From Fast Company to Boston Business Journal to Mass High Tech to… Peru? “Journalists Are People Too” Continues with Doug Banks

Doug Banks has seen his fair share of PR pitches – having worked at various tech publications over the years. In our continuing effort to help PR executives and journalists better understand each other, we interviewed Doug recently. From cold-weather camping with his children, to keeping the newsroom connected with Mass High Tech’s readers, Doug knows how to work hard, play hard and keep his priorities in check.

PPR: You are the Editor for Mass High Tech; how long have you been doing that and what do you find most fascinating about New England’s high tech industry?

I’ve been editor since 2005, when I came over from our sister paper, the Boston Business Journal. I started reporting in 1992, but I’ve been doing business journalism in Boston since 1998, when I joined the BBJ. I left there to go to Fast Company magazine from 2000-2001, where I got to see the highest heights of the tech industry and then one of the lowest lows (assuming we’re not at the lowest low right now). The most fascinating thing about New England’s high tech industry? Probably its ability to change, on the fly, without much notice. In barely four years, the complexion of this region’s economy has undergone seriously rapid transformation.

PPR: With all the chatter about traditional media and the PR industry dying, what are you guys doing to stay relevant, informed and connected at Mass High Tech?

Our readership is geographically and demographically niche, so we’ve been spared from some of the carnage going on nationally in journalism. But a bigger reason, I think, for our ability to not be dying, and to stay relevant, is our move last year to redesign our web site, add new industry-specific email newsletters and news digests, and get more active in the places our readers are hanging out and looking for their news. And that’s why you’ll find a better collection of RSS feeds, you’ll find us with a very active Twitter presence, and (at long last) finishing up a Facebook presence. We’re also doing more targeted things, such as launching new Linked In groups specifically for All-Stars and Women to Watch honorees to help them network with one another better.

Ultimately, it’s all about staying connected to our readers, knowing where they are and what they’re doing and reporting it in as many forms as necessary. And we’re the first to admit that we have a lot more to do.

PPR: What’s it like these days in the newsroom? What’s the most impactful change that you’ve experienced in your industry/job over the last five years?

It’s busier than ever. All newsrooms, not just ours, are so multimedia now. If you asked me 10 years ago, or even five years ago, how many reporters would have to tote video cameras around to capture video interviews while they’re doing interviews for the print edition and then for the web site, I would have thought you were crazy. Now we’re asking reporters to file information for creating online maps, mashups; we’re asking them to not only shoot video, but help edit it; we’re asking them to promote their stories on the social networks. I mean, they’re doing it all — it’s definitely different. And I will say this — it’s never boring.

PPR: It’s just warming up – what did you do to keep yourself entertained during New England’s long winter?

I love camping and I don’t let the cold stop me and my kids from enjoying the outdoors. My daughter and I love playing in the backyard snow, and my son and I recently went to Maine for an overnight camping trip. We also spent an outdoor activity day in Gardner and in January I organized an indoor overnight as part of a church-based scouting program I’m involved in. So entertainment, when you have kids, is never difficult.

PPR: Name the most interesting place you’ve ever visited.

Tough one. Most recently? Probably Bryce Canyon in Utah, in 2007. My daughter and son, 5 & 7 at the time, hiked the entire canyon, which is practically 8,000 feet above sea level. They’re hardcore.

PPR: TV, Internet or books?

I’m 30/30/30. Books in the morning when I first get up, Internet all day, TV at night to wind down.

PPR: Did you always want to be in journalism? If you weren’t an Editor, what would you be?

I always thought I wanted to be a teacher, but found that I was pretty good at digging up news, so I ended up as a reporter. And I still get to teach — I’ve been an adjunct at Emerson for a few years now and BU before that, as well as a number of community colleges when I first moved to Boston. If I weren’t an editor, I’d probably be a teacher of some kind.

PPR: What’s your favorite type of food?

Lebanese. My wife’s cooking, in particular.

PPR: What would we find on your iPod?

Podcasts? Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese language lessons; Music? R&B, soul and contemporary gospel. But mixed in with the Stevie Wonder and John Legend is some Pixies, early REM, Van Halen and U2. My tastes are eclectic.

PPR: What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?

This July, I’m going to Peru, up the Amazon River, with a team of people to build a school/church building for a couple of local villages there. I haven’t done it yet, so it doesn’t really answer the question, but judging from how far remote we may be going, it’s the only thing I can think of at the moment.

PPR: What three words would other people would use to describe you?

Most people I know are too wordy to use just three words. I would hope they would use words like “authentic.”

PPR: What’s one thing that would surprise people about you?

For people who only know me through work? Probably my commitment to putting family and faith first. Work is important, but it doesn’t come close to those two things.

Charissa Cowart of FOX News is One Very Busy Journalist

And you thought journalists were just journalists. Charissa Cowart, media personality and trendspotter from WALA-TV “FOX10″ News in Alabama, proves once again that journalists are people too. From reporting to fashion design, blogging to gaming, she is one busy – and interesting – person. And she has some good advice about wings vs. legs…

PPR:  What is your main beat at FOX News in Alabama?
CC: I report on anything Internet-related, from sex offenders on social networking sites, to the coolest tech gadgets, fun websites or Steve Jobs’ fake obituaries. I have a segment called the Daily Dot Com and literally, everyday is something different for me to report on. In addition, I am the web producer so I do everything to keep our website up and running with fresh content when I’m not on the air.

PPR:  You started the Web site FashionTrendSpotting.com – what is this and how did you get started?
CC:  Fashion Trend Spotting is a new idea I built in my brain and finally released in the form of a blog. Basically it is the idea that I can spot trends in everyday people. I want to make everyday people part of the “fashion industry” instead of the few “big names” who tell us what is “in” this season. I know that there are very fashionable people out in the world who have a keen eye for fashion in their own way but have never had the chance to show that. So, in the future I will be traveling across the globe to spot these people and use their fashion as inspiration to design my own clothing line. On each article of clothing you will see a tag with information about me and Fashion Trend Spotting along with information about the person who the inspiration came from. In short, the fashion industry is YOU and ME.

PPR:  You also write for StartupsLive.tv – why did you decide to do this among your already busy schedule?
CC:  Well, first of all I LOVE to stay busy. I am at my happiest when I am immersed in “stuff.” Rather than written text like a blog, Lucky Startups is a company that interviews any and all startups across the globe. I am a correspondent and I interview CEO’s of startup companies Live online using Skype. It gives them a Free avenue to get their company or website out to the world.

PPR:  What do you most like about Twitter?
CC:  Connections, Connections, Connections!! I love meeting new people, but with my busy schedule there isn’t much time for relaxed socializing. With Twitter I can meet and connect, network with so many very intelligent and creative people while writing my blog, or preparing for a Lucky Startups interview or feeding my dog (I use the iPhone there). It’s just a great way to connect and network with so many brilliant, fun, and humorous people on the web.

PPR:  What is your one fashion “must have”?
CC:  Just one?!? Ok, ok, if I have to pick just one I would say high heels. I think so often it’s the shoes that make the outfit!

PPR:  Beyond fashion which we know you love, what are some of your personal hobbies?
CC:  I love playing Nintendo Wii – yes I’m a gamer, I might not look or sound like one, but I am. I also love to play board games with my friends, dance (Salsa and Swing), sing at the top of my lungs in the car, twirl – yes I said twirl. Wow, I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but when I’m at home in my socks I like to pick up my dog (Sam) and twirl on the kitchen tile. It makes me feel like a little girl again – even if it’s just for a few seconds. I think every female should do something, anything that allows her to feel like a little girl again, try it, you’ll love it! I also love, love, love to eat pizza and watch Gilmore Girls re-runs. I recently got engaged (about a week ago) so now my newest hobby is planning the wedding of my dreams. Oh and I love to play on Twitter, edit videos, take pictures…

PPR:  If you were not a journalist, what would you be?
CC:  A professional Figure Skater. I trained in figure skating for almost 10 years throughout middle school and high school. I loved every minute of it and was planning to go to the Olympics, but when I got to college and became involved in the school’s news program, that took up all of my time and my plans soon changed, which isn’t a bad thing. If not a figure skater, then I would be a Wedding Planner or a Chef – the only problem is I don’t know how to cook!

PPR:  Where do you want to take your next vacation?
CC:  Fiji, no wait – Italy, or how about snow skiing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming! I would go ANYWHERE right now for a vacation as long as I could relax away from stress. Honestly, right now Tweeting feels like a vacation – that’s how crazy life gets sometimes in the news business.

PPR:  Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?
CC:  I did! ….. Oh you want to know what they were? My first is to chase my dreams as if I have wings and not legs. The other is not to forget about my resolution.

PPR:  What change are you hoping to see in 2009?
CC:  I guess I can speak for everyone by saying I pray our economic instability becomes stable in the U.S.

From Mashable To Uptown Uncorked, Leslie Poston is Definitely Lost in Technology

As we introduced last month, we continue our “Journalists Are People Too” series with a Q&A from Leslie Poston. This girl is one busy writer!

PPR: What is Uptown Uncorked?

LP: Uptown Uncorked is a business development and social marketing consultancy I started here in Boston. We focus on helping people and businesses learn to navigate the waters of social media tools to build their business, promote their brand, engage the customer, and build lasting social leverage that we then help turn into real world, off line successes and sales. We work with several SMBs but our specialty is in the industries of restaurants, bars, wineries, distilleries, distributors, sports clubs and trainers, musicians, artists, photographers, actors and others like them. As part of Uptown Uncorked, I also do presentations, classes and speaking engagements (I recently led a discussion called ‘ROI is Not Money’ at Jeff Pulver’s Social Media Jungle 08, for example).


Leslie Poston at Social Media Jungle

I run Uptown Uncorked with help from my partner, Triston. We find that with a Gen X and a Gen Y running the show, each with different specialties, more of our clients’ potential issues and markets are covered.

PPR:  You also write for Mashable, yes? What is your focus there?

Mashable is one of the blogs that I write for regularly as a Guest Author. I also helped them with some more regular social media news coverage while they were between permanent staff last month. I write collections of posts such as my Real World Change 2.0 series for them, submitting my ideas only if they seem to fit with Mashable’s audience.

I have also guest posted on Technosailor, Media Bulls Eye, and Louis Gray’s blog.  I have had a permanent position for about two years or so as a senior writer for the Blorge family of blogs and have a new gig as an author for Lost in Technology as well as maintaining my own blogs for my company and on politics, Apple computers, and other pet topics. Before Blorge I wrote for other technology blogs, including Profy.  I got my start in journalism as a reporter, then Managing Editor, for an offline financial weekly newsletter and yearly sourcebook.

PPR: Your Twitter handle is @geechee_girl – where did that name come from?

My Twitter handle was an accident! In fact, my own Twitter handle (which is now my handle on most other social networks for brand consistency) is the inspiration for a talk I give on the importance of choosing your brand wisely, even if you don’t think you’ll take to social media or use it for long. When I first found Twitter I thought it was a bit silly. Since I am from South Carolina originally and had just explained the concept of “geechee girls” to someone on GTalk, I decided to have a little fun with my name and chose geechee_girl as a joke – poking fun at myself in a tongue in cheek manner.  Well, my Twitter experience took off rapidly and I soon found myself “geechee_girl” forever. I don’t mind, I have a healthy sense of humor, especially about myself, but I definitely would have gone with my real name if I’d known how much time I’d spend on Twitter!

PPR:  You’ve been on Twitter for how long? How have you seen it evolve? How do you use it?

I was in the second wave of early adopters of Twitter. I didn’t jump on the band wagon right away when it appeared at SXSW in March 2006, but a few months later I finally tried it, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  I use Twitter to connect with people, and to connect people.  It is both my playground and a resource, and I find both sides appealing. I have found lasting friends on Twitter, people to collaborate with on business, inspiration, a way to help social causes do good in the real world, a social calendar of events, an event planning service that can’t be beat, a research tool, a place to promote not only my writing but the writing of others, a place to discover wine, art and music, a place to discover people who share my interests and people who can teach me about theirs, to connect with people and companies, and so much more. Twitter isn’t for everyone, but it has become a vital part of my day.

PPR: What is your favorite time of day and why?

Night time. If you follow me on Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn or other networks then you already may have noticed that I talk the most and work the best late at night and into the morning. Being a night owl runs in my family – it is not uncommon for my sisters, my mother and I to have phone calls or instant message sessions at 2 AM to catch up with each other.

PPR: What’s the most memorable moment of your life?

I have led an adventurous life. I’ve done so much, and experienced so much, both good and bad, that I don’t think I can pick one moment. Every second has shaped who I am and is shaping who I will become in the future. I believe everyone should live their life with no regrets, as if every minute counted.

PPR:  Do you have pets?

Yes! I have an “antique” dog, a 13 year old Rottweiler named Harley. He is 150 pounds of pure couch potato

PPR:  What do you do when you aren’t working?

I love to do a wide variety of things, though some of them I haven’t had time for in a while.  I love to downhill ski, water ski, play hockey (goalie), watch sports (hockey, UFC, MMA, football, baseball, etc), hike (in the past I went on a two week trek into the Trinity Alps, that was fun), read, write fiction, sing and play piano (both of which I am mediocre at), play at being an amateur gourmet chef, bake, taste wines and whiskeys, dance and so much more.

PPR:  If you could have any other career and money wasn’t an issue, what would it be?

I love what I do, but I’ve always wanted to be a singer-songwriter. I’ll content myself with appalling the neighbors with my stunning shower rendition of tunes from Les Miserablés and keep my day job, however.

Journalists are People Too – a Q&A with Jennifer Leggio of ZDNet

Yesterday Michael Arrington of TechCrunch created a big amount of buzz – as he has been know to do – with an angry blog post about the PR industry and its failure to do right by embargoes. This blog post is not about that – but it is our first in a series that we’ve been wanting to start, focused on personal Q&As with journalists, bloggers and industry analysts.

You see, there continues to be quite a snarky relationship between the PR world and the world of journalism. There are valid gripes on both sides but one that continues to be mentioned by journalists is that most PR folks don’t build relationships correctly. So this Q&A series is based on getting to know the journalists as the humans they are. No hidden agendas – just good, clean fun.

Thankfully, Jennifer Leggio, a blogger for ZDNet, agreed to be our first interview. You’ll learn things here that might surprise you or give you pause (favorite vacation spot – Long Island?!) but that will definitely make you laugh.

But we can’t guarantee it will help your pitching.

(Oh – and if you are a journalist or blogger that is game to play along and be interviewed, please let us know!)

PPR: You have  multiple roles listed on your Twitter bio – for ZDNet and Fortinet – what do  you do for each and how do you balance it all?

JL: For ZDNet, I write about what I call “social business” — everything from  enterprise 2.0 technology to marketing-focused social media issues. For Fortinet, my official title is director of strategic communications, which  includes managing global industry analyst relations, digital media, security research communications and community engagement. I’m a pragmatist when it comes to balance. My role at Fortinet is always my first and foremost  priority. It’s not only my day job, but I’m passionate about network security  and I take a great amount of pride in my company’s many wins. Which leaves my ZDNet work largely to my personal time and I am happy to make the sacrifice because it’s such a tremendous opportunity. I’m also a heck of  a multi-tasker.

PPR: How  did you become a blogger?

JL: Ironically, I started microblogging before I began blogging. I was on Twitter and thought,  “I should get one of those blog things.” I launched up my Mediaphyter blog and really started digging into social media trends, security and social media, and then launched the  Security Twits, a community of security professionals on Twitter. After that everything is a bit of a blur. I met Ryan Naraine, a ZDNet security blogger at SOURCE  Boston earlier this year and we became friends; stayed in contact via Twitter. ZDNet saw a need to bring in content similar to what I write and Ryan patched me through. I should note that this all started only a year ago; just goes to show the speed and impact of social media. Take that, naysayers.

PPR: We  see you love hockey – do you watch, play or both?

JL: Oh goodness, I can’t play hockey! I can’t even ice skate! I’m one of those know-it-all fans who sits in the stands and screams at my team. I am very passionate about it,  however. Until about four years ago I had never been a fan of any sport. A  co-worker at the time dragged me to a San Jose Sharks game and I fell in absolute, unequivocal, irreversible love.

PPR: What’s the  last book that you read?

JL: I just  finished “SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate” by Joel Postman, which I actually got as a prize at a Silicon Valley tweet-up last week after co-winning a karaoke contest. The humiliation was  worth winning this book. It was a fabulous, educational read. On a more personal note, I read the entire “Twilight” saga from Stephenie Meyer in five days over Thanksgiving. I am such a sucker for handsome fictional  vampires. I’ve now moved onto the “Uglies” series from Scott Westerfeld, thanks to a recommendation from Kevin Marks.

PPR: What’s the coolest tech gadget that you own?

JL: OK, don’t  tell the folks over at ZDNet this, but I am not much of a gadget geek. I am a cyber nerd, Internet geek, and enterprise technology fangirl. So I suppose my  coolest tech gadget is my TomTom portable GPS. I am considering buying a Kindle, though. Does  that count?

PPR: If  you could meet anyone, who would it be and why?

JL: I know I am supposed to wax intellectual with this type of question, but I can’t get away from my honest answer. James Spader. I have had a crush on him since I was  about 12 years old. Something about geeky, cocky eccentricity. If I were to  wax intellectual, I would say Bob Woodward. Like many former journalists (I  worked at daily newspapers from 1993-2000), he was the reason I began my news career pursuits in the first place. I’ve had to settle for being his Facebook  friend, along with 3,000 other people. That’s closer than I’ve gotten with Spader.

PPR: How  many hours a day do you spend in front of the computer?

JL: Let’s see, I wake up every morning between 5-6 a.m., wash up, get on the laptop and write my ZDNet blog of the day, check into work email, then take a shower, get  ready, feed the cat and head into the office. I usually work through lunch at my desk and leave between 5-6 p.m. Come home, pet the cat, make or order dinner, then get back online and catch up on email, and begin outlining my blog post for the next morning, plus miscellaneous day job work. I go to bed  about 10-11 p.m. and read until I fall asleep. I’m afraid if I really add up  the hours I’ll cry. Not every day is like this, of course. I do make it out  for social events every now and then. If I am not  asleep.

PPR: What’s your favorite vacation destination?

JL: For the last couple of years, most of my vacations have been spent in beautiful Long Island, New York. Ah, paradise. I had the fortunate experience to discover some unknown family members a couple of years ago and I take every opportunity I can to immerse myself into their culture (“Old World” Italian) and learn as much about my heritage as I can. What’s funny to me is that I find it easier to relax there than say if I were on a beach somewhere, wishing my BlackBerry were nearby. My family’s quality of life and appreciation for quality time is contagious when I’m around it, and I love the disconnection from chaos  that I experience when I am there.

PPR: What do you  do for fun?

JL: See questions #3,  #4 and #8. Other than reading, hockey games and blogging, I play Wii (wait, is  that a tech gadget?), I like to go wander about trails in the Bay Area with  friends, I play every two weeks or so in a No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em poker tourney, I’m a huge music fan and I like to go out and see live shows (mostly of the rock persuasion) and I get my laughs at the Improv. That’s about all I have time for right now. In 2009 I hope to bring back some of my other hobbies. Especially those of the outdoor, active variety.

PPR: What’s the coolest thing that’s come your way as a result of  social media?

JL: Besides this interview? I’m fortunate in that it’s hard to pick just one. My ZDNet blog, for one. I never thought I’d again have a chance to write for a news organization after jumping the fence into marketing eight years ago. Book authorship-lite, is another. Julio  Ojeda-Zapata asked me to write the foreword for his “Twitter Means Business” book, and I’m currently writing a chapter for Tracy Tuten’s “Enterprise 2.0″ book series due out in 2009. Top that all off with the icing of fabulously talented new friends I wouldn’t have otherwise met. I shudder to think where I’d be without social media. Is that sad? Nah. I think it’s spectacular.