Q&A with Kelly Poe, reporter at AL.com

Kelly Poe is a business reporter at AL.com in Birmingham, Alabama. She previously worked at the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Poe discusses her job, social media and the job market in journalism.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. My typical day starts with checking my email (usually in bed on my phone) and checking in on a group news chat to see if there’s anything that needs immediate attention. Usually there’s not, so the day starts with a statewide morning news meeting.

I’m the only dedicated business reporter and Birmingham is about the size of Raleigh, so I’m never searching for things to do. I write everything I’d do if I had unlimited time on a to-do list, prioritize and cross off as much as I can in a day. Sometimes I only write one story a day; sometimes I write six.

Occasionally, I write about country music too, just because that’s a thing that I like (and that Alabama likes) and we have an incredible amount of freedom to write what we want here.

Q. In Greensboro, you worked for a daily newspaper. In Birmingham, you work for a publication that goes to press three times a week. How has that change affected your job as a reporter?

A. The number of days we go to press has had little to no effect on my job, as my responsibility first and foremost is to our website — and that is something very different from the other places I’ve worked. We post news as soon as it’s ready, and I actually rarely know which of my stories go into the print editions until I read them. Since we only print three times a week, it’s only a fraction of our content.

In a daily paper, you worry about length a lot more. You’re told by an editor to make something 12 inches and sometimes it would be best at 10, but you fill in those last two inches anyway. When you’re writing for the web, length is rarely a consideration — a story gets exactly what it needs, no more, no less. I also write my own headlines on the Web, something I never did for the print paper.

Q. You are active on Twitter. How do you use it as a journalism tool and resource?

A. Twitter is actually how I got this job!

While in Greensboro, I needed a phone number for a developer I couldn’t find online. So I followed an AL.com reporter who had written about him before, and when he followed me back, I direct-messaged him and asked him for the developer’s phone number, and he gave it to me. A few months later, the reporter contacted me to let me know about a job opening, and now I’m here! Twitter is a fantastic networking tool for journalism jobs.

As for how I use it in reporting, I often use it to gauge local interest in a story – I like to ask my followers if they think something is worth a story or not. I also use it to promote my own content, and I’ll frequently embed tweets for quick reaction posts to big news.

But Twitter’s just the tip of the social network iceberg. While Twitter has been the most valuable for professional networking and self-promotion within the journalism world, Facebook and Reddit have been far more valuable for me in news gathering.

Q. The job market in news is tough. What advice do you have for student journalists on how to break into a competitive field?

A. Introduce yourself to people who work where you want to work. When I was in college, I hated the concept of networking – but get over it, because if you’re not good at networking, you probably won’t be terribly good at reporting.

Introduce yourself to every professional journalist you’re ever in the same room with, and stay in touch, because the people you know will be your most valuable resource in job hunting. I promise it gets less weird, and especially if you end up covering something like business, introducing yourself to strangers in a room full of people in suits is a valuable skill for news gathering.

Learn at least one skill that most people don’t have. I know that when I was first looking for a job, I had great luck in getting interviews in Texas because of my Spanish. That didn’t help me everywhere, but it definitely made me stand out in certain markets.

Be willing to move. It’s a lot easier to get the job you want if you’re not restricting yourself to a certain geographic location. And look outside of the big cities, too!

I can’t tell you the incredible amount Birmingham has to offer 20-somethings, and I never considered moving to Alabama until the opportunity fell into my lap. Keep an open mind, and don’t rule out a job just because you don’t know much about the location – it could end up being the best place you’ve ever lived.