A few folks have asked what I've been working on since leaving full-time employment at the end of 2019. Here's an update:
I've continued my graduate studies in journalism, and I'm currently planning to graduate next year with a master's degree focused on reporting and storytelling. My classes thus far have included:
- Studies in Journalism and Communication Theory
- Social and Cross-Media Storytelling
- Journalistic Judgments
- Data Journalism
- Emerging Technologies
- Diversity & Media
Coming up this fall I'm diving into "Intro to Statistical Methods" and "Media Audiences and Content Strategy."
Overall the program at Ball State University has been good for me. I'm learning a lot and the material is interesting and relevant. It's pretty focused on building a skillset in research, news reporting and media production, and given that I've done a lot of those kinds of things professionally and for personal projects, there have been times where my impatience to apply my skills and knowledge has made me wonder if I needed to finish the degree program at all. But most of the time I just appreciate that I'm getting to take my interests and knowledge to a new level in a new context, and that I'm honing in on what I might (and might not) be able to contribute to the world of journalism.
Growing my SaaS application
About a year ago I launched a software-as-a-service tool called WP Lookout, aimed at helping WordPress professionals keep track of things happening with the themes and plugins they depend on in their work. I've continued to add new features and get a few paying subscribers, and it was fun to have it featured in some industry press coverage (WP Tavern, Post Status). This summer I've been working with a contractor on marketing and strategy for increasing user signups.
Overall this project continues to be one that mostly scratches some personal itches (solving a technical problem I had for myself, learning the Laravel framework, getting practice launching a modern SaaS offering), and the fact that it might be useful to other people is a bonus on top of that. There are plenty of other features I'd like to add to it, but I'm also trying to make sure my time invested is proportionate to the value it brings me and other people, especially since there are other (unrelated) SaaS tools I'm working toward building and launching, along with various open source software projects I contribute to.
Leading the local Democratic party
In March I was elected as the Chair of the Wayne County, Indiana Democratic party. Going in I knew it would be a tough role, and that's turned out to be true.
I'm basically doing a part-time job on a volunteer basis, trying to meet high expectations and make difficult-to-quantify progress in an historically tough political climate. Within the first few weeks of taking on the role I was getting calls and emails from people who were already disappointed in me for not being ready to take on their particular passion projects, or even for just not responding to them instantly.
This has been frustrating at times, but I try to take it as a good sign that people are still engaged and excited about the progressive change they think is possible via local politics and elections. More importantly, it's clear that there are still plenty of people whose voices are not being heard and whose needs are not being met by some of the elected leadership in place now, at all levels; if I can make a difference there, I want to.
In just the last few months, I was able to shepherd the appointment of a local community leader to fill a vacancy on City Council. I've had good conversations with community members who are concerned and who want to make a difference, and who offer their advice and support. I've been able to apply my past experience leading teams, businesses and not-for-profits, not to mention my proficiency with technology tools, to try to make the party's work more effective and efficient. I'm doing a lot of listening, trying to connect with more people who have not historically always felt welcomed or included in the party's activities. And I'm enjoying meeting and collaborating with people in local and state politics across Indiana.
I've continued to do occasional interviews and commentary via my local Richmond Matters podcast, although those have dropped off a bit in recent months as I ended up producing similar kinds of work for my graduate courses and didn't have the time or appetite to do both. I really enjoy this kind of creative work and I want to do more of it, but it's also pretty time consuming. I have a few ideas for other podcast concepts I want to create, but between other commitments and the persistent question of "does the world need another white dude launching a podcast?," I'm holding off for now.
As an entrepreneur and founder, I know the value of having support and counsel from others as a new business or technology launches into the world. I'm fortunate to now be in a position where I can apply what I've learned to help others, through mentoring and investing in startup companies.
So far this has mostly happened in my role as limited partner investor in TinySeed's Fund 2. TinySeed provides funding, mentorship and community to early-stage, independent B2B Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies as an alternative to the traditional venture capital route. I'm also looking for similar opportunities that focus on innovation in addressing the climate crisis and/or on businesses founded by women, people of color, and other people traditionally under-supported in the startup investing world.
Consulting and WordPress development
I've continued to do bits of consulting and software development work for clients here and there, providing high level strategic advising along with a mix of plugin/theme development and troubleshooting services for WordPress sites and projects. That included the limited work I did advising organizations on distributed/remote work best practices and the time I spent last year as the Digital Editor for the Western Wayne News newspaper in Cambridge City, Indiana.
The nuances of working with clients in an agency or freelancer project context is still something I am admittedly pretty picky about; I guess between the years running an agency and then subsequent work on high pressure client-facing teams have left me with some residual burnout around navigating those dynamics. But it means that when I do find a client/project I know I want to work with, now it's because it's clearly something special and exciting for me to be a part of.
Parenting, homeschooling and pandemic-surviving
I won't even try to tackle in this post what it's been like to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, but it's obviously affected all areas of life and work in the last year and a half. Having our daughter's daily learning and school routine end abruptly, figuring out homeschooling and quarantine pods, and then having a bunch of other things about daily life change pretty dramatically soon after that was a big adjustment. Add in watching friends and neighbors get sick, the uncertainties and frustrations around travel, not seeing friends and family, possible returns to the classroom, politicization of public health responses, overall national and global discord, continued concern over the impact of systemic racism and the manifestations of white supremacy, saying goodbye to our dog Chloe at the end of her life...well, it's a lot.
As with so many other people, I know my physical, mental and spiritual health have taken a big hit, and there's not exactly a clear path back to a good place. I know many people and communities have had it a lot worse, and I suspect it will take us decades or more to understand the ways we've all been affected. It continues to feel like the world is on fire and I continue to wrestle with what, exactly, I should do about it.
Am I looking for a job?
As much as I enjoy the ways that rotating my attention between all of these projects and interests feeds my generalist tendencies, I continue to be on the lookout for opportunities that will knit everything together in a way that's higher impact and more personally sustainable. I still think there's probably a better way for me to be working at the intersections of journalism, politics, technology and civic engagement than I am now, whether that's through employment, co-founding something new or otherwise. And right before the pandemic, I was going to take time to explore that more fully — "create a story, join a story, tell a story?" — through research, conferences, travel and the like, but then life changed around me.
I've done some reaching out to people and organizations who seem to be doing exciting things in those spaces, and I try to make myself as open as possible to what might come from that, even if it's just a good conversation. (If you are someone who thinks about, works with or travels in any of those overlapping circles and you have a connection you'd like to make, I will of course be very grateful!)
I'm fortunate to have the privilege of some financial savings that let me explore new things, be discerning in what I say "yes" to, and take some risks. The support of my family and friends, not to mention the health insurance that comes with my wife's work, has made it possible. Unless any of that changes or until some new opportunity emerges, I think I will continue to embrace this strange mix of projects and passions, and do the best I can to make the world a better place along the way.
Photo by my daughter. ❤️