greg barber
Each week we ask a leading figure in digital news about their work, their career, and what it takes to be a journalist in the 21st century.

This week our guest is Greg Barber, director of digital news projects at The Washington Post and head of strategy and partnerships at The Coral Project. Over to Greg...

What is your job title and what does that mean?

My title is director of digital news projects at The Washington Post. Its meaning is expansive by design, and it lets me dig into some exciting topics: interactivity, community, personalization, local news, database journalism, news games, and more. I help think up and implement ideas with colleagues on our newsroom, technology, business, analytics, and marketing teams.

My biggest project these days is leading strategy and partnerships for The Coral Project, the Post’s collaboration with The New York Times and Mozilla, funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation, to improve community on the Internet through open-source software and renewed best practices.
The added bonus: I get to talk to publishers, editors, community managers, contributors, readers, developers, and designers about community and interactivity. It’s some of the most energizing work I’ve done yet.

How did you get started in journalism?

I caught the journalism bug at an early age. I worked on my first newspaper in elementary school – third grade, I think. I was editor of my school papers in high school and college. I also hosted a news program on my college radio station.

My first professional job came in 1997 when my soon-to-be boss, Lee Banville, called his old college paper, where I worked, looking for a digital intern for PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. I jumped at the idea. Once on the job, I responded to viewer email, ran online forums – early interactivity! – corrected show transcripts, and coded pages in HTML. We coded all of our pages by hand back then.

What do you most look forward to at the start of your day?

Learning something new. When you work in the news business and with colleagues as talented as mine, surprises are easy to come by.

What does a normal day look like for you? In emoji.

barber emoji

What three tools or apps do you use the most for work?

Tweetdeck, Outlook, and Google Drive. I live on Google Drive.

What would you focus on if you were training as a journalist now?

A few things:

1) Critical thinking. Much of the job is still translating complex concepts into digestible chunks.

2) Empathy. The stories we tell are often deeply personal, and learning to approach each subject as a person, just like you, is critical in setting your ethical compass.

3) Storytelling. Understanding the range of options — text, photos, video, graphics, interactivity, emoji, chat apps, social media — and your aptitude for each. And pushing yourself to learn more.

4) Technology. Get in the habit of trying new things, adjusting your workflow, and learning to speak the language of developers, even if hands-on coding isn’t your strong suit.

What skills do you think are important to your role?

All of the skills listed in the question above, and a few more:

Life’s best lessons often stem from things you didn’t understand at firstGreg Barber, The Washington Post
1) Curiousity. If you’re not pushing past what’s available and asking what else is possible, you’ll stagnate pretty quickly.

2) Flexibility. If solution X doesn’t work, what about solution Y?

3) Tenacity, within limits.

You’ve got to know how long to hold a particular line, but also when it’s time to pivot an idea — or abandon it in favor of a better one. Ego is a liability in a newsroom.

What has your current job taught you about the industry?

I’ve learned what a phenomenal amount of talent there is in the media/publishing business, and how so many of us approach our jobs in the same way: with optimism, with a hint of wonder, and with our eye on serving the public good — no matter how cynical we might seem to the outside observer.

What would you say to someone applying to work at your organisation?

There’s been no more exciting a time in my 16 years as a full-time journalist or my 12 years at The Washington Post to get started in journalism or at The Post.

If you’re willing to think critically, push yourself, ask questions, learn from your mistakes, and embrace change, you can build quite a career here.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

I’ve got two that I’d rank as best. My dad taught me to listen and reflect: life’s best lessons often stem from things you didn’t understand at first. My mom taught me to pace myself: all the work is never done, but each person needs time to sleep, talk with friends and family, and occasionally relax on a beach somewhere.

Next week Trushar Barot, mobile editor for BBC World Service, will share his advice and experience.

Check out previous interviews with the LA Times's Mitra Kalita and Alison Gow from Trinity Mirror Regionals

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