sasha koren
Every 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.

Our guest this week is Sasha Koren, editor of the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab. She gives us insights into her new role, her experience prior to joining the Guardian and explains why journalists should seek exposure to various roles within the newsroom, not just editorial ones. 

What is your job title and what does that mean?

My title is editor of the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab. The lab is a new project, funded by the Knight Foundation and housed inside the Guardian US newsroom in New York.

It's been set up to take a close look at mobile-first storytelling and delivery of news, to experiment within the newsroom and with other organisations, and to share what we learn and generally help push the industry forward with its use of mobile.

Our audiences are increasingly there, and more of us need to be thinking about how we speak to them and with them there.

My role within the lab, generally, is to work closely with the product lead on the project, Sarah Schmalbach; with Guardian US editors and reporters; and also other news organisations to push the boundaries of how we're using mobile formats and devices in the service of journalism.

We're just getting going now (I've been on the job for two weeks!) so I'll have a more detailed answer in a few months.

How did you get started in the industry?

I knew I wanted to be an editor of some kind, and was thinking it would be either magazine editor or an arts critic. This was in the 90s and the public-facing web was in its infancy, so after college I started on a traditional print-focused path.

I had editing internships at Tikkun magazine, with an art catalogue editor, and at Dow Jones.

My first real job was editing and reporting at a small newspaper housed within an arts foundation.

I loved my work there but I made barely enough money to live on in New York, so I took a chance on a better-paying job as an editor at a now-defunct digital media company that maintained annotated catalogues of music, books and movies.

It was there that I first learned what metadata was, and then learned some HTML on my own. I didn't stay in that job long but it opened my eyes to the possibilities of digital publishing and gave me the start of a new vocabulary and a new set of skills.

My next job was as a copy editor and web producer at a New York-focused website that The New York Times was starting, which was the beginning of a long and very varied career there.
What do you most look forward to at the start of your day?

Right now, meeting my new colleagues and cooking up plans with Sarah. In general, I love collaborating and figuring out new ways to approach problems, tell stories and get information to readers.

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

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

Email: I get a lot of newsletters and use them to keep on top of industry developments, and also catch stories I may have missed the day before.

My phone: to look at the range of ways news outlets are using apps, notifications, social channels and chat apps to speak to audiences.

Google docs: crucial for collaborative planning.
What would you focus on if you were training as a journalist now?

Reporting and editing in multiple formats. Close observation and great news judgement remain essential, even as the possibilities for how stories are told shift and expand with each new platform.

I would also want exposure to the various kinds of people you might work with within a news organisation.

In addition to other editors and reporters, I've learned a huge amount from designers, coders, product managers, and also marketing and strategy staff, all of whom are essential to the work of journalism.

What skills do you think are important to your role?

News judgement, technical literacy, interpersonal skills. 

What has your current job taught you about the industry?

I just got here! That said, this job is fairly different from what I was doing before, as have several of my earlier roles been from the ones before them.

So getting this job has reinforced for me that, as the industry changes, it also offers new opportunities, if you stay open to them.
What would you say to someone applying to work at your organisation?

If you're American, be ready to learn some British slang and alternate spellings of words like 'organization', and vice versa. I'm too new to offer any substantial advice.

So far, it's a great place to work and an example of a legacy organisation that seems ready to make changes to stay relevant and also true to its identity.

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

No experience is ever wasted.

Check back next week for a new look into the media industry – in the meantime, have a look at our other weekly interviews with digital media experts.

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