Laura Fiorilli-Crews is a web content specialist at RTI International in North Carolina. She previously worked as a homepage editor at TBO.com in Tampa, Florida. In this interview, conducted by email, Fiorilli-Crews discuss her job at RTI, its new website and her transition from the newsroom.
Q. Describe your job at RTI. What is your typical day like?
A. I work on RTI’s beautiful Research Triangle Park campus, about a 25-minute drive from my home in Raleigh (though the trip back can be much longer). A typical day for me involves working on project stories, expert profiles and other content for our recently launched website. Leading up to the launch, we also spent a lot of time learning about the institute and planning our content strategy.
The overall pace is pretty relaxed compared with what I was used to in a 24/7 multimedia newsroom. I leave at more or less the same time every day, and I have the ability to telecommute as needed.
Q. RTI recently launched a new website. What are some of the major changes, and how did they come about?
A. The redesigned RTI website is much more streamlined than what we had before. Our goal was to make it easier for potential clients and partners (such as government agencies, foundations, and universities) to understand what RTI does and reach experts who can help solve their problems.
We overhauled the site architecture and changed the emphasis of the writing, replacing dozens of pages of descriptive but dry text with stories about the impact of our various projects around the world. We also worked with outside designers and developers to make the site modern and mobile-responsive.
We have also added a section aimed at members of the media. Our Emerging Issues pages will help inform journalists that RTI is a leader in research on some important, quickly developing topics. Right now, that includes Zika virus, marijuana, electronic cigarettes, drones, and noncommunicable diseases (i.e. cancer, diabetes, etc.) in low- and middle-income countries
Q. You previously worked for news organizations such as TBO.com. What skills from that part of your career do you use at RTI, and what new skills have you had to learn?
A. The slower pace described above is the biggest difference, and it ripples through many aspects of my work. TBO (which is sadly dormant right now after the purchase and closure of its partner, the Tampa Tribune) was, during my seven years there, one of the nation’s pioneering converged newsrooms. You simply don’t get that atmosphere of constant change and urgency in many other places. I’ve often called it “the emergency room of news.”
In my office at RTI, you might say we are running a wellness clinic. There is much more time for strategic decision-making — which is something I felt was sorely needed at my old job.
The writing process is different as well. People are more inclined to deliberate over every word. That’s true within our office and also when dealing with the distinguished academics who conduct the scientific work that RTI is known for.
Diplomacy is an important skill here. I think most journalists assume that a PR role, at least in the absence of a true crisis, is pretty cushy — that everyone you work with will appreciate that you are on their side. In reality, even though we are working to support the public image of the entire institute, everyone doesn’t share the same opinions on what that looks like.
RTI is so diverse that we must customize our web content to each constituency, while being fair to all. Plus, our requests are far from the most pressing thing these researchers deal with each day. Working in marketing communications doesn’t make you immune from the problem of unreturned phone calls.
Q. What advice do you have for journalism students seeking to work at places like RTI?
A. My top piece of advice is the same as ever. Get some life experience. Pursue what you like to do both professionally and personally. Learn a little about a lot of different subjects.
Working at RTI is probably comparable to working for a university. RTI appreciates curiosity and interest in diverse fields in health, science and social science. The words “improving the human condition” figure prominently in our mission statement. This is a great place to work if you like feeling that you are contributing to a larger cause.