Getting to know the Thunderdome operations team

ops team hangout

Here at Thunderdome we’re often asked the same questions. Who are you guys? What exactly do you do all day? You can find a lot of that information on the who we are page of this blog, but I also wanted to personally introduce my team, which handles operations and communications.

We are the only Thunderdome team that doesn’t produce content. Our role is to provide the systems and support that allow other teams, and the talented journalists at Digital First Media, to perform at their best. Have questions for us? Please let us know in the comments.

Chris March, Mission Control
Describe your average work day: As you might imagine, it’s a bit of fun to explain a title like Chris March mugshot‘Mission Control’ to friends and colleagues. But the job is actually quite simple in that I help the new Thunderdome staff integrate into the Digital First Media world by providing operational support and communications. I like to think of myself as a guy who can help connect the dots.

Because we are still in process of building our content channels, forming relationships and constructing our workflows, a large chunk of my day consists of procuring stories of national interest from our local newsrooms or content partners and distributing those to editors across the Digital First network. There is a good deal of coordination with our channel managers, DFM editors and content partners to make sure everything falls into place. It’s a bit like running our own Digital First wire service, but it’s more of a temporary solution until we have easier ways to get these stories onto the websites and print pages of our newsrooms so they can focus more on local.

At the end of the day though, the role of Mission Control is to make sure Thunderdome succeeds in a way that benefits Digital First newsrooms. As Thunderdome continues to grow and evolve, so to will the Mission Control desk. And that’s pretty exciting for me.

How did you get started in journalism? It would be easy to point fingers at my parents, who are both editors at two different Journal Register Company newspapers. Because of them, I had to sit in on page one news meetings before I could even tie my shoes. But I’m not giving them byline credit on my journalism story.

I stumbled into journalism by accident after they both tried steering me into other careers. I had my sights set on computers until I started writing and publishing newsletters (print and online!) for my 11th grade cross country team, which I was captain of.

I don’t recall why I wrote that first newsletter, but that was the rabbit hole for me. The team read it, passed it around, talked about it, analyzed it and asked for more. It created discussions and strengthened bonds. It was amateur writing and hardly journalism, but I recognized it immediately as a social tool I could use to build our little community. Call it love at first write.

This blew up the notion of journalism for me into something else. It was more than fact-based accounting of events and local politics. I began to see it as something I could use to help us understand and explain why we ran through fields of cow manure in the rain and snow together (and obviously, something like that does need explaining). It was something I could use to tell our story, even if it was interesting to only a few of us. Once I turned that light on, I couldn’t turn it off.

What do you love about journalism? Sure, there’s an appeal to being a watchdog for your readers, tilting spotlights on corruption and keeping a record of the times. But the appeal of journalism to me is that drive to cut beneath the surface and into the nerve of something. What I love is the quest for truth and answers. Why do certain things happen as they do? Why do certain things appeal to a culture when others don’t? What drives us to do what we do? Why is something good or bad? What makes us tick? What brings us joy?

I recently watched ‘The Rum Diary,’ which was based on the Hunter S. Thompson novel he wrote in his early twenties. There’s a line at the end that nails it for me.

“I want to make a promise to you, the reader. And I don’t know if I can fulfill it tomorrow, or even the day after that. But I put the bastards of this world on notice that I do not have their best interests at heart. I will try and speak for my reader. That is my promise. And it will be a voice made of ink and rage.”

What is something about you that most people don’t know? I made front page news as a second grader. A toddler from my neighborhood went missing from his home one day in November. A massive search effort was launched with fire engines, helicopters and scuba divers swarming the neighborhood by the time I got home from school. But he was just out of the search zone, hanging around in the woods at my house when I saw him. I got my dad, and we drove him to the rescuers. He was barefoot when we found him, so I gave him a pair of my awesomely 80’s tube socks. I was interviewed by the local papers, received some nice letters and was presented with an award from the Pennsylvania State Police in front of the entire 2nd grade. But I never got those tube socks back.

Andy Rhinehart, Solutions Specialist
Describe your average work day: My average day is spent pursuing ways to help maximize Andy Rhinehart mugshotThunderdome’s value to our newsrooms. That could mean working with vendors on products to help grow audience and revenue, diving into our analytics to tackle the challenge of tracking how and where Thunderdome content is being used or investigating new ways of structuring our data to create new and exciting products.

How did you get started in journalism? Senior year in high school. I happened to stop by one of our baseball games one late spring afternoon, a rarity since my graduating class featured perhaps the worst group of male athletes to ever step upon campus. In the crowd I saw a family friend, and when I stopped to chat, he introduced me to the man sitting next to him – the sports editor of the local tri-weekly paper. In the course of conversation, my friend mentioned that the sports editor was looking for a stringer for the summer. I happened to be looking for a summer job, one thing led to another and soon I was that stringer, covering my first game the night after my high school graduation. I already had plans to attend a college and study electrical engineering, but it didn’t take long before I knew journalism would instead be my career choice.

What do you love about journalism? Collecting and sharing information has always been a passion; it’s one reason why I embraced digital many years ago and still love working with online today. I also enjoy tackling the ‘why’ of the five W’s. Be it looking at education data and population trends to help answer why school populations are surging in a certain area or tracking all plays for a professional football team over the course of a season to answer why they’re so successful on certain downs, I think answering the why is one of the best services we can provide as journalists.

What is something about you that most people don’t know? I love football at all levels, from high school to the NFL, and have been an avid fantasy football player for more than 20 years, running a league that began as a group of newsroom co-workers. In addition to NFL leagues, I’ve taken part in fantasy football leagues for high school football, the XFL and Arena League football. Lately, I’ve become a huge fan of cricket, which I realize is an odd choice for someone born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina.

Davis Shaver, Technology Producer/Mission Control
Describe your average work day: Like most people, my day starts with checking my inbox. I scan Davis Shaver mugshotfor nationally relevant stories that may have been shared overnight by Thunderdome or other outlets in the Digital First Media network. As a member of the Mission Control team, I help distribute these stories across the network. In addition to my Mission Control responsibilities, I also help manage, our home for news and information about Thunderdome.

How did you get started in journalism? I began my career in journalism stringing for the Lebanon Daily News, which is now a Digital First Media publication. Those early freelance stories weren’t glamorous — township and municipality meetings rarely are — but they taught me how to write on deadline.

What do you love about journalism? What I love about being in the journalism industry right now is the confluence of peril and promise. As the manner in which we produce and consume news continues to change, there are enormous opportunities for those who stay true to their mission of informing the public while also not being afraid to radically change the ways in which they accomplish that goal. I am truly bullish on the future of the industry.

What is something about you that most people don’t know? Something most people might not know about me is that I would love to one day be headmaster of a boarding school. I attribute the dream to one of America’s great long-form journalists, John McPhee, whose book ‘The Headmaster’ also inspired me to spend a gap-year in Jordan working at King’s Academy (known also as Deerfield in the desert).

Mark Lewis

By Mark Lewis

Mark Lewis is the Communications/Operations Editor for Project Thunderdome, a centralized team that produces high-quality non-local journalism for Journal Register Company and Media News Group properties on all platforms.

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