A new job: Media director for nonprofit Back on My Feet

Back on My Feet founder Anne Mahlum and members of the organization in 2007.

I’ve decided to step away from self-employment.

I’ve spent the last year of my life freelancing, by some accounts, at perhaps the worst time to do so in my life and arguably the worst time in the history of journalism.

After a meeting of the most influential media leaders in the region made clear no drastic foundational investment would be made into niche news anytime soon, I knew I needed to secure my finances — as a new homeowner, especially — and take a more cautioned approach toward building News Inkubator, Technically Philly and NEast Philly.

A funny thing happened not a week or two after I made this decision. A friend made me aware of a job opportunity I actually wanted.

On Mon. Jan. 18, I walked into a Locust Street building in Center City Philadelphia and began defining what a media director should do for homeless advocacy nonprofit Back on My Feet.

I spent nearly three full semesters working with Philadelphia government oversight organization Committee of Seventy in the beginning of my college career, offering some policy research, the occasional graphic design tweak and other gap-filling. For almost all of it, I worked under the tutelage of a precocious, 25-year-old, workaholic, marathoner North Dakota native named Anne Mahlum.

She was fun and challenging, and I knew then that she had her sights set high.

We had two breakfasts in summer 2007. During one, she told me about telecommunications giant Comcast luring her to a high-paying lobbying gig. During the second, she told me that after accepting the job, she reconsidered and launched Back on My Feet, what started as a homeless running club and has now become an advocacy agency that creates a community around running and then connects participants with job training and job placement programs and will be in four cities by May.

Nearly three years later, her organization needed a 14th staff member and thought it should be someone to handle the group’s Web presence and develop relationships with traditional media.

I interviewed with Anne and others Monday Jan. 11, had a follow up by phone that Wednesday and accepted later that day. Told I was pitted against an older crop of more traditionally experienced marketing people, I pitched hard on my role extending to content creation around the issues of homelessness, job creation and other related social advocacy plots.

Back on My Feet had caught the attention of runners already, but to continue to grow they needed a world of people interested in social justice. To attract them to our site — and eventually bring them on as volunteers and donors — let me create a blog that chronicles the plights of the men and women with whom we work and the conversations that are happening around these issues.

It could prove to be more serious journalism than what I’ve done the past year as a full-time freelance reporter.

After I started, here’s what I more officially wrote out:

My five primary responsibilities now as I see them currently (I put them in order of time I think I’d spend on them, from most to least time):

  1. *Our own contentI think this has the potential to be most important and involve the most time. The primary vehicle for this would be a blog placed highly and incorporated fully into BackonMyFeet.org. This would be the daily-updated stream of all BOMF content, including standard organization updates and offers, but buttressed with multimedia, interviews/day-in-the-life pieces on residential members, tracking of media coverage and perhaps a weekly/monthly podcast on homelessness and systemic joblessness.
  2. Social media — Interject BOMF into the conversation, connect with people online and build branding (Twitter and Facebook to start)
  3. Legacy media — Make traditional story pitches to established media, leveraging my existing relationships.
  4. Partnerships and events — I think my role is natural to help develop, or at least highlight potential partners in content and in our mission (other nonprofits, academic and research institutions, etc.)
  5. Independent media — Indie blogs, smaller niche publications and the like shouldn’t be ignored — smaller, more targeted audiences often mean they’ll take even more seriously the coverage

To start, I’ll have to trim down our existing bloated site and otherwise transition — introducing myself and finding my place. Beginning my third week, I’m quite pleased and look forward to tracking our progress.

I’m sure there will be updates to come.

Some measurable starting points:

  1. Using internal analytics, but also a (perhaps very) rough guide can be seen publicly here, which shows about 3,700 unique visitors in December
  2. Social media accounts: (Starting on my first Monday morning) Our Twitter account had 335 followers, 99 tweets and was listed 30 times, in addition to just about 35 @replies since April (I got nearly half that yesterday alone, including GPTMC); Our Facebook account had 727 friends and had fallen inactive; Our Youtube account had 10 uploads and 12 subscribers
  3. We’ll also try to track the volunteers and donors who come over the transom of the Web.

Though certainly now only during nights and weekends, I will remain an active partner in Technically Philly and NEast.