November 04, 2010
/ by Jenny Wittman
In any industry, it takes guts to start over from scratch and try something entirely new. Jenn Nachshen did just that in 2008, when she left her career as a psychologist and dove into the unknown territory of journalism. Two years later, she was named Montreal editor of the popular Canadian lifestyle website Vitamin Daily, and life is different, new and exciting.
“Two years ago today, if you had told me this is what I’d be doing, I would have thought you were nuts,” she said. “But I’m thrilled and am enjoying the opportunity to see where it takes me.”
Vitamin Daily covers Canadian lifestyle, beauty and fashion throughout its five local markets: Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and separate French and English editions for Montreal.
Nachshen is responsible for the English version of the Montreal edition, which has completely separate content from its French counterpart.
Even though the Anglo population in Quebec is small, bilingual Nachshen believes it is still important to cater to that audience. “A lot of events I go to and a lot of the information I get is in French and I just have to translate it and feed it out in English,” she said.
In addition to her responsibilities on the site, she writes the Daily Doses, which are brief emails sent each day of the work week to 1,200 subscribers.
“They are short, light, bright and fun,” Nachshen explained. “Readers like that it’s short and quick and they can always find more information on it if they want; but getting all the information in 120 words can be tricky.”
She also writes the Editor’s Diary, a behind the scenes look at the kinds of things she gets to do as an editor. One of the reasons why she enjoys her job at Vitamin Daily is the access to things she wouldn’t have tried otherwise.
“I love going and doing a different thing every day and really try to predict the trends and what people are going to enjoy in Montreal,” she said. “I sometimes get to travel and have an experience. There’s always something new to find out about.”
Even when she travels for personal reasons Nachshen finds a way to turn it into a story for the site. “It makes travel a little more rich for me and gives me a license to contact the tourism board and say ‘Hey, I’m coming there; what’s new, what do you have to tell me?’ I get all kinds of insider information on what’s coming up and I love that,” she explained.
The lack of that zest and excitement was probably the main reason why Nachshen switched careers in the first place. When she received her PhD in clinical psychology in 2005, she planned on an academic position. When that didn’t work out, she took a few months off. “I think because I did all this learning through my PhD and when it came down to working with psychologists, I was doing the same thing every day,” she said. “At one point, I just realized I was bored.”
In December 2008, a friend passed along an email that said Vitamin Daily was looking for a blogger. With no experience in journalism, Nachshen thought she would give it a try. “I said, ‘I have no experience, but if you let me try, I’d love to try. And if you don’t like what I do, you can fire me and I’ll go back to being a psychologist.’” After almost two years as a contributor, the Montreal editor position opened up and Nachshen was excited to accept it.
Settling into her new position, Nachshen incorporates social media into her daily routine. She finds Twitter not only a great way to promote her stories, but also to connect with other editors, journalists and public relations professionals.
“There’s not that distant relationship. There’s more of a friendly relationship,” she said.
Twitter also comes in handy for ideas and sources on Daily Doses. “It’s great, you get to sit there and have all this wonderful information and inspiration just stream through,” she chimed.
She admits though, that she only follows people that are interesting, keep up with it and don’t over-tweet. “Sometimes you find people that tweet constantly and you think ‘Alright, enough. We’re done. I’m breaking up with you.’”
Even though Nachshen didn’t go to journalism school, or got involved with her college newspaper, she learned important skills through her PhD studies that are helping her now. “I’m good at research, good at taking really complicated information and making it simple,” she said. “Whatever you do, if you build up transferable skills, you can be ok.”
Her interest in learning about people also gave her good interviewing skills. “Although, when you are interviewing as a psychologist, your goal is often to get them emotional and crying. Not necessarily what I’m trying to do here,” she joked. “But building empathy and being curious about people are skills that are exactly the same in psychology as they are in journalism.”
She added, “Writing well is writing well wherever you’re doing it. But it was definitely a treat for me to be able to put my personality into things.”
Looking forward, Nachshen wants to continue to develop her writing skills and maintain being genuine in what she does.
“It sounds ridiculous to say that the biggest challenge is being yourself. But it really is, being able to be authentic to your own voice is tricky and it takes some time to get it together,” she said.
Nachshen wants to receive press materials about beauty, fashion, health, lifestyle, travel, home décor, arts and culture. She prefers all pitches be sent via email, unless it’s a product that needs to be mailed. Stay clear, concise and efficient in the message. “I do read all of them.”
Stay on topic and be relevant to her readers’ demographic – stylish women in their 20’s and 30’s living in Montreal. “I think the key for PR people to remember is to give writers something to write about. The product should be new and exciting; something different. Or if it’s an event, there has to be something happening at the event that is worth giving people an inside look at.”
For events, make sure to send materials two weeks in advance with a clear schedule and itinerary.
“It’s always a little bit disappointing for me when I get something for a PR person that I would have loved to feature and I’ve already handed in my work for that week,” she explained. “I usually tweet about it at that point.”
Avoid calling Nachshen all together. “Phone calls, unless they’ve been pre-planned, can be disruptive during the day.” She will follow up if she’s interested.
Nachshen can be found on Twitter at @Jenn_Nachshen or @MTLVitaminDaily.
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