it’s such a stretch that people aren’t going to associate your product with.
Me: So, if the Union Tribune had unlimited resources for creating new positions, in what area do you feel those positions should be created?
Kathy: Definitely mobile, completely mobile. Everybody’s got a smartphone nowadays, the internet is in the palm of your hand.
Me: What types of things are expected outside of work hours? What challenges are presented in terms of juggling work with personal life?
Kathy: There aren’t necessarily things expected of you, but as with any job anywhere, in the digital age, you represent that company. Don’t put anything on your facebook or whatever that could harm your company, things like that. You always have to be diligent that your actions do not show controversial, politically incorrect behavior. The times suck. You’re on all the time. You always have to live and breathe the news. Look what happened just last week with the Boston bombings, we are right there, you know what I mean? You’re right there, you’re seeing it, seeing the people crying. I mean it’s tough. You become a news junkie. So you have to learn how to turn it off and take timeouts. You need your downtime to rejuvenate you, get you revved back up and energized. You gotta have passion, whatever it is you do. You gotta be jazzed about it. Life is too short, try not to waste time. Be happy. Journalism is fast-paced, you gotta think quick.
We picked out some of our favorite moments to give our readers/listeners something to hold them over until the full May 8th release! Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway here.
A.J. Jacobs recently released another memoir analyzing an aspect of his life while simultaneously writing a treatise on a sociological issue. His literary journey has taken him from writing about knowledge and spirituality to his most recent offering, a book exploring the idea of how to build a healthy body.
Jacobs recently took some time to respond to some questions regarding his recent bestseller Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection.
Diversions: Our journal is primarily interested in what we refer to as “American experiences.” Body image is certainly on the minds of many Americans, as is a level of anxiety regarding health. In Drop Dead Healthy, you refer to your wife’s urgings and an experience with pneumonia as catalysts for the pursuit of “bodily perfection.” My first question is, how did your perception of the idea of health change as a result of your experiences?
Jacobs: I realized there’s a big difference between looking healthy and being healthy. America has a weird obsession with washboard abs, for instance. Sure, they’re pretty to look at. But killer abs don’t increase your lifespan. I’m more interested in things that make you live longer, stress less and increase your happiness than those that reveal the musculature of your stomach.
Diversions: You tried a lot of so-called cures on your quest for physical fitness. In retrospect, what alleged path to fitness seemed like the biggest waste of time? Is there any thing you would describe as an obvious scam?
Jacobs: Yes, two things — one from each end of the body. First, juice cleanses and detox diets. There’s little if any scientific evidence that they make you any healthier. Your body detoxes by itself just fine. Second, on the other end, colonics. You can live a long and happy life without shooting water up your butt.
Diversions: What is your writing process? I’ve read The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically, and I’m consistently impressed by the apparent transparency of your style. Does this come naturally to you, or has there been a process of stripping away any boundaries between you and your readers? What are your current boundaries? Are there things you won’t write about or share with your audience? (For the record, I’ve also skimmed The Guinea Pig Diaries at a local Barnes and Noble. I’m not sure why I haven’t bought it yet. I’ll get to work on that ASAP.)
Jacobs: Thank you for your honesty about The Guinea Pig Diaries. Very transparent of you! I think there’s something liberating about writing about my own flaws, so maybe that plays into my writing style. I also read my books out loud to myself and will often change the sentence structure to make it sound more conversational.
Diversions: Can you share any upcoming projects with us? Are there any experiments on the horizon for intrepid urban explorer A.J. Jacobs?
Jacobs: I’m planning on diving into the world of Silicon Valley. I want to embed myself with the startup community.
Diversions: Are you answering my questions from your treadmill desk?
Jacobs: Total honesty here: I spent six hours on my treadmill today and notched up 11,700 steps. But right now I’m sitting on my butt.