6 months ago I walked away from what might be the greatest job ever. I had meaningful work at a place i truly called home. It was a scary decision, but the right one: 14 years had managed to grind me down. I needed to shake things up, but thats easier typed than done with a wife and two kids.
I took the time to play with legos, go swimming and watch cartoons (mostly with my kids… mostly). I wrote. I read. I took naps. It was awesome.
But 3 months later, almost to the day, I knew it was time. Maybe it was my wife telling me that it was time to get out of her house, or maybe it was just reading the news every day and feeling like a lazy on-looker. But I knew it was time to start doing something again. Life is to short to watch it go by.
I began interviewing. I talked to 35+ companies over the course of a few months, and it was all time well spent. I learned a ton. I met numerous interesting people doing things that they were passionate about. While many of these jobs were flat out wrong for me, the passion shown by so many of these engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs went a long way towards rekindling my own excitement.
After a gauntlet of interviews, what I wanted to do became increasingly clear to me. My interests and experience coalesce around technology, the internet, news, and communities. I talked to organizations that would have let me focus on news: perhaps expanding on my former role as Editor. I spoke with others that would have me in almost a Community Manager position. And still others would have me as the product designer or product manager for either existing or potential products. But few positions would have me blending my interests together to do something that I really felt was important.
Late in the process I was introduced to Vijay Ravindran by Thomas Burke. Vijay runs a group called “WaPo Labs” for the Washington Post. I was immediately impressed by what I heard. Many interviews later, I came to the conclusion that my first impressions were spot on: that this was the place for me.
Don Graham is trying to accomplish something that is a bit of a cliche these days: A startup inside an established corporation. A group that can exist at a nexus between newspapers, websites, cable networks, and TV stations and think about the big picture and the future without the normal burdens associated with a business operating at a large scale.
So far the Labs team has done great work: They have a cool news aggregation technology called Trove. They have built a small editorial team that is working to sanitize and that data and make it more useful in the context of the modern internet. And most recently, Social Reader has become very successful as a Facebook, Android and iOS App. They are actively iterating and experimenting in many directions, with strong support from the top of the organization.
My title will be Chief Strategist, and Editor at Large. I’ll write and work with editorial folks inside the Labs, as well as with the talented engineering team already there to improve existing projects and create new ones. Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli assures me that I’ll also be working with the newsroom where I can contribute words, ideas, and tools that will improve the experience of the journalists doing work that I personally believe transcends the bottom line.
What became increasingly clear to me is that The Washington Post is doing something that matters to me personally: Real journalism. The Pulitzer prize level kind. They are working hard to educate and inform the public. To shine the lights into the dark places. While different in a great many ways from the work I’ve done in the past, the parallels are strong. The mission is the same. And the importance is real.
I’m hoping to learn as much as I can from the journalists at the Post, and work to in turn provide them with tools to help them better connect with their audience, and at the same time help that audience to better connect with each other. I see a future that blends the created, the curated and the algorithm in new ways that benefits both active and passive information consumers. It’s a mouthful, but it’s important work, and it’s being done at the WaPo Labs.
This is going to be a challenge. Declining print revenues make it hard to run something as expensive as a news room in an era of crowd-sourcing and tweeting. But I think we need to figure out good ways for these opposite ends of the spectrum to benefit each other. If we succeed, the whole ecosystem benefits. More lights shining into dark places. More people better educated and informed. I think I can do that at The Post, and I can’t wait to start.
(Related: Here is a much more official sounding press release about my joining WaPo)