Doing One’s Work Under Difficulties

We should make ourselves stop trying to explain our own difficulties. Our first impulse is to try to account for them, figure out why what has happened did happen. Sometimes such an effort is beneficial: more often it is distinctly harmful. It leads to introspection, self-pity, and vain regret; and almost invariably it creates within us a dangerous mood of confusion and despair. Many of life’s hard situations cannot be explained. They can only be endured, mastered, and gradually forgotten. Once we learn this truth, once we resolve to use all our energies managing life rather than trying to explain life, we take the first and most obvious step toward significant accomplishment.

— James Gordon Gilkey from book, “You Can Master Life

This quote is good to see and think about, especially as my graduate program is drawing to a close in less than a month and I’m seeking opportunity on the job market. It can be difficult to keep plugging along, especially in the face of obstacles or when doors don’t open as easily as I’d anticipate. So in managing my job search, looking in any nook or cranny to break into the hyper-competitive feature journalism business, I gotta be tough; I gotta be strong. I will manage this.

For additional excerpts from “You Can Master Life,” read Brain Picking‘s article, “How to Not Worry: A 1934 Guide to Mastering Life” by Maria Popova.

Behind the Scenes of the 2013 AAUP Survey

Annual report gives the low-down on the highest-paying universities in academia.

**Photo Credit: bcaaup.org

Ever wondered how much professors are paid for their efforts? Well, there’s a survey for that.

Each year, for at least the past five decades, the American Association of University Professors’ research office has collected and compiled self-reported data on full-time faculty salaries and benefits from private and public universities and colleges throughout the U.S.

The data collection for the AAUP survey usually runs from November until February, according to Samuel Dunietz, an AAUP Research Associate. The data is then synthesized by a committee of less than five people, led by AAUP Director of Research and Public Policy, John Curtis.

The survey is a well-known, go-to resource that faculty members, colleges and universities, and the general public can use to inform themselves about the compensation faculty members earn, set within the wider economic context for higher education.

“We’re looking at the state of the academic profession so faculty members can know what they can expect to make if they’re coming into academia or have been working many years … and also to see how much the academic profession is worth compared to other industries and the general public,” Dunietz says.

Longevity of the AAUP survey has enabled it to capture a snapshot of wider trends in faculty salaries through comparison of the current survey with past surveys, such as when the economy has struggled or prospered, Dunietz explains.

For at least the past decade, the AAUP has shared its data with The Chronicle of Higher Education, the number one source of news, information, and jobs for college and university faculty members and administrators, according to The Chronicle’s website.

The publication’s staff, including Database Reporter Jonah Newman and News Designer and Web Developer Brian O’Leary, tabulates and presents online the results of the survey, adding to it the Department of Education’s Integrative Post-Secondary Education Data breakdown of full-time versus part-time professor salaries. AAUP works with The Chronicle to ensure the information provided is presented accurately online, Dunietz says.

Users of The Chronicle’s web survey interface can filter by highest-paying schools, state, faculty rank and gender as well as access more detailed information about each institution, along with trends over time.

Although, the reported numbers vary from year to year, the 2013 survey included data from more than 1,200 higher education institutions. The analysis of the data revealed that after three years of average salary increases trailing behind the rate of inflation, the overall increase last year was relatively comparable to the hike in consumer prices—but barely. The rate of inflation last year was low enough for faculty salaries to keep pace, according to 2012-2013 AAUP’s Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession.

Compiling the AAUP survey each year is no easy task. It requires strong analytical skills and some technical expertise not only to create a system to collect data, but also to extract that data meaningfully so it can be used, says Dunietz, who has helped with data analysis of the AAUP report the past three years.

“My sociological background had a huge impact on my position here,” says Dunietz, American University Public Policy master’s student who earned his sociology degree from University of Maryland.

Once the data is compiled by AAUP and shared with The Chronicle of Higher Education by mid-March, Newman cleans up the data, organizes and formats it, so it can be presented online — in less than two weeks. He is also responsible for calculating percentiles that ranks which colleges and universities pay well among their comparable group. For example, the 2013 AAUP survey has revealed that University of Los Angeles in Calif. is the highest paying public university with full professors earning on average $167,000 a year.

Newman is a data guru, of sorts. He is the all-important-link between data and presentation, making sure the data from the AAUP survey is as correct and reliable as possible.

However, when Newman joined the publication straight out of undergrad from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, he had to up his Excel game.

“I think I had basic Excel skills that most people in my generation have. I’ve grown up using Excel. There were a lot of things that I didn’t know,” Newman says.

He says he has improved his Excel skills through learning from his colleagues and attending sessions like last year’s National Institute of Computer Assisted Reporting’s “My Favorite Excel Things,” which revealed unconventional Excel tips and tricks.

“I learned an attention to detail,” Newman says, “The percentile thing was a process of doing something over and over and I had to make sure I was doing it right and doing it carefully and not introducing any errors into the data.”

Furthermore, Newman says he has learned the importance of planning ahead, collaboration, and communication so that everyone on the survey team knows when the deadlines are and when everything launches online. The Chronicle of Higher Education usually publishes the AAUP survey results in April.

Before the AAUP survey can go live, The Chronicle’s designer and web developer Brian O’Leary must decide which design features will carry over from the previous years’ surveys as well as confirm that all components of the survey continue to work, and modify as necessary. For O’Leary, it’s an ongoing process of deciding which page elements need to change and which are left unchanged.

“I think that’s something we’ve always taken very seriously,” O’Leary says, “And we’ll continue to try to raise the quality of what we present and try to make it better and more intuitive. But it’s a negotiation between improving and keeping things consistent and useful.

O’Leary’s studies in English in undergrad and poetry at the master’s level, makes him an unusual choice for executing The Chronicle’s web design and development, although he has spent two stints there doing just that.

“I largely taught myself,” he says, “I don’t necessarily recommend it for everybody, but for me, it worked well. I learned flash and kind of got it on my own and decided I wanted to learn more and that sort of led to my entry into programming.”

If any bumps in the road crop up while Newman and O’Leary work to take the AAUP annual report live, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Interactives Senior Editor Josh Hatch has their back.

Hatch says he relies on his journalistic perspective and underlying understanding of technology and design considerations, grasped from his journalism degree from the University of Richmond and time spent at USA TODAY in multimedia storytelling, to set priorities and guide his team.

“I think it’s having an understanding of all the different disciplines, maybe not a master of them all; but I understand them enough and at a deep enough level that I’m able to weigh them all together in my mind.”

Hatch, who also teaches part-time at American University in Washington, D.C., says he works closely with Newman and O’Leary to ensure the AAUP survey content is easily digestible for the reader.

The Chronicle presents the AAUP survey annually because salary compensation is of intense interest to its readers, many of whom are faculty members or administrators, according to Hatch. The survey consistently drives traffic to The Chronicle’s website.

“I think it’s our most trafficked thing that we have on our website,” Hatch says.

Despite the iterative nature of the AAUP annual report, there’s fresh learning opportunities for everyone involved in the creation process. For example, Hatch says his team has developed technically and socially — not without spirited debate.

“It’s been a very rewarding experience. I’ve learned a lot and it’s something that even though it’s largely the same process year after year; each year is different. There are new things I’ve learned and each year, there are changes that have to be made, even if they are not obvious,” Dunietz says.

It’s that time of year yet again — Newman has already met with a colleague to begin planning analysis for the 2014 data.

Snapchat is ‘ripe for experimentation’ in newsrooms

While the payoff may not be immediately clear, Snapchat has become an unlikely, yet invaluable tool for contemporary journalists.

**Photo Credit: Selena Larson readwrite.com

A number of news companies are now “fishing where the fishes are” with the help of Snapchat, the viral photo and video-sharing mobile application that some have dubbed the “new Instagram.”

The app, co-founded by Stanford University student Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, his recently graduated business partner, was partly inspired by former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner’s disastrous decision to exchange sexy photos on Twitter.

Snapchat, launched in 2011, originally gained traction among teens and millennials who could send their friends goofy or racy images that vanish 10 seconds after they are viewed. It became easily identified by its smiling, yet now rendered faceless mascot “Ghostface Chillah,” named after former Wu-Tang clan rapper Ghostface Killah.

Accordingly, it rapidly grew in notoriety and value, receiving a $3 billion dollar acquisition offer from Facebook, for its ability to attract smart-phone users seeking a private, ephemeral way to send original content to friends.

Despite its overnight success, Snapchat’s value to news organizations has been less obvious compared to other social networks that could be used to direct audience members to the publisher’s site such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

However, the addition of Snapchat Stories in October meant users could compile images and short-videos, known as “Snaps,” and share this flip-book-style album with their followers. Instead of content vanishing after mere seconds, it remains available for 24-hours. This shift has opened doors for news organizations such as the Washington Post to jump on the Snapchat bandwagon and experiment in the newsroom.

Having already tested the waters with the PostPolitics account in mid-January, Cory Haik, executive producer and senior editor for digital news at the Post, decided on a whim to live-Snapchat the Super Bowl commercials as they came on as well as provide quick commentary.

“It’s really been on our minds and we just really wanted to experiment with it and sort of push the bounds and new audience,” Haik said.

The undertaking was inspired by a Super Bowl live-Facebooking event she saw. That got Haik thinking about using Twitter for audience engagement, but the “waterfall of tweets” persuaded her to try out Snapchat instead.

The non-controversial subject-matter made covering the Super Bowl ads low-risk and ripe for experimentation, she said.

Haik said she was surprised by how difficult it was to keep up with the ads on live TV and then write commentary with only 30 characters, equal to a quarter of a Tweet.

“Oh my gosh, you have to be really quick and really concise,” Haik said.

The goal was to tread lightly and see what sort of response the Post received. Once the Snapchats caught on, Haik promoted the “experiment” midway through, which attracted some new followers.

What sets Snapchat apart from other social networking platforms is its one-to-one engagement, she said.

“There’s no comments. There’s no liking. You can’t repost anything. It’s an experience,” Haik said, “You produce something in the palm of your hand and someone else sees it in the palm of their hand. It’s like a tunnel to someone. It’s entirely different than any other medium that we’ve used or are using.”

Haik raises one of the main challenges news organizations face when adopting Snapchat to deliver the news— there is no readily available method to drive traffic directly to a media outlet’s own site from Snapchat. Despite this hiccup, journalists are still choosing to use the technology to reach a new and much younger audience.

For example, NowThis News, a NYC based startup that creates news and entertainment-focused video channels for a Millennial audience across social and mobile platforms as well as an early adopter of Snapchat for news coverage, has managed to attract between 4,000 and 5,000 followers, according to Maya Tanaka, digital video producer for NowThis News.

Much of NowThis News’ audience on Snapchat is under 15-years-old, a demographic that is increasingly moving away from Facebook and doesn’t engage with Instagram as much, said Tanaka.

The startup has been using Snapchat since October, propelled by the news cycle of its Washington, D.C. office. When NowThis News first started using the app, it concentrated its efforts on video, but has since shifted its approach to mostly still photography with text and drawing.

With the app, the depth and complexity of the story really depends on the comfort level of the reporter managing the account and his or her knowledge of the story. Issues with brevity of character count can be mitigated through drawing with fingers or a stylus, said Tanaka.

“It’s a very pleasant platform, so it’s easy to stay. Once we got in there, we just kinda got hooked and kept doing it,” Tanaka said.

For news outlets like NowThis News, Snapchat is more about engaging their audience and extending their brand to a new, wildly popular platform than it is about driving traffic to their home site. Though, this outlook may be due in part to the difficulty of calculating metrics. With Snapchat, news organizations are only able to track the totals of followers, views, and screenshots. An absence of transparent analytics makes it difficult for news organizations to monetize their efforts using the app.

However, Snapchat’s founders have said that the screenshot feature can be equated to a “like” or a “favorite,” a signal to the sender that the image sent was favorably received, according to a New York Times blog post by Jenna Wortham.

Even though the app may be lacking in metric-tracking capability, it more than makes up for it in its level of intimacy, immediacy, and choice, Tanaka said.

“If you don’t want to follow our stories, you don’t have to. It’s not flooding your feed, we’re not pushing our information on you, you’re choosing to look at it,” Tanaka said.

NPR made the plunge to try out Snapchat when Melody Kramer, digital strategist for NPR, noticed a lot people were flocking to the app, including her younger brother.

“We try to go to where ever our audience is, so we thought a lot of people are on it, how would NPR look on this medium?” Kramer said.

However, she has taken a unique approach to incorporating Snapchat into NPR’s newsroom.  Kramer has been using the video functionality of the app to shoot 15-second video of reporters sharing an interesting fact from their news stories. Then, she downloads the video to her smartphone’s camera roll and “Snaps” it out to NPR’s followers every day.

“I don’t think it’s different than any other social media platform we’re on. We’re seeing what our audience likes and we’re adapting to it,” Kramer said, “I’m proud that we’re on there.”

Kramer said NPR has received very positive responses from both inside the building and outside and has attracted thousands of followers. However, she was reluctant to comment on the future of the app, “It’s not within my wheelhouse,” she said.

It is unclear what the future holds for Snapchat’s staying power in journalism, but there’s a lot to be said for the value of experimentation and efforts to adopt this new medium in newsrooms.

Tanaka was lukewarm in her optimism. She said, while NowThis News has made a strong effort of keeping pace with Snapchat, everyone is at least six months behind technological advancements.

“We’re going to get really good at this and then move onto the next thing that we find that someone will tell us about; and that person will probably be 15-years-old. So we’re learning, everyone’s learning.”

Life Reminders

“Be brave. Even if you’re not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference. Don’t allow the phone to interrupt important moments. It’s there for your convenience, not the callers. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is. Don’t burn bridges. You’ll be surprised how many times you have to cross the same river. Don’t forget, a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated. Don’t major in minor things. Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Helen Keller, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Learn to say no politely and quickly. Don’t use time or words carelessly. Neither can be retrieved. Don’t waste time grieving over past mistakes Learn from them and move on. Every person needs to have their moment in the sun, when they raise their arms in victory, knowing that on this day, at his hour, they were at their very best. Get your priorities straight. No one ever said on his death bed, ‘Gee, if I’d only spent more time at the office’. Give people a second chance, but not a third. Judge your success by the degree that you’re enjoying peace, health and love. Learn to listen. Opportunity sometimes knocks very softly. Leave everything a little better than you found it. Live your life as an exclamation, not an explanation. Loosen up. Relax. Except for rare life and death matters, nothing is as important as it first seems. Never cut what can be untied. Never overestimate your power to change others. Never underestimate your power to change yourself. Remember that overnight success usually takes about fifteen years. Remember that winners do what losers don’t want to do. Seek opportunity, not security. A boat in harbor is safe, but in time its bottom will rot out. Spend less time worrying who’s right, more time deciding what’s right. Stop blaming others. Take responsibility for every area of your life. Success is getting what you want. Happiness is liking what you get. The importance of winning is not what we get from it, but what we become because of it. When facing a difficult task, act as though it’s impossible to fail.”

— Jackson Brown Jr.

Every Person Has a Story to Tell

Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless because they cannot think new thoughts.

Salman Rushdie

Grateful Sunday

**Photo Credit: thehappinesscoach.biz

Quite often, I’m so busy going, trying to accomplish the next assignment, goal, or dream that I fail to stop and take stock of my environment, internally and externally. I have so much to be grateful for!

This Thanksgiving, my mom provided a way for me to join her at my grandmother’s house, so I didn’t have to spend my favorite holiday alone. I was surrounded by family and ate some incredibly delicious food. Thank you!

I’m realizing that every moment, every day is worth showing appreciation. I shouldn’t wait until Thanksgiving each year to practice gratitude. There is someone or rather there are many someones out there praying for the very things I so often take for granted.

Lately I’ve been chasing happiness, but I think  happiness has been here all along if only I would be more present and acknowledge all the blessings I have to be grateful for. I’m happy I came across this TED Talk by Brother David Steindl-Rast , a Benedictine monk, called, “Want to be Happy? Be Grateful.”

Brother David says it’s gratefulness that makes you happy. When you practice grateful living, you acknowledge that every moment is a gift and opportunity is a gift within a gift. The key to grateful living is to, “Stop, look, and go.” It’s important to stop, take stock, and remember there is so much to be grateful for, whether it’s for clean air that fills your lungs, a capable and healthy body, loved ones who pray for your success and happiness, or a roof over your head and clothes on your back. Those are some of the things I’ve been taking for granted lately.

Brother David’s message is just the wake-up call I need this Sunday and every day, so I remember that,

If you’re grateful, you’re not fearful. If you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. If you’re grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity. You’re willing to share. If you’re grateful, you’re enjoying the differences between people and you’re respectful to everybody. A grateful world is a happy world and that changes this power pyramid under which we live. It doesn’t make for equality, but equal respect and that’s the important thing.

Thank you, Brother David Steindl-Rast for that reminder. I’m grateful.

What are you grateful for this Sunday afternoon?

Stop Stealing From Yourself

I read this HuffPost article today by Andy Meindl titled, “The No. 1 Thing You’re Doing Every Day That’s Ruining Your Life” and it really spoke to me. I think we can all benefit from receiving a reminder from time to time about the power of practicing openness in our daily lives:

Stop stealing from yourself. Stop being a thief, robbing yourself from your empowerment and joy by assuming the worst and selling yourself (and others) short. Stop hiding your light underneath a rock because you’ve made assumptions that people aren’t ready for your brilliance, or can’t handle it, or it’s too much. Stop making assumptions about what’s possible and what you think life is — or isn’t.”

To read more visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-meindl/making-assumptions_b_4269980.html?ir=GPS+for+the+Soul

Life Will Break You

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

Louise Erdrich

If we expose our children to life messages such as this one instead of relying on trite phrases like, “Life isn’t fair,” would they grow up to be stabler adults who know how to take failure and vulnerability in stride?

Breaking the Shell

breakingoutshellcollage

**Photos via nastassiadavis.com and gutstoglory.com (right to left, respectively)

Have you ever felt stuck like you needed to break free of a shell you’ve created for yourself through fear, anxiety, doubt, alienation or that life has dealt you like getting laid off, losing a loved one (figuratively or literally), or falling ill?

Lately, I’ve  been feeling like a caged bird or one trying to peck its way out of its shell. I’m seeking the confidence to find my wings, so I can soar. There’s a big blue sky out there, sometimes with threatening rain clouds in view, but a bird knows how to navigate if only it will trust itself, realizing it was created to fly.

I leave you with a quote, lyrics, and song that will hopefully inspire you to think about and break through a shell that may be limiting your ability to fully direct and claim the quality of life you wish to have.

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding… And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy.”

— Kahlil Gibran

My mom sent me the lyrics to the song “Break the Shell” featured on the album titled Songversation released this past summer by American R&B/ neo soul singer, India.Arie. I found they resonated so deeply with my life at this moment. Maybe they will speak to you as well. Enjoy!

I met a prophet dark as the night
She could see into my soul
Said she’d been watching and had some advice
She said shadows make you whole
A life without pain is a wolf in sheep’s clothes
Cause if you listen to the lessons that it holds
You’ll find the gold

Child it’s time to break the shell
Life’s gonna hurt but it’s meant to be felt
You cannot touch the sky from inside yourself
You cannot fly until you break the shell

I can remember when I was a child
How the grown folks seemed so crazy
Why are they so angry, why are they so loud?
And when I grow up that’s never ever gonna be me
That was the moment that I decide
That I would build a wall just shy of six feet tall
Too strong to fall

Child it’s time to break the shell
Life’s gonna hurt but it’s meant to be felt
You cannot touch the sky from inside yourself
You cannot fly until you break the shell

Courage is not being hard
It’s time to peel back all of the layers
You put between who you’re meant to be
And you who are
And go be who you are

So much disappointment to finally understand
That there is no such thing as perfect
Were all simply doing the best that we can
And we have a choice to live or truly be alive

This is your life

Child it’s time to break the shell
Life’s gonna hurt but its meant to be felt
You cannot touch the sky from inside yourself
You cannot fly until it breaks the shell

Child it’s time to break the shell
Life’s gonna hurt but its meant to be felt
You cannot touch the sky from inside yourself
The bird cannot fly until it breaks the shell

Do with these words what you will
Its time for us to be for real
You’ll be stuck on the ground until
You finally break the shell

**Lyrics via Song Meanings

**Video via OWN TV

India.Arie performs a stripped down acoustic version of “Break the Shell” on OWN’s “Super Soul Sunday.”