Q&A with Joy Victory, editorial czar at WordPress

by andybechtel

Joy Victory is “editorial czar” at WordPress. She previously worked as an editor at About.com, and prior to that she worked at ABCNEWS.com, and several newspapers, including the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and The Journal-News in White Plains, N.Y. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Victory talks about her job, social media and journalism education.

Q. Describe your job. What does an “editorial czar” do on a typical day?

A. My job is half editorial and half project management — but it’s a weird, evolving style of editorial work that has to keep pace with the rapidly changing Internet environment. (Although I have a journalism degree and the word “editor” appears in my job title, I long ago stopped thinking of myself as a journalist.) Each morning I update the WordPress homepage with the best “Freshly Pressed” selections. I then start working with my team, which focuses on the new user experience, as well as some other big projects for WordPress.

For example, we recently launched http://learn.wordpress.com. If you look at that site, you’ll see it’s not at all journalism, but a how-to tutorial that we’ve tried to spiff up and make more exciting than your average tutorial. Good writing and good editing are still required, of course, but it’s its own genre of publishing.

I think it’s important to note that Automattic (yes, with two “t’s”), the company that owns WordPress.com, is entirely distributed — everyone works at home. I haven’t worked in an office since 2007. So we do all this creation entirely over the Internet, which I still find amazing. Even “phone” discussions take place over iChat or Skype.

Q. You mentioned on Twitter recently that you work closely with developers. What is that like?

A. It means that I have input from the beginning, which is so important. I see the process unfold and can give input at any time. But it’s definitely a learning process for me: Developers are really smart cookies and speak their own unique jargon that can be mystifying. They’re almost always men, too, so long gone are the days when I worked at About.com with approximately 15 female editors and a few male editors.

But I’m often in awe of what they do. The developers involved with WordPress have helped enable millions of people to publish. Journalists are largely ignorant of the complicated work that it requires to create a site and then to keep it running smoothly. You need to know who is behind the curtain and at least be vaguely aware of what they do. Better yet, work with them directly to create new products.

If it’s not already obvious, part of the reason I left traditional media is that I was really frustrated at how my fellow journalists almost seemed to despise the Internet, while I’m basically in love with it. Now, at Automattic, I finally feel like I’m working for a nimble, smart, fun company that also loves the Internet.

Q. WordPress recently added a Twitter button that lets readers easily Tweet blog posts that they like. What do you see as the relationship between blogging and social media?

A. We’ve discussed this a lot internally and even brainstormed a few analogies. People predicted blogging services would die with the rise of Facebook. But that hasn’t happened because they’re not similar services. WordPress.com is Web publishing, not social networking. What is created on WordPress is shared via social networking.

There’s definitely a movement afoot to make it more of a blended process or at least a more seamless process. But at the end of the day, WordPress is about full-on publishing and content management. As an example, check out what runs on WordPress: http://wordpress.org/showcase/wsj-magazine/. You can’t do that sort of production via social networking.

Q. You have a degree in journalism from New Mexico State University. What in your education helped you in your job, and what should journalism schools being doing to help students prepare for jobs like yours?

A. My degree helped me in that it was very internship-oriented. My internships really taught me so much and made me a good copy editor, which is a skill that comes in handy in many ways.

I also worked at the student newspaper, where I learned to paginate, which is basically an irrelevant skill to me now, but helped me understand some fairly complicated software programs and become comfortable computing all day. Reporting always came easy for me, but definitely taking classes about reporting and writing help sharpen your skills. I endorse taking creative writing/fiction classes to stretch your brain as well.

I have a sense that many professors are struggling to teach the current job skills. NMSU was always good about bringing in talented adjunct professors who maybe didn’t have a master’s degree but were actually out there working on a day-to-day basis. So, in this day and age, j-schools need to make sure they’re bringing in people like me to teach students.

Of course, you still need to know the basics of good writing, reporting, editing and production, but go after internships that are Internet-based. And keep a very professional Web presence — everything you say or do online can be tracked down. Maintain a blog, if not a full website.

Read technology news to see where the trends are going. I don’t really think a j-student needs to know programing language, but it doesn’t hurt to take a few computing classes to get a sense of how things work. Get to know computer engineering students, especially those interested in online publishing.

UPDATE: In late 2010, Victory took a job as a senior editor at About.com.

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