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.