Washington Post editor returns to campus

The man who works with audience engagement at one of the biggest outlets in the country got his start at Central Michigan University.

Mark W. Smith, an editor who deals with audience engagement at the Washington Post, returned to campus April 7-8 to receive the Department of Journalism Alumnus of the Year Award. The 2007 graduate also gave presentations at the Michigan Community College Press Association Conference.

Smith previously worked at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot, Detroit Free Press and USA Today. The former Central Michigan Life editor-in-chief also teaches journalism courses at the University of Maryland.

CM Life spoke to Smith about his career and how he sees the state of journalism.

What was the biggest challenge while working for CM Life?

The administration and us not having a good relationship at the time. We did not have access and that was really hard. I do not think we ever really put our arms around a good strategy on how to make it better, we just had the role as chief instigator and it was a part of our role to always repair it. But the hardest part was access and apathy among student readers.

How has your job as a journalist evolved since leaving Central Michigan University?

My first job at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot was half working with the web and the other half of my job was print design. I am now on a team at the Post and we all have different specialties. You have someone who is focused on a social platform. It is important to have experts in all those places. What has changed is that it has become more robust and strategic. It isn’t about shoveling content onto a platform but really having an understanding about what that platform is and the kinds of content that should be created for it. Whether it is cutting a video for Facebook differently than for the “.com” or something else. It creates a lot of layers for work but it is important for whatever platform you are on that you are authentically there and are creating content that is truly honest for it.

What would you suggest to aspiring journalists to focus on while pursuing a career in journalism?

You just have to be more curious than the other people around you. Be curious about what is happening around you. If in your newsroom you see something happening or you have seen a Tweet take off in some way, ask about why that happened or how that happened or why they thought to do it in that way. If you are at your internship and there is something you do not understand, it should make you uncomfortable. Learn every piece. Learn how the newspaper people decide what goes on the front page or how the social team decides what goes on Facebook. Ask a ton of questions and be curious.

You won the CMU Department of Journalism Alumnus of the Year. How does that feel? What does that mean to you?

It is a great honor. I am very lucky to come from Central Michigan. I think this is a place where you can make an impact through sheer will and desire. I think you get to have experimentation here where you really can make a career if you are curious and make good connections with reporters and other people who work within newspapers. I gave everything to CM Life.

What are your future goals?

To figure out everything with the web and identify new forms of journalism in whatever platforms. It is easy to think that there is not much of a future in journalism, especially print journalism, but newsrooms are currently and will continue to be so hungry for new ideas and innovation. We need you, we need fresh ideas and there are plenty of places hiring. If it is something you really care about, getting news out into the world, there will be a position for you. I am excited to continue to help others figure that out.