Digital Speaker Series features SJMC graduate and NY Times staffer Maira Garcia

by Becky Larson:

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Maira Garcia at TX State’s Digital Speaker Series

Maira Garcia is a senior staff editor at the New York Times. She works to organize, strategize and push content for the paper’s homepage, NYTimes.com.

Interviewed by digital media graduate student Jordon Brown and speaking to what felt like a hometown crowd, Garcia, who is a Texas State graduate, returned to the university this past week as the most recent speaker in the SJMC’s Digital Entrepreneurship Series.

“I learned a lot at TX State…”

Garcia earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree with Texas State and was one of the first to matriculate under the graduate program’s Digital Media concentration.

It was this skills-focused digital concentration that she told the audience was one of the most important aspects of her time at Texas State.

“The research aspect was great but the skills based learning was essential,” she explained.

While Garcia doesn’t consider herself an expert in programming or coding, she said that understanding those skills at even a basic level enabled her to work and communicate more effectively with the teams who were focused on those areas.

She also participated in the program’s much-acclaimed SXTXState project, where an elite team of graduate students provide digital coverage of SXSW Interactive, and credits her time at SXSW with opening her eyes to the world of web journalism.

“SXSW gave me an awareness of people who were really passionate about web journalism – they weren’t just thinking about print.”

After Graduation

Garcia spoke of her time immediately after receiving her Master’s degree with both a somber and encouraging attitude.

“It was a difficult time but I saw it as a roadblock I had to get through,” she explained.

Moving straight from the university into a position with a digital startup, she said she quickly realized that it wasn’t the right environment for her. Her difficult decision to leave that job, however, was not tempered by a waiting position elsewhere.

While searching for a full-time position, she next worked for a publishing company as well as several other short-term interim positions which she credits with forcing her to think outside of her comfort zone.

It was months before a position became available at the Austin American Statesman, which had a sudden opening for social media manager. Garcia seized the opportunity and ended up landing the job.

Her time at the Statesman was to be short-lived for a very different reason than her first post-graduation job.

A year and a half after joining the paper Garcia found herself again at SXSW, only this time she ran into an old acquaintance.

“I had met Aron Pilhofer when he came to speak at Texas State,” Garcia said, adding with a laugh, “at an event much like this.”

Pilhofer, who now works for the Guardian, was then working at the Times and looking to expand their social media team. He recruited Garcia.

Contrary to what one might think, Garcia explained that it wasn’t an easy decision to leave Texas for the Times. She finally asked Pilhofer if he thought she should make the leap.

“He told me, ‘You will be working with some of the smartest people in the world who care deeply about journalism,’ and I decided to go.”

The Times

Garcia didn’t have time to miss Texas – Hurricane Sandy hit almost immediately after her arrival in New York and she was forced to hit the ground running, learning quickly about the pace of work at the Times.

Her position is one which requires, and forces, collaboration on all levels. Organizing the homepage’s content requires the writing of headlines and story summaries, finding and formatting of photos and other visuals, keeping abreast of breaking news and coordinating with a constant stream of editors, designers and reporters.

Trying to give the audience an example of the immediacy and non-stop nature of the work, Garcia brought up the Times’ app and the breaking news alerts that appear as push notifications on a user’s phone.

“The breaking news alerts that push to your phone? I push that button.”

The Innovation Report
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Garcia answers student and staff questions at Texas State – photo by Cindy Royal

The question of what changes have been wrought at the Times since the 2014 leaking of their internal Innovation Report was asked almost immediately.

To which Garcia replied with a lengthy list that she said was still only an example of the many changes happening at the Times.

In their pursuit of the elusive Millennial audience the paper has created an audience development team and expanded their social media presence.

“We don’t want to be Buzzfeed but [they’ve] made us think about how we put our journalism out there,” Garcia said seriously.

Other changes included a renewed focus on mobile storytelling, amplified use of analytics, a new core app and the reworking of the digital tools the Times uses to produce their work.

Pro Tips

The student-heavy audience had many requests for advice, whether for their post-graduation job search or for their attempts at personal branding and social media presence.

“Finding my voice on social media was important,” Garcia said in response to the latter. She recommended people don’t just tweet out headlines.

“Try to keep a personality,” she suggested, but added that social media content should also be professional and finding the balance between the two can be difficult.

As for what to focus on for their future, she emphasized the importance of networking and referenced her own journey to the Times through her network with Pilhofer.

“Don’t forget about the connections you make, keep those lines open. […] Always be willing to reach out to people,” she said.

She also reinforced the digital message of the speaker series by suggesting students “move beyond the word doc,” in their portfolio.

“If I can’t pull up your resume on my phone, I’m moving on,” she told the group.

For all those with Times-sized aspirations, she said:

“It’s not about one person [at the Times]. It’s about the Times as a whole – it’s what do you bring to the table; what can you do to help us be even better. You can’t have an ego at a place like the Times.”

You can watch the live-streamed interview here.

Tonight the speaker series will feature Rooster teeth Production‘s Burnie Burns.

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