manhattanville.columbia.edu

Translating University Goals to Web Dev and Design Agency

For those who don’t know, I am a Web Content Editor at Columbia University. One of my main responsibilities include packaging content for the University homepage and its news site. In this role, my editorial team and I discuss the best way to present institutional narratives to a general audience on our digital platforms.

Usually, we do this on a story-by-story basis. But throughout 2016, we took on a much bigger project – building a whole website to introduce Columbia’s new campus Manhattanville to the world. This project was led by the Office of Communications and Public Affairs’ executive vice president, David Stone, and vice president of strategic communications, Deb Sack.

With the help of our director of multimedia development, Sheri Whitley, my communications office searched and found a boutique digital interactive agency based in Brooklyn to develop the design and content management platform for Manhattanville.Columbia.edu.

Because the agency was responsible for most of the labor, I believed my role would mostly consist of content migration and layout. But after deciding on the design aesthetic of the website, David and Deb (my bosses), expanded my participation. Because of my editorial background and understanding of web development, I interpreted how their vision should be executed. I translated what my bosses wanted into a concept the agency could understand, and vice-versa.

Lebron and Basketball; Social Media and Me

When looking around for open full-time positions, one of the qualifications often required is being familiar with social media practices. In interviews, one of the most important questions I hear is whether I know how to track and report on analytics.

My response is usually the same: while I haven’t been a “social media editor,” every job I’ve had has involved using social media tools. I use it to share content, engage the audience, crowdsource, gather insights, and inform the newsroom about what our audience finds compelling or not as well as what they would like to see more of.

One of the biggest social media campaigns I worked on was a Lebron James Poetry contest for The Miami Herald. At the time, I was drafting surveys meant to collect insights on different topics from a network of sources called the Public Insight Network.

Using a feature within the PIN software that tracked the number of people that opened my email with the survey, clicked on the link to the survey, and actually filled it out, I realized that about 10 percent of recipients would actually open the email. And anywhere from no one to two percent of the recipients would actually fill out the surveys. (Some of the extra participants would come in from clicking on the survey link shared on Twitter and Facebook, but the response was much lower than via email.) But there was one factor that would slightly spike up those numbers – when the subject of the survey was related to pop culture, sports, or Cuba.

So Dan Grech, the former news director for WLRN’s Miami Herald News, came to me with this idea to partner up with O, Miami Poetry Festival on a social media campaign. It was July 2010 when Lebron announced he would be taking his talents to South Beach. Naturally, we tied the contest to what was hot in the news cycle (and to our audience).

As a result, the contest received over 1,200 entries – well, over the typical two percent of recipients – and national coverage, including by ESPN and The New Yorker.

So social media may not be my main responsibility, but it is essential in almost every job I do, almost in the way that Lebron is still playing basketball no matter what team he’s playing for.

P.S. Since this was a successful social media campaign, The Miami Herald has continued to organize similar poetry contests even after I was no longer working there.

Poverty Doesn’t Equal Culture

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So many World Cup tourists will rent out homes in Rio’s slums hoping to save money and acquire an artificial adventure. I appreciate that people want to immerse themselves in Brazilian culture, but I’m not sure that poverty equals culture.

This CNN article mentions how various slums are still not clear of drug lords, gangs, and gun violence. I’ve personally seen what it’s like when foreign thrill-seekers face “danger” – in the case I witnessed, a camera was stolen, which is not that dangerous – and they freak out! I don’t want to imagine how these people would have reacted had the bad event been actually dangerous, life-threatening.

So if you want to learn about Brazilian culture and can afford to stay outside of a favela, visit a samba school, eat at local cafes (and not McDonald’s), talk to people, etc. But don’t expect that you will truly experience what it’s like for a Brazilian to live in a slum. Why? Because you get to leave. And assuming you don’t live in a favela, you won’t know what it’s like to receive visitors who find your lack of space quaint and lack of public services exciting-living.

For those who decide to go slumming in the favelas anyway, only go where you are invited. Try to recognize who is being genuine with you versus who just wants your money. And don’t assume you are happier than those who live there.

South Florida’s Media and Tech Start-up Landscape Changing Slowly but Surely

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South Florida’s media landscape at first glance may not seem diverse or thriving when the top news organizations consumed by local audiences are dwindling, the talent is leaving, and the tech community, which would support a media capital, is still developing, slowly.

But some say the solution is to bring more innovative minds together such as with meetups and conferences like Hispanicize and Social Media Club of South Florida and allow for ideas to naturally flourish.

Alex de Carvalho, organizer of Social Media Club’s South Florida chapter, cited Richard Florida in this slideshow on what this tropical landscape needs: “The key to economic growth lies not just in the ability to attract the creative class, but to translate that underlying advantage into creative economic outcomes in the form of new ideas, new high-tech businesses, and regional growth.”

“Miami has to be itself, we are never going to be a Silicon Valley,” said Steven McKeon, CEO of Acceller, in a forum about South Florida’s start-up culture. He also pointed out the advantages, “The weather is huge, the real estate crash resulting in lower housing prices has helped with recruiting, and the cross-cultural connections are a big plus.”

But in the last few years, South Florida’s unemployment rate has been swinging between seven and 10 percent and has made it difficult for talented youth to find jobs.

“I can’t think of one friend in South Florida who has a successful career,” said Lauren Hord, 31, through a Public Insight Network survey to The Miami Herald last year.

For those who want to be journalists, the environment feels grimm.

A 2007 market research study done by the Sun Sentinel shows the top news organizations visited online in South Florida are the two major papers, Sentinel and Herald, as well as local TV stations from the major networks NBC, CBS, and Telemundo.

The Sun Sentinel put together a research project of South Florida's audience to understand the top media websites visited by local residents.
The Sun Sentinel put together a research project of South Florida’s audience to understand the top media websites visited by local residents.

But these organizations are struggling to stay alive as the industry rapidly evolves faster than these companies can adapt. And it has resulted in various layoffs.

In an interview with Forbes Magazine, Daniel Lafuente, co-founder of new tech start-up The LAB Miami, shared his thoughts on why businesses hesitate to root themselves in South Florida.

“We felt Miami lacked the platform to retain its top talent and allow them a place to cultivate their businesses,” said Lafuente. “They need to be able to stay here and have access to the same type of community you might get in San Francisco or New York.”

However, there is hope.

Visionaries such as Alex de Carvalho (previously mentioned); Manny Ruiz, founder of Hispanicize; Brian Breslin, founder of Refresh Miami, and many others are changing this landscape. They are paving the way for forward-thinking professionals to come together, brainstorm, and share resources on how to make ideas come true.

Organizations such as The Knight Foundation are one of those resources, often providing grants for hyperlocal news projects. And now the city of Miami is joining the movement to make South Florida a media and tech hub by funding $1 million worth of grants for entrepreneurs.

South Florida has everything it needs to become as big as other American metropolitan cities. The ground is fertile, but the laborers are few. But a few forward-thinking leaders planting the seeds is all it takes for the growth of innovation and talent.

Producing Stories from the Historic West Grove on Election Day

James Massey, born in 1940, grew up in the West Grove witnessing the community's civic evolution.
James Massey, born in 1940, grew up in the West Grove witnessing the community’s civic evolution. Photo by Tatiana Cohen.

“It’s very important to live in a country where you can say almost anything you want to say and not have threats to your life,” said 68-year-old and West Grove resident James Massey. He was referring to having lived in fear of the KKK in Coconut Grove and feeling liberated to speak his voice when he became eligible to vote in 1961.

I found his story when I hit the streets of “West Grove”, a sub-section of Coconut Grove, historically comprised of Afro-Caribbean settlers, to find voices representative of this community for an online multimedia project called Witnessing History in the West Grove 2008.

It’s an area that often is overlooked by mainstream media in South Florida, but that is civically active. And the goal for my University of Miami class of journalists was to document and package on the 2008 Election Day the stories representing this community’s sentiments on having a black president.

Andrea Ballocchi (right) and Walyce Almeida working in the West Grove to produce Witnessing History in the West Grove 2008.
Andrea Ballocchi (right) and Walyce Almeida working in the West Grove to produce Witnessing History in the West Grove 2008.

My classmate Andrea Ballocchi and I were producers on this project. We coordinated and supervised the teams of students and what stories they would work on as well as came up with the website’s design concept and ensured the execution.

It was one of my favorite jobs and it inspired me to pursue becoming a producer – a role I’m currently seeking to fill. (Check out my resume.)

Massey’s story and many others on the site made the project so rich and meaningful. And my talented teams told those stories beautifully. (Thank you Tatiana Cohen for helping me find James Massey and taking those gorgeous pictures of him.) Take a look at the multimedia website and let me know what you think.

Witnessing History in the West Grove 2008 - screenshot
Witnessing History in the West Grove 2008 – screenshot

Web Development Skills Comes with Voracity

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Voracious, bulldog, hungry – those were words my editor Joseph B. Treaster at the Knight Center for International Media said needed to describe me if I truly wanted to be a journalist. He reported for over 30 years at the New York Times, which makes those adjectives perfect to describe his professional style.

I learned quite a bit from him about being persistent and speedy. It came in handy as I worked as his Associate Editor on 1H2O.org, an online magazine about the worldwide water crisis. Part of my job was to edit and gather content as well as work with freelance journalists around the world reporting from their respective hometowns, such as Marko Phiri in Zimbabwe and Ada M. Alvarez in Argentina.

And because the journalism job market in Miami was tough, I decided to apply some of my newfound voracity in learning and practicing web development skills. So not only did I maintain 1H2O.org, but I also had the opportunity to develop the design and structure for the following two websites.

Knight.miami.edu – The Knight Center for International Media focused on stories for positive change in communities around the world.

Knight Center for International Media

Aguasnegras.glocalstories.org – Aguas Negras or “Black Waters” is the term used for the polluted water source for Mexico City and surrounding farmlands. Photojournalist Janet Jarman investigates how this environmental issue affects the locals and their businesses.

Aguas Negras - A Report by Janet Jarman

Hoping in the DREAM Act – More than a Thesis or Chore

The movement behind the DREAM Act gives many young people hope that one day they will have a chance to come out of the shadows. They hope to contribute to American society as well as receive the full freedom that comes with being a citizen. Because my parents are immigrants themselves and so many of my friends are as well, immigration became the theme for my thesis project in the University of Miami’s Multimedia Journalism Master’s Program.

As a kid, I used to hate doing house chores like cleaning up my room and would usually try to whine my way out of it. My father would tell me (in Portuguese), “Oh you don’t want to? Then get an education and work hard, then you can hire a maid. But until then, go clean your room.”

My parents, who arrived in Miami from Brazil in the 1980’s, taught me that we were here because our dreams could come true. And for a while, I really believed hard work was all it took until I got to college. That’s when I realized many of my friends couldn’t register for school or apply for financial aid or even just get a driver’s license.

So I produced a three-part video series published on Vimeo that looks into what the DREAM Act is and how it could change lives.

Only the DREAM Act can restore hope for undocumented youth: An interview with Immigration Lawyer Tristan Bourgoignie

Walyce’s Final Project on Undocumented College Students – Part One from Walyce Almeida on Vimeo.

Achieving a higher education against all odds: Young, Peruvian Jimena Alvarado struggles to attend and pay for college because of her status

Walyce’s Final Project on Undocumented College Students – Part Two from Walyce Almeida on Vimeo.

How colleges and the US would benefit from the DREAM Act

Walyce’s Final Project on Undocumented College Students – Part Three from Walyce Almeida on Vimeo.

Going In-Depth on Business’ Need for Fish

Blue Crab
Photo by Brian Schlansky

Blue crabs, fish, and some other sea creatures creep me out a little bit. It’s something about their cold, slimy, expressionlessness that makes no distinction between them being dead or alive… until one moves.

For one undergraduate project called The Fish at Bay, classmate Brian Schlansky and I got to join a family that owns a fresh seafood market on a short boat ride to catch some blue crabs. When those little guys got to escape the box in which they were poured, they chased you around the boat.

Brian and I produced a video and I wrote an in-depth article on the different kinds of businesses in South Florida that depend on a plentiful, local fish population.

It was one of out five stories that a class of students put together. And it was so much fun to work on, not just for our adventure into Biscayne Bay but also because I got to taste so much amazing seafood. Sorry blue crab, but I prefer you cooked.

Fish Dependency: How South Florida Businesses Rely on the Resource from Walyce Almeida on Vimeo.