Making Up My Mind: Choosing SmartBrief Stories

I have to make up my mind multiple times each day about which stories to feature in the nonprofit sector newsletters I edit for SmartBrief. I have to think through criteria such as:

  • What will encourage a subscriber to keep reading?
  • What will best reflect the organization the newsletter represents?
  • What will stand out in the deluge of information every news consumer faces daily?

These are the stories that best met the criteria in March:

Access breeds integrity: How scientists are getting in their own way by refusing to share

A story in the Sigma Xi Society SmartBrief discussed how scientific discoveries could progress much more quickly if paleontologists would share 3D fossil scans online. For various reasons (territoriality, copyright issues, not knowing the process involved in sharing such images), the process has been halting and incomplete.

Doug Boyer, creator of a website for virtual fossils, talks in the article about the correlation between the quantity of data and the ability to do more sophisticated analysis. “Just as important is the idea that access breeds integrity,” writes the article’s author, Dyani Lewis. The “access breeds integrity” idea is one that lodged in my head and took hold. I think it’s true beyond fossil datasets.

If we don’t have access to many things in our world, the lack of transparency threatens integrity. 

March 2019 SmartBrief Wrapup

Is helping a homeless person anonymously through an app a step forward or a step backward?

Have you ever heard the term “relational poverty”? I had never encountered it until I read this story in the BoardSource SmartBrief about beacons backed up by an app that homeless people can use to share information about themselves with potential donors to bypass “relational poverty” — the term the app’s creator uses to represent a bystander’s reluctance to help.

If access breeds integrity, as discussed above, does this app and its apparent success means that lack of access (i.e., not having to talk face to face with someone who needs help) breeds generosity?

I am simultaneously fascinated by the use of technology to make it easier for people in need to get help and appalled that it is seen as a good thing to be able to avoid all interactions.

Our military goes face-to-face in Central America to provide a helping hand

You can’t pull a Honduran kid’s painful infected tooth with an app. In the Reserve Officer Association SmartBrief, we shared a story about how Army Reserve troops with Joint Task Force-Bravo provided medical care to people in remote areas of Central America.

I am grateful to these members of our military for serving the people of Honduras in this way. 

Women in India get restroom parity

Here in the US, we may have a hint at the issue of restroom parity as homeless women (and men) seek decent facilities to use the bathroom or clean up, but the challenge exists on a much wider scale in India. A story in the International City/County Management Association SmartBrief described how Pune, India, is converting old buses into mobile restrooms for women.

Lack of public restroom access for women in India can lead to health issues, increases safety risks and may keep girls from continuing their schooling. As many as 300 women per day have visited the stations, which creators say “give women what is theirs: safety and dignity.”

I love how this effort to meet a basic need has the potential to make a difference in women’s (and girls’) lives that is so far beyond “basic.”

The Yezidi people deserve much more

The UN Wire SmartBrief format includes six two-sentence summaries and eight links to stories that don’t include a summary. I suppose it is a testament to the enormity of our world and the multitude of griping stories that we only had room to give a story about the UN and Iraq jointly exhuming the first Yezidi mass grave a link without an accompanying summary.

Still, it’s a story worth reading. I didn’t know about this until I read it, and I can barely wrap my head around a situation an Iraqi official said was among “the most brutal crimes of the modern era.”

History can’t be reversed, but I am glad the remains these people who suffered so much will be given the dignity they deserve in death, even if they didn’t get it in life.

This analysis of 911 calls from Amazon warehouses was a prime example of the intersection between working conditions and mental health

In the National Emergency Number Association SmartBrief, we shared an analysis of 911 calls made from within 46 Amazon warehouses in 17 states. Obviously, even one analysis such as this is one angle on a situation, but I found it eye opening, and it is hard to discount the themes that arose.

Experts consulted for the article agreed that “a pressure cooker environment and mental illness can be dangerously toxic combination,” while not commenting specifically on Amazon.

Our work world has, in many cases, become much more driven by metrics. This article made me wonder when the line between metrics and humanity has been crossed too far.

How one psychotherapy center ensures each step of the process is welcoming

You know how a tiny part of an experience can ruin the whole thing? A rude receptionist, the waiting room playing a tv station that ruffles your political sensibilities … that type of thing? For the National Association of Social Workers SmartBrief, we discussed how the Walnut Psychotherapy Center takes care to make sure LGBTQ clients feel welcomed from the very first moment of interaction with the center.

The intake process “[cultivates] a safe enough space for [LGBTQ clients] to articulate their needs, share their story, feel heard and seen, to have someone hold the parts of their lives that feel sacred and tender as they prepare for their journey inward with their new therapist,” writes Biany Pérez, the center’s intake coordinator.

The small things matter, whether it’s starting the therapy process or building a massive construction project. I love how this center pays attention to the nuances.

How to get people to do things

I had the opportunity to fill in for the editor of SmartBrief on Entrepreneurs for a few issues last month. For the obvious reasons, this brief is quite a departure from my usual nonprofit fare. BUT this article about the ideal pitch deck to appeal to angel investors contained this universal truth about trying to convince almost anyone of anything (a quote from Kay Sprinkel Grace): “In good times and bad, we know that people give because you meet needs, not because you have needs.”

How often have you had to convince another person of a particular point, and been tempted to focus on what you need? Even in parenting, we may want our kids to be quiet, clean their rooms more quickly or get their homework done without procrastinating, but finding the appeal (diverting them to an interesting book may engage their attention while giving you the quiet you want without you having to harangue them for example) creates a win-win for everybody (sometimes!).

March 2019 SmartBrief Wrapup

Why we should shelve our stereotypes about libraries

Another thing I had to make up my mind about recently in my SmartBrief life was a topic for my second Editor’s Desk video (here’s my first). I decided that the topic of social workers as staff members at libraries should be addressed, since we had run stories about the topic six times over six months.

I’m grateful to the Leon County Public Library for allowing me to record a video about a library in a real library, as I think the backdrop made it much more effective visually. I appreciate the National Association of Social Workers sharing the video on their Facebook page, which created a great dialogue on the topic. This subject is going to continue growing, as evidenced by sites such as Whole Person Librarianship and the movie The Public, starring Emilio Estevez and Rhymefest, which discusses a library’s decision-making process about how to handle the needs of homeless people.

Here’s the video:

About working at SmartBrief

I framed this month’s recap around decisions I personally had to make regarding the content of each brief. It is true that I make the final call, but as with all good products, each brief is a team effort involving editorial, marketing, sales and technical teams (among others).

I wrote in more detail about my experience as a SmartBrief employee here and I invite you to peruse this list of 10 openings if you’re in DC and being a part of our team may make sense for you (or if you know someone in DC who is seeking a great opportunity). As always, I’m happy to answer questions and provide more information about the process.

Here are the advertised open positions as of 4/7/19:

If you are interested in applying, please list me as your referrer or email me so we can discuss further.

To Recap

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, for which I am a contributing editor, click here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us on FacebookSmartBrief TwitterLeadership SmartBrief TwitterLinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram and Life at SmartBrief Instagram. (There’s also a SmartBrief feature at The Muse.)

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll make up your mind to stay in touch with SmartBrief!

March 2019 SmartBrief Wrapup

This post is in response to the Kat Bouska prompt “Write about a time you had to make up your mind.”

*Note: My opinions about the stories are my personal viewpoint; they do not reflect an endorsement by my employer.

Debraining Fish for Science’s Sake and More January SmartBrief Highlights

February is here, and Punxsutawney Phil predicted the news will continue to develop rapidly. Just kidding – he predicted an early spring. BUT the news will continue to develop rapidly, and I enjoy helping deliver the most important stories to SmartBrief readers. These are my favorites from February:

From ASPA (The American Society of Public Administrators)

Denver City Council unanimously bans conversion therapy

Why it’s so interesting: The American Psychiatric Association says, “No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed.” I believe they are right. Kudos, Denver.  

From Sigma Xi Science Honor Society

Monogamous species may have similar genetics

Why it’s so interesting: The point of this article is that monogamous fish, frogs, mice and voles may share a genetic pattern. There were two sentences in the article that made me say, “wow, people will do a LOT for science.” It was: “Hofmann donned scuba gear and plunged into Africa’s Lake Tanganyika to chase finger-length cichlid fish into nets. Delicately debraining them while aboard a rocking boat, he says, was a struggle.” The picture of these scientists debraining finger-length fish while aboard a rocking boat gave me a sense of their dedication. (It also confirmed what they said about their work: “We wanted to be bold—and maybe a little bit crazy.”)

From the National Association of Social Workers

Cleaning up the public perception of hoarding

Why it’s so interesting: I imagine most of us have joked about ourselves or acquaintances being “hoarders” because we accumulated so many material goods and let them take over our spaces. But, as this piece notes, hoarding can be a mental health problem. The part that struck me about this article was the issues that accompany hoarding — some people’s lives are at stake because they can’t be rescued quickly due to obstacles created by their accumulations. People who hoard animals endanger their lives because they become overwhelmed by their needs and fail to care for them properly. The town featured here created a Hoarding Task Force whose goal is to “get the person to agree to a significant clean-out.” 

From UN Wire

Anti-Semitism is worsening, UN chief warns

Why it’s so important: Sadly, I doubt this is news. Holocaust Education Week events will be happening this week in Tallahassee through the Holocaust Education Resource Council. “…hatred is easy to uncork, and very hard to put back in the bottle,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. He is right.  

From BoardSource

St. Louis program aims to curtail gun violence

Why it’s so interesting: This piece describes a de-escalation program in St. Louis designed to reduce gun violence. It describes a situation where the nonprofit paid a victim of violence to leave town while it attempted to intervene with the perpetrator.The victim then returned to St. Louis “with the guarantee no harm would come to him.” I really hope this works, but the “guarantee” part leaves me a little skeptical. However, what a great thing that this effort is being made. 

From the Reserve Officers Association

Changes to Uniform Code of Military Justice Now in Effect and Thousands vie for spots on Army’s esports team

Why they are so interesting: The esports story was my choice this month (6,500 active-duty and Reserve troops competing for 30 spots  on the Army’s esports team, vying for about 30 positions? The Army has an esports team? (They do, obviously.)

However, the Uniform Code of Military Justice story was far and away the most popular story in the ROA SmartBrief in January, so clearly it was of high significance to our readers. (The UCMJ was revised to incorporate new definitions of adultery and domestic violence, among other things.) I learn something new every day working for SmartBrief, but editing this story led me to learn more about the UCMJ, and to appreciate, as I always do, having a job that encourages me to keep learning.

From the National Emergency Number Association

Dispatch center’s foster dog helps lighten the emotional load

Why it is so interesting: It has become clear to me that being a dispatcher and/or first responder is a profession that is stressful. This dispatch center in Johnson County, Ind., took one step toward alleviating stress by bringing on a foster dog, Lincoln (he’s named after Lincoln Logs). Inspired by the dispatch center that handled the Sandy Hook Elementary School emergency, the dispatch center and the county’s animal control department worked together to match Lincoln with the center until he is adopted. The power of animals, again. 

From ICMA (the International City/County Management Association)

Mom from Zimbabwe describes city’s challenges

Why it is so interesting: This piece described, from a mother’s perspective, the intersection between a city’s economic and government conditions and the day-to-day survival of families. As the city’s mass transit system deteriorated and private transportation took control, someone like a mom needing to do the grocery shopping on Saturday found herself in a catch-22 situation. Maureen Sigauke says that high prices are an issue because of inflation, but those are made worse by the difficulties of getting to vendors — she can only afford to take two of her six children with her because fares are so expensive (she also faces a Central Business District beset by danger). Another mom must walk. A mother in slightly better economic conditions doesn’t face the same difficulties, but still must contend with high prices for gas and parking. As a mom, I felt so much empathy for these other mothers, just trying to feed their families against difficult odds.

Checking Out Some SmartBrief Features While Traveling

During my recent trip to New York City, I got to see two things that had been featured in SmartBrief newsletters I had edited.

Pier 55 Park

When I filled in as the editor of the National Recreation and Park Association SmartBrief in December, we ran a story about Champagne-glass-shaped pylons going up on NYC’s Pier 55 park project.  As I read the stories about the project the day I was editing, I tried to get my head around the 90-ton, champagne-glass-shaped pots that will be the centerpiece of the project. My itinerary in the city was NUTS, so I didn’t have tons of time to thoroughly indulge my curiosity, but I did catch a glimpse of the project as I took a Lyft one day:

Favorite January2019 SmartBrief stories

Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling

We talked about this place in the BoardSource SmartBrief in October, then I discussed it in a video shortly afterward. Although it was a brief (no pun intended!) visit, I loved seeing the museum in person.

Favorite January2019 SmartBrief stories

Favorite January2019 SmartBrief stories

This is the mural, Recuerdame, that is behind me in the above picture.

Favorite January2019 SmartBrief stories

The weather had been pouring and rainy when I arrived. When I left, it was a different — and beautiful — story.

SmartBrief’s DC Office

This doesn’t relate to a story we’ve covered, but it was a highlight of my trip. I started as a freelancer with SmartBrief in January 2017 and became a full-time editor in September 2018, working remotely the whole time. I spent one of the days of my trip working in the Washington, D.C., office.

Although I love almost everything about working from home, I am also a big believer in the power of spending time in person with team members when possible. It was a memorable day, and only confirmed what I already instinctively knew: I work with bright, enjoyable people!

Favorite January2019 SmartBrief stories

Speaking of bright, enjoyable people…

When I share my recaps, I also like to give an update about openings. I wrote in more detail about my experience here.

SmartBrief’s open position(s)

Here are SmartBrief’s currently advertised open positions:

And in the New York office:

If you are interested in applying, please list me as your referrer or email me so we can discuss further. 

To Recap

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including our newest, the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, for which I am a contributing editor, click here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us on FacebookSmartBrief TwitterLeadership SmartBrief TwitterLinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram and Life at SmartBrief Instagram. (There’s also a SmartBrief feature at The Muse.)

Thanks for reading, and I hope to play a part in keeping you informed long into the future!

Favorite January2019 SmartBrief stories

*Note: My opinions about the stories are my personal viewpoint; they do not reflect an endorsement by my employer.