After graduating from Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, Rebekah Monson started her journalism career at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash. as a news and features copy editor and designer. She moved to the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. in 2005 where she worked her way from news designer to A1/projects to business design director to sports design director. When she wanted to learn more about online journalism, she became community manager for the business desk and when she wanted to try writing, the Sentinel have her a shot at covering the city of Boca Raton.
“I’ve become a utility infielder kind of journalist — never a real superstar, but able to play competently in many positions,” she wrote. “I have been very fortunate to work among people who saw value in investing the time and energy to teach me a lot of different skills. What I’ve learned is that our industry needs people who can at least work across and at best (IMHO) work beyond silos in news organizations. The silos may have been efficient once, but now I think they stifle innovation and creativity when we need it most. I also think that designers are uniquely positioned to be the silo-breakers and polymaths of journalism, and, to get all Liz Lemony about it, I want to go to there.”
Monson left the Sun Sentinel to pursue a master’s degree from Miami’s Interactive Media MFA program.
“I needed to develop my webmaking and tech skills to be a real innovator, “she wrote, “and I just couldn’t learn fast enough while juggling newsroom life. My current job, managing a magazine and web content for the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences, allows me to use a ton of my existing skills and has given me an opportunity to build up my tech chops in an MFA program in Interactive Media. I’ve also spent a lot of time this year helping to build up a Hacks/Hackers chapter and a Code for America brigade in Miami in part to educate and engage more people (especially non-journalists) in new kinds of storytelling. (And, yeah, also so I can have some like-minded friends to nerd out with about this stuff.)”
When asked about how she got involved with SND, Monson explained, “I took graphic design classes in college, which means I spent entire semesters drawing groupings of dots and lines on bristol board with Rapidograph pens to represent abstract concepts like sadness, joy, hunger, rage. I highly recommend this approach if you want to understand and appreciate design fundamentals and craftsmanship, but it’s not super practical for making a news product. So, I borrowed SND books from professors to see what the pros did and then emulated (errr … lovingly ripped off?) the approaches I saw there in our college paper. I went to SND Savannah my senior year, and I have been following news and trends from the society ever since.”
How has your involvement with SND helped you grow professionally or personally? For most of my career I was only involved with SND through submitting pages, poring over contest results and reading about people and orgs that were setting the bar in our field. SND provided endless examples of what good design looked and felt like while I was slogging away every day just struggling to suck less.
I have been fortunate to work with, learn from and build friendships with many of those people whose work I admired through the years. We have this great network to bring us together, to show us the best of our craft, to remind us why it’s important to break rules and to push ourselves forward.
I was asked to judge SND in February, and it was an incredible experience. I used to equate SND mostly with recognition and accolades, but we don’t go to work every day for awards. We do it for stories. We do it for readers. Seeing thousands of well-designed entries go unawarded was a stark reminder that good design doesn’t always win awards, but it always, always matters to stories.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? There is so much: Be indispensable. Be kind. Seek every opportunity to work with people who are smarter than you.
Lately, the advice I need is, “Check your ego.” I’m rebooting my career in a very odd way, so that same advice that helped me as a total noob has returned to the front of my brain. My ego tells me I should know how to do everything at this point in my career, but I totally don’t. I need to ask for help. I need to accept guidance graciously when friends and colleagues are generous enough to offer it. I have some great people in my life who bonk me over the head repeatedly about this, so I hope I’m learning to handle it better.
What’s one thing people should know about you? I had no idea about what people should know about me, so I polled some friends. They say I am, in a word, voracious. This is both my best and worst quality. So, the bad news is that I probably will exhaust you at some point. The good news is that we will have big, big fun before the inevitable burnout. If that sounds like a nice tradeoff to you, maybe we should be internet friends.
Instagram or Vine? Vine. 15 seconds seems like a long time for the format, and I think we all may be happier with fewer filters in the world.
What typeface would you be? Lord. This question. Oh, Comic Sans, because hipster irony is our social currency now, right? Really, I love geometric san-serifs. Maybe today I’d pick Kabel for its splayed W and weirdo g and its positive associations with all kinds of pop culturey things — The Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, all the ’90s toons of my youth.