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This is a weekly newsletter for Gather, a project + platform to support community-minded journalists and other engagement professionals. We’d love your feedback. What's useful about this newsletter? What's missing? Let us know

In this week's newsletter:

  • STAY FOCUSED: Gatherers share how they protect their attention.

  • CASE STUDY: Learn how the Wichita Eagle tackled community literacy through a virtual reading challenge.

  • JOB ALERT: Hearst Connecticut Media seeks an Engagement Editor to help lead a culture change in their network of local papers.

  • HOT READ: A small newspaper in rural Oregon is thriving.

  • INTROS: Meet Shirley Qiu, the Audience Engagement Strategist at the American Press Institute.

Stop clicking between tabs and get to work.

As we head into a month that — even to people who are used to being busy — feels especially hectic, let’s talk about productivity and prioritizing. If we want to keep our energy and attention focused on what matters most in our work, we need to make room for that work and not let it get lost in a sea of crowded To Do lists.

I’m sure you’ve seen the Eisenhower method of putting tasks in quadrants to determine if they are:

  1. Both urgent and important
  2. Important but not urgent
  3. Urgent but not important
  4. Neither urgent nor important

I’m a fan of this in theory, and it often works for me these days — I work in a home office and have tons of control over my time and priorities. My career until recently was spent in newsrooms, though, where too many tasks feel both urgent and important. When something is needed, it’s needed in five minutes. Colleagues and audience members expect quick responses. There’s no one to delegate to because everyone else is swamped, too. And if we don’t move quickly, the news cycle will leave us behind.

Prioritizing is especially important in that climate. And if your job involves long-term goals and strategy work, finding time to set aside distractions and focus is key.

Cal Newport wrote a book called Deep Work, and I recently listened to him being interviewed by Ezra Klein. Newport describes the ways our brain seeks new stimuli and how that translates into a clicking back and forth between tasks. We trick ourselves into thinking our job requires us to be on top of things minute to minute in a way that hinders our actual productivity.

I asked about this on the Gather Slack recently. Folks talked about the urge to clear notifications instantly and the pull of short-term projects over long-term ones. They also shared these strategies.

Kim Bode: I use the Do Not Disturb function on my computer a lot when I need to focus on project work or also in meetings and on calls. I also have any noise or vibration notifications disabled on my phone. This way I'm more in control of when I tend to those/emails/Slack messages etc.

Cory Brown: I'm a huge fan of the Pomodoro technique. Even at my most distractible, I can resist temptation for 25 minutes. There's a Trello add-on called Pomello that is great for marrying up the tracking & what I'm working on.

Penny Riordan: A couple of things that help me to dive in when I block out time to do more critical tasks: Music, a change of atmosphere (coffee shop), and choosing to do those things on certain days. I’ve started to group my more task-y work into the same day (Monday) or a few hours together if possible so I can knock a bunch of things off my list. Tuesdays seem to be good days for me to think more critically. If I have something I really need to focus on, I set a timer or stopwatch on my phone, which reminds me that I need to fully focus on the task at hand.

A couple other tips: If you’re a fan of using technology to form habits, check out this list of habit-tracking apps. And if you have a project you’ve been meaning to finish forever, Jessica Abel has advice. She suggests you turn projects into tasks by making a list of distinct questions that need to be answered.

I wish for you — and for me — productivity and undistracted work!

Joy Mayer, Gather Community Manager

How the Wichita Eagle Tackled Community Literacy Through a Virtual Reading Challenge

By Greg Retsinas

The Wichita Eagle newspaper created a 12-month, 12-book reading challenge that it runs through a closed Facebook group. Participants in the virtual book club can track their progress in the challenge, share book reviews, make recommendations, provide links to book-related stories and events, and engage with each other. The project is managed by the newspaper’s books columnist, Suzanne Tobias, who is also an education reporter.

Read the case study on Gather.

You can now publicly share the 94 case studies and featured projects on Gather with friends and colleagues. Take a look through, and then recommend projects you’d like to see us dig into.

Lightning Chats

Discuss a shared challenge, brainstorm ideas for a project, or learn more about a case study at Gather's lightning chats. You can also subscribe to a lightning chat calendar on Google calendar or on iCal. Here's what's coming up:
  • Dec. 5 // Gather welcome session: We have a consistent stream of new folks joining Gather, and the Gather staff and steering committee would like the chance to welcome you properly. Join us for an informal chat. We’ll briefly walk through the ways you can make the most of Gather, then we’ll have introductions and share ideas. We’ll toast each other with a cup of coffee (for our West Coast members), a glass of wine (for our European members) or any beverage of your choice! Join us on Zoom at 2 pm ET / 11 am PT on Dec. 5 for a 30-minute conversation. Click here to add this to your Google Calendar.   

Jobs, Fellowships, and Funding

Check out our full list of jobs, fellowships, and funding opportunities on Gather, and let us know what we're missing. Here's what's new this week:
  • Engagement Editor, Hearst Connecticut Media: "Hearst Connecticut Media seeks an Engagement Editor to help lead culture change at the state's largest local journalism organization. They will encourage and help guide editors' and reporters' interaction and outreach with and active listening to readers and communities, oversee social media, lead the newsroom in developing conversations around news coverage, and play a key role in audience development. They will report to Hearst Connecticut's vice president of news and digital content, and be a senior newsroom leader of Hearst's network of local newspapers in Connecticut, including the New Haven Register, Connecticut Post, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Norwalk Hour and Danbury News-Times." Learn more.

Community Updates

If you haven't joined the Gather Slack community, you're missing out on a lot of brainstorming, advice giving and collaboration. Join here.

Meet Shirley Qiu, this week's Featured Member.

Name: Shirley Qiu

What you do: I'm the Audience Engagement Strategist at the American Press Institute, where I work with the Metrics for News team to help newsrooms around the country make sense of their analytics and better understand their audiences.

Why you’re on Gather: I'm always thinking about ways news organizations can better connect with their audiences, and Gather is a great space for inspiring ideas and keeping up with current events in the engagement realm. It's awesome to see all the conversation/idea-sharing that happens on Slack, and I'm glad to be part of such a collaborative community!

One thing you want to learn on Gather: I'd love to hear more about how newsrooms are pushing the envelope on engagement. What kinds of creative strategies and methods are newsrooms using to connect with their audiences? Which ones are effective, and why?

One thing you have to share on Gather: I'm a big fan of email newsletters (and probably a little overambitious about how many I can actually read), and had a lot of fun writing a weekly food newsletter at The Seattle Times in the past. I'd be happy to talk strategy, content, tone, etc., with anyone going through that process of creating or tweaking a newsletter.

One thing about your work that gets you especially pumped up: Having only worked in local newsrooms before coming to API, I'm very excited to get a more big-picture view of what's happening in newsrooms across the country.

Who or what inspired you to get into this work? I originally got into journalism because I like to write and felt that reporting the news of the day for a whole population of people is an important privilege. But I came to realize that writing was not my favorite part of the job; meeting and interviewing people was. And as I've transitioned away from reporting into a more digital role, I've noticed that what I've consistently liked best about journalism is connecting with people. That's the part that gets me excited to go to work each day.

Would you rather have more time or more money? Money, for traveling!

Links for ways to connect with you:
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