The following interviews are from the May issue of The OpEd Project’s Chicago newsletter. If you’d like to receive the stories directly, email Chicago Regional Manager Yoonj Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org to be placed on the email list.
Amy Guth on Chicago Tribune Social Media Work and Her Story
As the social media and search engine optimization manager at The Chicago Tribune, Amy Guth works at the heart of modern communications and real-time news. She’s also a splendid mentor-editor for The OpEd Project–one of her mentees placed a piece in The Atlantic. Read more about her story and what brought her to OEP.
Tell us about your background. You’re now at The Chicago Tribune as the social media manager–what was your journey before this?
“I manage social media and search engine optimization for the Chicago Tribune newsroom. In a given month, I’m heavily involved minute-by-minute in breaking news, in long-term planning of how and why we use social media and SEO (called ‘strategy’ by buzzwords fans… yuck), and in training my colleagues how to make best use of these digital tools to extend the reach of our journalism, both as a promotional vehicle and as a reporting tool.
“Prior to this role at the Tribune, I worked in our books section. It was around the time we saw the Kindle, then the iPad and all this new stuff happening in digital publishing. To me, my current job was a logical leap from there.
“Prior to that, I founded Pilcrow Lit Fest, a small-press literary festival while freelancing and promoting my first novel, Three Fallen Women. During this time I was heavily experimenting with social media and digital media in different forms because I remember clearly thinking that, as writers, we would be well-served to learn from our colleagues in the music industry when they were hit with the disruptions caused by digital. Change really flips some people out, I realize. I feel lucky to be one of those people who gets excited by change and how creative it forces people to be. I decided to say ‘yes’ to new platforms and formats, learn everything I could about digital media and how it could be applied to literature and journalism and keep moving forward.
“So now, I joke that I learned it all the hard way so folks in our newsroom didn’t have to.”
What brought you to The OpEd Project initially? What made you come back for the Level II seminar?
“I originally attended an Op-Ed seminar at the insistence of a colleague, Maura Wall-Hernandez, who is an alum herself. Originally, I thought, ‘A writing class? I know how to write! What’s she talking about?” But, she persuaded me that Op-Ed was really about asserting expertise and helping/supporting other women to do the same, which was super interesting to me. And, sure enough, she was right: the Op-Ed workshop was wonderful… life-changing, even. I signed up for Level II right away after completing Level I.”
What inspired you to become a Mentor-Editor for us?
“I wanted to continue to support the program and women’s voices and knew that my skillset was a good fit there. I love to edit anyway, and have loved every minute of working with different people from different professions to help them bring their tremendous ideas into forms that demand to be widely read.”
Any words of wisdom on op-ed writing or journalism in general?
“Facts are powerful, so lob them out there to support your position. A strong, well, stated opinion piece is only strengthened and made more credible by citing facts over anecdotal information.
Also, when pitching, never forget that the editor isn’t against you, but instead is deeply rooting for greatness. The better your piece, the easier you’ve just made the editor’s workload that day. Trust me on that one.”
Visit Amy’s website here and follow her on Twitter here.
Linda Logan on Her Success in New York Times Magazine
Your op-ed in The New York Times Magazine about bipolar disorder was very open and heartfelt. What inspired you to write it?
“I have been continuously troubled by the concept of self in mental illness–the illness changes us, the drugs change us, and the way those around us act toward us changes. I wanted to know what qualities I still had, what had departed and what was new. Whenever I would bring up the crisis of self to any of my doctors, my ontological curiosity was treated as if it were another symptom–something to be quickly medicated and made to go away. To say that no one took me seriously would be an understatement. So I decided, if I wanted to present my case in the strongest, most cohesive manner possible, I’d have to write, since writing is the area where I am strongest.
The piece is longer than most Op-Eds. Did you have a technique for organizing all your thoughts?
“I don’t think the Times would consider it an Op-Ed piece. Several drafts before the published one, it contained interviews with neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, phenomenologists and others who are currently examing the self in different respects. The editor kept trying to delete or minimize the advocacy part if it, and it is very truncated, but I’ve heard from several mental health practitioners who say they ‘got the message’ and will now incorporate the self in the therapeutic dialogue.
“As for as organizing my thoughts: I just disgorge all my thoughts onto paper, however they came out. It doesn’t matter if they’re for a 2 page piece or a 25 page piece. Then I task an index card and write the topic sentence of each thought on it. Next, I go into my living room and lay all the sentences out and stand over them, tryong to see which cards wouldl make the most sense together. Then I put them in little piles annd fashion an outline by that. Circuitous, but it works for me.”
Can you tell us a bit about how you pitched The New York Times Magazine?
“What happened was, I sent it in unsolicited last April 2012. By August I hadn’t heard anything and thought it was rude not to at least notify me of my rejection. I wrote an email telling them they had my manuscript for four months and I’d like an answer so I can start sending it around to other places. I also told them it was an important piece and explained why. I told them I had delivered a paper similar to the one I was sending The New York Times and the reaction was astonishing. That this piece really hits a nerve. Finally, since the April mailing had been query only, I decided to send them the first page (a lot different from the published version), that was extremely powerful. I hit send and immediately put it out of my mind. Within five minutes the assistant to the editor-in-chief at the NYT Magazine emailed me, asking for the complete manuscript. And it just took off from there.”
There are over 400 comments in response to your piece online. What has the response overall been like? Do you feel that you’ve shared what you wanted to say?
“I have an additional 400 comments in the rocketmail account the NYT set up for the article. Reading the responses makes me think that pieces like mine were a long time coming. I got letters from people with bipolar disorder thanking me for articulating what they could not; that they were going to show it to their relatives to let them know what bipolar disorder feels like. I got letters from friends and family members of people with bipolar disorder saying how the article has permitted them to see “inside” their loved ones. Finally, all manner of mental health practitioners, from social worker, rehab couselors, to MD psychiatrists and psychopharmacologists told me they were going to put the article in their curriculum, bring up the subject of self as a major theme in the therapeutic process. etc. I could not have asked for a better outcome; I am just delighted.”
Any words of advice or inspiration to your fellow OpEd Project alums?
“I’m not sure I’m in any position to offer advice. If you were going to write a personal narrative, as I did, I’d say: Keep it true. Make sure you feel it. Make it real. And be a little pushy with editors. My editor later told me if I hadn’t written the follow-up email, my manuscript would have been tossed, unopened.”Read Linda’s piece in The New York Times Magazine here.