Editor's note: This story is part of a community-oriented, weekly article series in which Community Manager Caira Conner discusses how to get the most out of PolicyMic.
Last Tuesday, I announced my quest to provide consistent feedback on how PolicyMic's exceptional community can make the most of their time spent with us. The objective is straightforward — use a weekly column to explore different ideas on the ways PolicyMic can be a professional springboard.
At the heart of all we do at PolicyMic is the desire to offer millennials a platform to help them succeed. This week's column features perspectives from seasoned pundit Chase Meacham on using PolicyMic to build a résumé, develop new skills sets and increase marketability in the workplace.
Each Wednesday, I'll host a Twitter chat (#TalkPM) to answer questions and offer input on how to make the most out of your PolicyMic experience. I'll publish an article in advance of each week's discussion to guide the chat's theme, but am open to topic input.
T. Chase Meacham is a Georgetown student, a playwright, and our inaugural PolicyMic strategist intern. Below are his thoughts on the best (and most difficult) aspects of using PolicyMic as a platform, what the staff needs to pay extra attention to, and how the millennial community can get exactly where they want to go.
Caira Conner (CC): You were PolicyMic's first community strategist intern, but you've also been a breaking news writer and a paid editorial intern. What are the best (and not so best) parts of learning the ropes of all three roles? Is there anything about your experience you wish were different?
Chase Meacham (CM): Being a breaking news writer probably had the steepest and most exciting learning curve of the roles I've taken on at PolicyMic. This was how I started with the group, as many do, and was the first time I explored writing for the web in a context beyond Facebook and Twitter. I had to learn how to write on a hard deadline which was usually wedged between classes and work obligations. I'd receive a prompt, run through some quick research, and hammer out a piece that was both timely, informed, well-researched and (hopefully) enjoyable. I had good pieces and bad pieces, realizing quickly that both would be published and on the Internet for the foreseeable forever.
Someone once told me that if a reader agrees with an article, she'll share, and if she doesn't, she'll comment. Another once said that there's no better way to engage in spirited (and perhaps feisty) debate than to write something that challenges the perspective of libertarians. Both of these things, I found, are true.
Transitioning from breaking news writer to paid breaking news editorial intern meant I was working just under full-time, as opposed to on-call between classes; I developed my own readership base of a few individuals who would routinely mic and comment on my work, which was immensely rewarding as a writer. And I got better — the quality of my work improved. I got faster as well, becoming more thorough in the research for my articles, and more efficient in the write-ups.
The last jump was to become PolicyMic's first community strategist intern, planning on how to grow the writer network (specifically in the Washington, D.C. area), and to better leverage the community that we have in place. This has been rewarding, but difficult. Where writing for PolicyMic was almost completely autonomous, requiring only periodic check-ins with the editorial team for assignments and feedback, community leveraging has required continued collaboration and constant interaction with new and existing D.C. pundits. It's a new skill set that I've been able to hone through PolicyMic, and one that I'm sure will help me in my future work.
CC: As you mentioned, one of the biggest projects we've collaborated on is developing the PolicyMic/Georgetown offline relationship. What's it like to help build out a community you're already a part of? What are the most challenging aspects of this initiative?
CM: Building a PolicyMic community at Georgetown has not been easy, but has already been hugely rewarding. The Georgetown student community tends to be highly engaged, and tuned into the large number of political and policy-related events that happen in our city on a daily basis. When offered the chance to write about the issues and events they care about, they jump.
PolicyMic originally explored the idea of writing for credit in conjunction with the university. But what we found was that for many students, that actually wasn't the biggest draw to the PolicyMic platform. Georgetown students are packed with opinions (trust me); the chance to write, to be edited by an amazing editorial team, to be published and shared and tweeted and commented upon and discussed — these are the things that draw the most Georgetown students to PolicyMic. These are the selling points of the platform.
The most challenging aspect of leveraging the the D.C. millennial community thus far has been not getting ahead of ourselves. Our jobs is to try and build up a community, not necessarily to directly engage it — (those responsibilities usually lie with the section editors that make direct article assignments to their writers). We've been trying to strike a balance, to build up a group of folks who can be leveraged when need be, and to keep them involved and invested in the platform even while they're not currently writing.
CC: We encourage millennials to write for our platform in addition to all the work, school, and life commitments they have going on. We argue that one of the biggest advantages to doing so is that having a portfolio of published work leads to other professional opportunities. As a current undergraduate, would you agree that PolicyMic pundits can position themselves to get ahead professionally? Is there other value-add to writing for an online platform that we're overlooking?
CM: In the perpetually competitive world of résumé-building that is the M.O. for college students looking to get ahead, PolicyMic is a really great bet. Students can build up a strong portfolio of professionally edited, published work, and honestly, what pundits get out of the platform is exactly what they choose to put into it. They learn crucial and coveted skills like working on tight deadlines, responding to an editor, collaboration, research, writing and editing skills. Of all the job applications I've seen or filled out over the last three years, at least 90% listed "superb communication, writing, and research skills" as prerequisites for the candidates. All of these are skills you learn while writing for PolicyMic, and you'll have the published articles to prove it.
CC: Your focus at Georgetown has been the intersection of theater and politics. How did this particular merge of interests benefit your PolicyMic user experience? How does PolicyMic benefit your student experience?
CM: This has been an interesting road for me. Last year I wrote and directed a new play, Polk Street, that was an adaptation of an oral historian's work on San Francisco gentrification. He researched specifically the low-income Tenderloin neighborhood, which for years had been populated by seedy bars, drag queens, transgendered individuals, sex workers and drug users.
For me, Polk Street was the culmination of my interest in theater and politics. I believe strongly in a self-conscious theater — one that seriously grapples with policy and conflict as a means of community engagement. I've always had a close love of writing, which made the PolicyMic platform an ideal choice for me. As with Polk Street, I was able to write on my own time about the things about which I was most passionate. PolicyMic, in turn, has helped me inform my own opinions. Nothing has helped me better understand the issues I care about than researching and writing about them.
CC: What's one piece of advice you have for the PolicyMic staff about how to create a more meaningful experience for its community? What insight would you share with a PolicyMic pundit who wants to know the best way to use this platform to their advantage?
CM: For the staff, my only word of caution would be the list article format (full disclosure: I am absolutely no good at the list format). There are only so many things that can be listed in this world, and while they tend to be readily sharable, they only bear so much editorial weight among the hundreds of other brilliant pieces that could be published on that same topic. My suggestion would be to continue to value the millennial voice (well-researched, powerfully-written articles) over the sharability of the list. We want to be the signal in the debate, not just contributing to the noise.
As for the writers, you have an opinion and it's a good one. This is a platform, a little less social than Facebook, but much more intellectually sophisticated. Use it that way. This site was built by a few people passionate about making sure that your thoughts about the world can reach the thousands of people who want to read them. The more you write, the more people will read, and comment, and tweet, and share. This is a place for you to figure out where you stand on just about anything. Write, write, and write some more — you're building a springboard of a portfolio, ready to launch you just about anywhere you'd like to go.