Q&A: Thunderdome’s managing editor Mandy Jenkins

After several months of searching for the right person, it turns out that Thunderdome’s would-be managing editor was right here all along. That right person is our very own Mandy Jenkins, who has played a crucial role building Thunderdome from the ground up.

Of course, Mandy is no stranger to Digital First Media newsrooms. Or to the larger digital media world, for that matter. After stints at TBD and the Huffington Post, she joined DFM in 2012, taking on a variety of tasks that included newsroom training and development of the Social Media Wire tool now used widely across DFM sites. She also sits on the board of directors for the Online News Association alongside fellow DFM-ers Jim Brady and Kim Bui.

But why does Thunderdome need a managing editor, and what will Mandy bring to the position? We asked her a few questions about the new gig, her background, her recent move to New York, and of course, karaoke. Here’s what our new managing editor has to say for herself:


Lives in: Long Island City, Queens
Hometown: Zanesville, Ohio
Graduated from: Kent State University
Degree(s): B.S. in News, M.A. in Media Management
Previous work: The Huffington Post, TBD, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and WKSU-FM.

So you’re Thunderdome’s managing editor, eh?

Photo/Alyson AlianoQ: You’re Thunderdome’s very first managing editor. Tell us about this new role and what you intend to bring to it.
This is a role I think Thunderdome has grown to need – the newsroom is a lot bigger than it used to be and there are a lot of people and projects to track. My role is to manage the daily newsroom operations of Thunderdome, which includes supervising the news, features, sports and social media teams. I try to be a problem solver, so my first mission will be to improve our workflow to make it easier for all of the Thunderdome teams to more easily work together.

Q: What does this new role mean for other Digital First Media newsrooms? 
As Thunderdome grows and improves, the stories and projects we create for and with our colleagues at the local level will also improve. We have a lot of interesting ideas we want to try with storytelling in the coming months and I hope I can help make that come about faster and easier. This new team alignment will also make it possible to expand our social media and community engagement efforts with local newsrooms. Stay tuned on that front.

Q: Before this promotion, you were Thunderdome’s interactives editor. What happens to that position now that you’re vacating it? 
In the short term, the interactives team, consisting of video, data journalism and design, will report to Robyn Tomlin directly. In the longer term, we may be doing some further reorganization as it makes sense.

Q: Showoff time: What are some of your proudest accomplishments from your time leading the interactives team? 
This is an easy one. I am most proud of the people I hired on to this team – all of them are superheroes. Out of all the fabulous work they do, it’s tough to pick a favorite project: I love the local crime maps, Bracket Advisor, the Firearms in the Family project, KitchenPop…it’s like asking me to choose between my cats.

Q: Share a lesson you learned while leading the interactives team.
Honestly? I learned in working with these guys just how much work and time goes in to making a great multimedia project. I came up through words on screens – I had no idea just what goes into making the beautiful things you can find on the web.

Q: You  joined Digital First Media in 2012, before there was a Thunderdome. What first drew you to DFM, and what’s kept you here all this time?
I have a very strong attachment to local news. I was enjoying my brief stint in national news at HuffPost,  but I felt like I could do more for the industry by helping build up local newsrooms. Also, I’ll be accused of being a suck-up, but I also really wanted a chance to work with Jim Brady again following our brief time at TBD.

Q: You spent your first several months at DFM traveling around to local newsrooms. Do you have a favorite?
I really loved going to local newsrooms and spending time in those communities. It’s hard to pick a favorite place, but I do have a favorite story. When I was visiting the Vacaville newsroom in NorCal, I was held hostage in the building by an angry wild turkey. When I eventually made a break for it, he chased me to my car and aggressively pecked at my side door until I left. I’m very afraid of birds, so that was serious nightmare fuel.

Q: What’s some background that others probably don’t know about you?
I have held some seriously random jobs over high school and college, including: Camp cook, fast food drone, computer salesperson, wild goose wrangler (long story), pet store puppy caregiver, Hallmark associate, roofing assistant, fitness instructor, comics shop nerd whisperer….it goes on.

Q: You’ve taught journalism and led training for people all around the globe. What makes for a good teacher?
Understanding the roadblocks facing students and addressing them head-on is key to a successful workshop or class. I get that newsrooms are short-staffed and everyone’s just trying to keep heads above water on a day-to-day basis – so I always try to suggest how new tasks I’m suggesting fit into a very busy workload.

Now for some real talk.

Q: Why journalism?
I like disappointing my parents. Seriously, though, I wasn’t 100% sold on journalism until I worked at my college newspaper, The Daily Kent Stater, my freshman year. I was immediately hooked on the newsroom culture, getting information before everyone else, getting hate mail – I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Q: Do you subscribe to any print publications? If not, why?
We subscribe to a few magazines: Entertainment Weekly, ESPN, Food Network…I’m still very attached to magazines as a print experience for some reason. We just recently moved, but in D.C. we did get the Sunday Washington Post. I rarely read the print edition, but my husband (who is a reporter) insisted on it. We might get a weekend paper here in New York, we’ll see.

Q: What would happen if you were disconnected from the internet and your phone for 48 hours?
Everyone I know would think I was dead due to my social silence – and I might be because I rely on my phone’s mapping way too much. I could end up falling in the East River.

Q: What was the first thing you read this morning?
Probably my notifications on my phone, usually in this order: Texts, tweet replies, Facebook comments, then emails.

Q: Who is your all-time favorite sports team?
The Cincinnati Reds are my favorite team in any sport. When spring training rolls around, I’m going to be insufferable.

Q: If you could interview any historical figure, who would it be?
I’m not an especially religious person, but probably Judas Iscariot. I’d like to know more about his side of the story – it’d be a compelling narrative, I’m sure.

Q: What’s for lunch today?
A homemade stacked salad in a jar. I’m sort of obsessed with the concept right now.

Q: What is your go-to karaoke song? 
Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” – everyone thinks it is about them.

Q: How do you listen to music these days? 
Either on Rdio’s iPhone app or via the All Songs Considered podcast.

Q: You just moved to New York City from D.C. Which one wins your heart? 
I’m very new to New York, so D.C. is still my favorite – but check back in a few months.

Q: Ray’s or Loft? Taylor or Franklin?  (Submitted by @twoTstwoFs)
Those ones are easy for a Kent Stater of my generation: Ray’s and Taylor (of course). Ray’s is a Kent bar scene institution, Taylor Hall housed the journalism school when I was a student, now it is in Franklin Hall.

Q: What’s your all-time favorite meme?
The Oprah Bees gif. I still laugh hysterically every single time I see it. I will never stop loving it.

Q: What movie or book has had the greatest impact on you?
There’s probably no film I quote more in my day-to-day work life than “The Paper”. Sadly, nobody else gets it. I need to make Thunderdomers watch that movie sometime.

Q: Name someone we should all follow on Twitter right now.
@DFMThunderdome, of course.

How can we reach you?

Twitter: @mjenkins
Facebook: facebook.com/mandyjenkins
Email: mjenkins[at]digitalfirstmedia.com
Google+: google.com/+MandyJenkins
Tout: mjenkins (Hope you like cats!)
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/mandyj/
Website: mandyjenkins.com and zombiejournalism.com (I swear I’ll update someday)

What else? If you have a question for Mandy, leave a comment.

Chris March

By Chris March

Chris March is the community engagement manager for Digital First Media and the editor of Inside Thunderdome. Contact him by email at cmarch@digitalfirstmedia.com or follow his shenanigans on Twitter: @marchmcfly.

2 comments on “Q&A: Thunderdome’s managing editor Mandy Jenkins

  1. Steve ButtrySteve Buttry

    Janet, that’s a good question. I think an unbolted newsroom should have a good calendar tool, so people can learn about community events. And we should provide advance coverage of newsworthy events. But that advance coverage, like everything, should start from a digital point of view: Perhaps a live chat in advance of a big event or maybe a Tout video as organizers are setting up for a fair or festival, etc. Maybe the advance coverage promotes an effort to engage the community in coverage of the event (submitting photos during the event or memories of past events for the advance coverage). Like everything else, we’re going to experiment and try to learn the best ways. How do you think we should handle advance coverage?


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