For this week’s Media Monday, we’d like you to meet Kirsten O’Brien, social media specialist and reporter at Seattle PI.
1. How did you find yourself at Seattle PI?
My original plan in undergrad was to get a business major with a focus in marketing, but after taking a few journalism classes, I was totally hooked. I ended up getting a degree in journalism with a focus in public relations.
After I graduated, I did a journalism internship at an alternative paper in Iceland (think The Stranger, but in Reykjavik) and knew that I wanted to work in the field. When I came back to the U.S., I bounced around doing some content marketing and social media work, but it was tough to find a job in the field. I eventually entered a digital media graduate program in 2014 at UW and the program director recommended I apply for the role. I’ve been here ever since.
2. Which of your stories/posts are you most proud of?
Seattle is facing a homeless crisis, and in June many media outlets in the city participated in a homelessness advocacy day. The idea was to spotlight the topic and raise awareness around the issue and tell stories of some of the folks living on the street. Our whole staff worked to put together a collection of stories and photos around homelessness, and I’m extremely proud of the work that we did. One of the most powerful things about the profession is we have the ability to give a voice to those who may not have one, and it’s incredibly gratifying to do work that advocates for social causes.
3. What is your favorite thing about your job?
I love the pace of my job. I am a reporter, but I also manage all of our social media. Social moves extremely quickly in news, especially in breaking news situations, and I love the adrenaline rush when you’re working to get the story out as quickly as possible. I also love my coworkers. Our staff is fairly small, and it allows us to work quickly and nimbly as a team and try new things out. No one is afraid to try something different or pitch a crazy idea, and the entire staff is extremely supportive and encouraging. Beyond that, I truly feel like I’m friends with my coworkers. I genuinely enjoy coming to work every day, and I feel very fortunate to have that.
4. What is your interview style?
Over the years I’ve learned interviews are conversations — obviously it’s always a good idea to prepare and do your research beforehand, but there’s no need to grill your subject in any kind of formal setting. Sometimes that’s appropriate depending on who you’re talking to, but other times a relaxed setting works wonders. Some of the best interviews I’ve done have been in subjects’ homes or spaces where they feel comfortable, and I think that yields the best results because they aren’t “performing” for you or feeling nervous, they’re talking to you like they would a friend.
5. What do you look for in a story/post?
In a media market as saturated as Seattle, I’m always looking for that unique angle. We’re in a space where we compete with at least four major TV news stations, a print daily and two print weeklies, and so it’s incredibly important that we offer readers “value” by giving them a new angle they can’t get anywhere else. Beyond that, there are some stories I know resonate well with our audience on social — anything about earthquakes, Orca whales or weather is bound to be a hit.
I think this is universal wherever you are, but anything with a strong human interest component is key. At the end of the day, people like reading about other people and feeling an emotional connection, and so with those stories I’ll try to play up the human element as much as possible through the photos and headline on social media.
6. What is your day like at your job?
I usually start between 8 and 8:30. I quickly review our social outlets and see what performed well the evening before and then check our homepage to see if new articles went up that need to be posted. I use a tool called SocialFlow which helps me queue up content and then auto-posts it throughout the day, so the first half of my day is finding and loading stories into that tool. We’re owned by Hearst and part of a much larger network of newspapers, so I’m also monitoring our sister sites and what’s working for them. I also manage both of our Instagram accounts — we have one for our photographers’ work and another where we post photos from our archives — and so I try to post at least once per day.
I’m also constantly monitoring our Facebook page and Twitter accounts and interacting with readers when appropriate. I am a firm believer in having an open dialogue with our readers, and I try to address complaints, concerns and (sometimes) praise and encouragement whenever possible. It can be tricky, but I find it creates a more engaged readership when people know someone is actually reading their comments and care about what they have to say.
Lastly, I am responsible for three articles a week on the real estate market, so my afternoon is usually spent browsing Redfin for cool houses and calling real estate agents. Seattle has such a rich history and some truly amazing real estate, so it keeps things interesting and fun trying to find the coolest homes on the market.
I try to leave the office between 4:30 and 5 each day.
7. Who do you most look up to in the journalism industry?
Some of my favorite journalists include Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic), Ashley Feinberg (formerly Gawker and now Deadspin), Ashlee Vance (Bloomberg Businessweek), Jeb Lund (Rolling Stone), Sam Kriss (Jacobin) and Sarah Smarsh (On Being). They have such distinct voices, and I find myself legitimately seeking out their work. They also all work for publications and outlets I respect immensely and read regularly, so it’s a total package deal.
I also have an incredible amount of respect for all the journalists I work with. We are an extremely small staff and everyone has a ton on their plates at any given time, and so it’s pretty amazing what everyone is able to turn out.
8. What is your favorite news outlet?
This is a big question! I love Quartz and the (print!) edition of Bloomberg Businessweek for general business and economic news. I also read a fair bit of the Atlantic, Slate and Vox’s “Sentences” newsletter every afternoon. I love longform journalism, and Longform.org is a great resource for that. I listen to a fair bit of podcasts too, and some of my favorites are 99% Invisible, Planet Money, Reply All and Chapo Trap House.
9. What’s your guilty pleasure?
I don’t believe about feeling guilty about things you like, but I guess some of my interests are more “embarrassing” than others. I was big into pop-punk when I was younger and the first concert I ever went to was at El Corazon to see Fall Out Boy. I was 15, and my mom was so nervous about me going that she came with me and sat in the back. I listen to “Take this to Your Grave” to this day and would call it one of my top 10 favorite albums.
10. Fill in the blank:
If I am not reporting/producing content I am…out at a bar with friends, at a concert, cooking or watching The Wire with my cat.
If I could interview anyone, it would be…Donald Trump.
My favorite thing about Seattle is…the rain! And the mountains! And the water! Sometimes I forget how truly awesome this place is.