According to Wikipedia, Creativity magazine “provides a showcase of the best ideas across all areas of consumer culture, an exploration of the talent and techniques behind the work and insight on the people and the trends shaping brand creativity.”
I know of Creativity magazine because back in the Wild Wild West days of the Internet, one of my favorite web sites on the planet was AdCritic.com. If there was a killer commercial for a Canadian beer company that featured some guy getting kicked in the grapes, you were going to find it on that site. I loved it.
When the original AdCritic site shut down in late 2001, it was purchased by the folks who run Creativity magazine.
I thought of all of this a few months ago when I was told that I had been named to Creativity magazine’s annual list “chronicling 50 creative folks who have inspired us over the previous year.”
My thoughts immediately were that they must have had problems coming up with 50 solid candidates this time around. But, I did answer their e-mailed list of questions, just in case they were serious.
(To be honest, it sure would make my mom happy back in Osage City, Kan., if it were true.)
Well, I got an invitation this week saying that I am invited to a party in New York to celebrate this year’s “Creativity 50.” So, I immediately did what any self-respecting nerd would do and Googled it. Here’s a link to the PDF of the article from the March issue of the magazine if you want to see what an Internet geek looks like in print.
And just as I had thought back in early February, there clearly had to have been mistakes made that landed me on this list.
Or maybe I was put on the list to give it more of an “everyday person” feel so that others could say, “well here’s some dork I’ve never heard of.”
As a good rule of thumb, a list that includes kick-ass video game designers, Sergey Brin, Bono, Ze Frank, Steve Jobs, Blake Ross, and the guy who dreams up the crazy shit that happens in Geico commercials — well, that list probably shouldn’t include a dork who still tries to hide goofy Easter eggs in the sites we build for major news organizations.
Anyway, I’ve now got to ask my wife if she wants to go to the party.
If she does, we’re going to have to find a babysitter because I’m guessing that the other folks at this shin-dig aren’t going to be bringing their kids.
(My boss at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive once said she would babysit for us, but I’m guessing she was just being nice because she’s even busier than I am, and there’s no way she can possibly have the time to watch the Curley offspring.)
Anyway, here are the answers that I gave in the e-mail interview with the writer from “Creativity” magazine:
Describe your role now.
I work with a small skunkworks team that works with all of the different properties at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive.
To be honest, our WPNI marketing folks described my job so well when it was announced that I was coming to Washington, that you’d probably be much better off just using their description. They made it sound like our team knows what we’re doing. Heck, I believed it after I read it.
How have you applied the strategies that worked in places like Naples (eg going deep on local issues; building stuff that’s useful to readers’ daily lives) to the Washington Post?
Our team’s first few months in Washington have been about laying the groundwork for a lot of things, so there hasn’t been a lot to show — but things are really starting to gear up.
In early February, our team released its first major project for washingtonpost.com. It was a video series called “onBeing.”
For me, “onBeing” represents everything our team stands for: celebrating local people who have great stories to tell; multimedia storytelling that tries to embrace the things that make the Internet such a unique environment; lots of interactive elements, from how the audience initially reacts to the video player built specifically for the project to the ability for our audience to offer their thoughts on every video; building a delivery method that allows the content to be enjoyed on tons of different devices, and — of course — the ability to get reminders sent to your e-mail whenever we post a new video.
But we’ve got lots more cool stuff in the pipeline including our take on what a huge hyper-local community site looks like when your local newspaper is The Washington Post, and a local sports site that’s got me so excited I just keep the “Rocky” theme music playing in my office in a continuous loop.
Have there been universal truths about creating an online voice for a newspaper that have applied to all the markets you’ve worked in?
I think there always is a balance between “small j” journalism and “big J” Journalism. And for the most part, I think most newspapers have forgotten how important “small j” journalism can be in helping a community feel connected to its newspaper.
Newspapers have to be the Fourth Estate and look under the table for things that aren’t right, but we can’t forget that doing little things that help our readers live their daily lives better is a very admirable and honorable profession. And that’s where I’ve noticed what you called the “universal truths.”
People look to their local newspaper web site as almost a guide to living in their community, and most fail horribly in that role.
Everywhere I’ve ever been, there are certain things people love to discover on their newspaper site:
* What’s going on tonight, and if there’s something I really want to do, will you remind me of it?
* Where can I still get a good meal at midnight?
* Which local church is the best fit for my family?
* Tell me about our local schools.
* I heard the neighbor kid ran for a 52-yard touchdown on Friday night. Can I see video of that?
From what I’ve been able to tell, whether you live in Lawrence, Kan., or Washington, D.C., those are great things to be able to turn to your newspaper’s web site for. Useful stuff is useful stuff regardless of how long your commute is.
Your comments on your blog about even bigger papers needing to be relevant to the community as well as cover the ‘big j’ stories – do you think papers with the history of the Washington Post or the NY Times take that to heart — is there a snobbery about going too local/too accessible (or whatever you want to call it?)
I know The Washington Post takes that to heart. The problem is that it’s a lot harder to do that when you’re the local newspaper for four or five million people.
That being said, I can’t wait until people see how we’re going to approach it here.
I read a quote from you that said something to the effect of “I just want to make cool sh*t.” It’s funny a lot of the best younger creatives today have used those words to describe what interests them about the job of doing brand-related creative (i.e. as opposed to occupying a specific role where you are meant to do a specific job like ‘writing tv commercials’) Is that harder to do within a larger organization?
It’s definitely harder, but also very rewarding. We had “onBeing” basically ready to go months before it showed up on our site, and we were in more meetings for that project than every other project our team has ever worked on combined. Ever.
But, you know, more people saw “onBeing” on its first day on washingtonpost.com than would have seen it in a year on naplesnews.com or LJWorld.com.
And I know our team feels pretty confident that “onBeing” is some cool shit.
What have been some of your favorite projects/initiatives in your current job?
I’ve loved nearly everything we’ve built here at WPNI. Of course, we haven’t built much.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
I’m not a big ‘meeting’ person, and we certainly have a lot of meetings here. But the worst thing about meetings is that they have set start times, and I’ve never had much of a relationship with watches and clocks.
How do you instill a creative culture in the companies/departments you’ve worked in?
I think it’s really important to hire self-motivated people who generally are much smarter than me. Then you layer in a very light atmosphere that encourages people to joke around with each other and enjoy their time in the office. It’s also good to give them lots of free highly caffeinated beverages.
Plus, if you asked anyone on our team if they worked for me, they would all correct you to say that they worked with me, not for me. I like that.
What inspires you consistently?
I learn so much from watching my kids do things. They don’t know how things have always been done, so they see things without the baggage that I do.
I’m always writing myself little notes based upon something I’ve seen my kids do.
And I never stop thinking about things our team should be building. I’m always writing things down on napkins, or leaving myself voicemails, and my wife has just come to expect that I will wake up numerous times throughout the night to write down ideas.
Everyday when I come to work, my pockets are full of these little notes.
I know this is going to sound like a cliche from someone who’s supposed to be fresh, but I guess I’m saying that everything inspires me, and I write a lot of it down.
What do you like to do/read/watch/play? (not necessarily your favorite sites, just other stuff that keeps you interested)
I love music — both listening to it on my iPod and going to concerts. I saw Prince a month ago, and that guy is a genius. But I also love a lot of the newer bands. I’m weird. I love the Scissor Sisters and Motley Crue, and something about that is seriously not right.
My all-time favorite band is Semisonic and they really should just get back together.
I love buying all the latest gadgets. And they don’t even have to be electronic gadgets. I just love little gizmos.
I’m enamored with Disney — the man, the company, the movies, the theme parks, everything. Mickey Mouse kicks ass on about 100 different levels.
I’m a sports nut. And, yes, the Kansas Jayhawks have a legitimate shot at the NCAA men’s basketball title this year. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!