Mark Leccese is Associate Professor of Journalism at Emerson College in Boston and is the author of The Elements of Blogging: Expanding the Conversation of Journalism.
WHAT LED YOU TO START WORKING IN DIGITAL/MEDIA PUBLISHING?
I bought my first Mac in the mid-1980s. A few years later I discovered modems and dial-up Bulletin Board Services, and I became a member of several and used them for my work as a journalist and for fun. I got my first internet account — free through a university where I taught a night class while working as a newspaper reporter — in 1990. It didn’t take me long to figure out the internet was a great tool for a journalist. The pre-web internet was a command line environment. I learned to use pine for email, tin for newsgroups, and – especially useful – gopher for finding government documents. Once I got a copy of the browser Mosaic, I started spending hours and hours every day on the web. When the newspapers I worked at in the 1990s and early 2000s started to created websites, I happily volunteered myself to help out
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
I’m a journalism professor at a college in the U.S. now after 30 years of being a reporter (mostly covering politics), an editor, and a magazine writer. I start my days with traditional media: I read three print newspapers and listen to local and national all-news radio. Once I turn on my computer, though, my day is taken up with email, preparing classes in the courseware used at my college, teaching students, and checking every on the news and various websites about journalism and technology every couple of hours, in addition to checking Twitter when I have a spare moment.
WHAT’S YOUR WORK SETUP LOOK LIKE? (YOUR APPS, PRODUCTIVITY TOOLS, ETC.)
I’ve got a desktop Mac at home and a desktop Mac at work, along with a MacBook Air, an iPad, and an iPhone. The iPhone and the iPad are for mail and for reading, especially the news. I used the apps of various news organizations (NY Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Slate). The only app for which I have notifications turned on is the Associated Press app. I spend a lot of time on Flipboard, looking through the 20 or so publications I follow. My productivity tools are primarily on the desktop and laptop Macs: Microsoft Word and Excel, WordPress, Chrome, Adobe Photoshop, Scrivener (to organize long writing projects — a great piece of software), TextWrangler and TextExpander, which creates custom keyboard shortcuts for short or long phrases and sentences I use frequently in editing and commenting on students’ work.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO GET INSPIRED?
The best way for me to get inspired is to read others’ work. To simply search the web and see what content and information currently exists on the topic I’m delving into. Simple mind mapping helps me get any clutter out of my brain, and list-taking helps me prioritize. If I’m working with my design or marketing colleagues on a project, I tend to sketch a lot, as it helps me “walk in their shoes” and see how stories and narrative concepts translate. This also helps me keep myself in check: If I see how things are executed visually, I know whether to scale back or scale up the content I’m creating — or if I need to add more interactive or visual elements.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO GET INSPIRED?
Two things: I read books and I talk to my friends and ask them what interesting reporting projects they’re working on and how they plan to present them.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PIECE OF WRITING OR QUOTE?
George Orwell: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”
WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING/INNOVATIVE THING YOU HAVE SEEN ON ANOTHER OUTLET OTHER THAN YOUR OWN?
ProPublica.org compiling large databases (on the finances of non-profits, on doctors taking fees from pharmaceutical and medical devices companies, on Medicare payments, on Facebook ads – and more) and building a front end that allows readers to query the data. ProPublica has always been a pioneer in crowdsourcing when the government releases large amounts of data in one heap.
WHAT’S THE PASSIONATE PROBLEM YOU ARE TACKLING AT THE MOMENT?
- Using fewer apps but using them more frequently and trying to learn and use all of the things the app can do. We are all trying to deal with technology overload, and I have come to the conclusion that thoroughly knowing how to use fewer pieces of software is more useful than knowing just a little about how to use many pieces of software.
- The most effective way to tell interesting and engaging stories on mobile, because today if your storytelling doesn’t work on mobile it doesn’t work.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR AMBITIOUS DIGITAL PUBLISHING AND MEDIA PROFESSIONALS WHO ARE JUST STARTING OUT?
Master the basics — reporting, research, organization, and writing — before you even begin to use multimedia tools to tell a story. Good musicians work every day on the basics: on their technique, on playing scales, on producing a good sound on their instrument. Only once they have mastered the basics can musicians make music that tells stories and moves us. Be a musician.