The magic of gaming and imagination

As a mom of two kids and an early adopter, I’ve brought my kids into the digital fold pretty early. I watched the ebb and flow of Webkinz and created accounts on Club Penguin. I encouraged my kids to learn how to take photos and try editing videos with iPhone and iPad apps.

For all of the hardware and software I love to play with, I’ve never been much of a gamer. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I get aggravated when and if I don’t catch on quickly to a game. Instead, I’d rather edit a video or photo and post something to a blog. But my 11-year-old son loves gaming. Not only does he love it, he loves building in it. From Lego Wii games that encourage you to earn all of the characters to earning upgrades to his Skylanders characters to building new worlds inside Minecraft, he wants to do it all. Of course I also make sure he gets outside to play and participate in sports. But it’s fascinating to see how he’s evolving and growing in this digital world.

One of the biggest technology on his radar is Disney Infinity. It’s a new game that comes out August 18th and both of my kids spent the whole summer saving for the game. The whole summer. But it’s finally pre-ordered and they are giddy.

They’re extra giddy because while I was speaking and attending a conference in Chicago, I had a chance to attend a small Disney Infinity lunch party. Attendees had a chance to learn about the game and talk to some of the programmers who helped build it. I will be honest. Few things get me geeked out like a chance to learn about a game my son has talked about non-stop for months. He stalks the Disney Infinity YouTube channel. He reads everything he can about it. He has me equally excited about this game. And as I said earlier, I don’t regularly play games!

Here’s what so freaking cool about this game: There are physical Disney characters that you play and earn upgrades when you play the games. Each character has its own game. But beyond that, there is the Disney Infinity Toy Box. It’s a “sandbox” concept where players can build their own worlds and games inside the existing games. The toy box feature is what has my Minecraft-fan son extra excited. During the lunch, I had a chance to see how there are so many more terrains and tools you can use to build when you compare it to the box options inside Minecraft.

Another really cool feature of the Disney Infinity Toy Box is you can share the things you build with a community of other toy box creators. You can download other’s structures as well. Disney Infinity fans will be able to build and hack each other’s work. That is so cool and reminds me of Scratch. (My son loves that programming tool as well!)

There are many additional elements that will include a reason to start trading another Disney item – the Power Discs. The discs give your toy box a different background or theme or other cool things. While I attended the Disney Infinity lunch, the programmer who I spoke to turned a Monster’s University theme into Finding Nemo. That was super cool. The opportunities are endless. The games and adventures and fun can go on and on. Infinity for real.

A few extra facts: Disney Infinity is available on Xbox 360, PS3,WiiU/PC and 3DS. Starter game packs cost $74.99. Additional game pieces and discs range in price from $4.99 to $34.99.

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I was invited to attend the Disney Infinity event in Chicago as part of The Big Toybook event. I was not paid or required to share my experience. Each attendee received one Disney Infinity game character. I do plan to continue to share future experiences now that the kids have invested their own money into the game!

Being brave and reaching out to brands

As a person who has written in the blogosphere since 2004, I’ve watched bloggers big and small jump into the water of brand relationships. For most of my career, I’ve worked as a journalist and it just didn’t feel right to be a part of that side of blogging. But I have a new career, a new outlook and a new level of bravery.

Did you know a part of working with a brand means you have to be a bit brave? You have to be willing to take a risk in case a brand says no to your pitch. That fear of pitching and not doing it all of the time has held me back a bit. Which is really funny since I have pitched story ideas and reached out to sources to get information and interviews for years. Reaching out to make contact with a brand is not much more different than a journalist pitch. It just has a different purpose.

Let’s rewind to this past month. I knew I was headed to Chicago for a number very big events at one time: Building my daughter’s newest prosthetic arm, putting together a large meet up for my blog readers and speaking at a large blog conference all at the same two week period. I had a lot of driving, coordinating and planning to do to make it all happen.

I stopped and thought about it… And realized in my years of blogging, I have not pitched many ideas with brands. But, I’ve built relationships by talking to communications directors, social media managers and so many others. It was time for me to be brave and ask.

I had a seven hour drive, many, many appointments to attend with my daughter and a very exciting meet up to coordinate that spanned between Navy Pier and Millennium Park in Chicago. I decided to take a risk and reach out to a communications manager at General Motors and some of the managers at the Chicago Children’s Museum and Navy Pier.

I pitched the idea of using a loaner GMC vehicle to get us to Chicago, go to our many appointments and even help us with transportation during our meet up. Having a 2014 Acadia with the bells and whistles was such an amazing experience with all of the other stressful things going on with us during our almost two-week trip. My daughter, Jordan, enjoyed her videos in the back using the monitor. I listened to XM radio or our iPod during the trip using the navigation screen. Once we were in the Chicago area, the GPS system got us around the suburbs and the city. As I learned how I could turn certain GPS settings on and off, I figured out how to get around the city with and without the freeways and tollways. Add in front seat coolers on hot days and the fun sun roof (one in the front that opens and one in the back that is huge and Jordan LOVED to look out), our adventure was so much easier to make happen with our amazing loaner.

Our meet up included 45 adults and children with links to the limb difference community and my other website, Born Just Right. We had so much fun and it was so much easier to be able to have a vehicle for transportation. The transportation also helped so I could take my daughter to her many appointments. We were able to bring a suitcase full of activities so we could hang out in an appointment room working on art and playing games as we built a new prosthetic arm. We were able to buy her a bike to work on her new prosthetic bike hand. She actually balanced on a bike for the very first time! Without a large vehicle like the Acadia, we could have never purchased the bike during our visit.

There are many more stories about how the car made a difference and I plan to write a review about the car itself. But I wanted to be sure to write about bravery. I asked. If I hadn’t asked, our trip would have been a little more stressful. I would have relied on Google Maps a lot more. I would have visited fewer spots in the Chicago area. And I know I wouldn’t be writing a post encouraging others to be brave. You don’t know what is possible without asking.

Amazing Customer Service

As I move from the journalism world into a membership and non-profit focus, I suddenly look at experiences with brands a little differently. I was fortunate to work with Brooks Running as it launched its PureFlow2 shoes. They sent me a pair and simply asked me to share what I thought about them on social media if I wanted to. And to be honest, I wanted to. They’re great shoes for me as I continue to run a couple of times a week and a few races a year.

But my best customer experience came from the last couple of weeks with Southwest Airlines. I’ve been a fan for a long time. But since I started my new job, I’ve used the airliner a lot in the last six months. I tend to snag a seat near a window and enjoy the views. Every once and a while I get to use one of the free drink tickets they sent in the mail. While I was attending the SXSW Interactive festival this March, I couldn’t get the check in process to work for me since the online process wasn’t working and I had fully lost my voice. (It’s a problem I tend to have near the end of SXSW each year.) I mentioned my problems on Twitter and a customer service person made sure everything was handled for me.

Pretty great, right? Well, that wasn’t even the best moment I’ve had with Southwest this year. It happened after I wrapped up a flight from Washington, DC. I had fallen asleep on the flight, packed up my stuff and headed out to my car and enjoy a two hour drive from St. Louis to Columbia, MO. I was a little groggy but ready to snag my luggage and get home. What I hadn’t realized is I left my iPad in the seat pocket. My iPad! And I didn’t even recall putting it there.

Later that week, I messaged my brother and told him I thought I left my iPad at his place. That’s because I had no memory of putting it in my bag or pulling it out on the plane. (I must have been really tired.) I wasn’t worried and didn’t even think about checking my Find iPhone app that I have attached all of my Apple products.

I assumed wrong. How did I find out? Because someone from Southwest emailed me. And the email was vague:

Dear (my email),

We have obtained your email information from an item found on Southwest Airlines. If you have recently lost an item while flying Southwest, please follow the link to fill out a lost report https://live.lostandfound.aero/client/southwest/landing.do. Once you have completed the report, reply to this email with the lost report number.

Thank you,
Southwest Airlines Lost Article Recovery Team

That was the first moment when I thought that maybe, just maybe, that iPad was left on the plane. But this email was so vague, I thought it might be a scam. So I did a little research on how Southwest handles missing items. I tracked down the Frequently Asket Questions page on Southwest’s website and found a question about leaving something on a plane. It led me to a link that was identical to the one that was included in the email.

I filled out the form and emailed the person who had emailed me initially and shared my lost item report number. She confirmed Southwest had my iPad within EIGHT minutes.

Seriously? That’s amazing.

I sent Southwest my FedEx information and six days later (only because I wasn’t home for the first two deliveries), my iPad is back with me. Southwest even left me a note:

Tape It Down

I spent the last week visiting the AARP headquarters where I work. I’m a teleworker based in Columbia, Missouri tasked with helping train the entire organization about social media. Those tasks range from understanding the ethics and etiquette behind the use of social media to ways to use it effectively on a personal and professional level. It’s a vast task that I’m trying to do in as logical a manner as possible.

The one resounding theme I taught as I met with groups from all kinds of different portions of the organization was: You need to organize your social media usage or else you will feel completely overwhelmed. I explain it like this:

When you tape down and organize your social media, it is less overwhelming and stressful.

Tape Down Your Social Media!

Imagine you’re in charge of painting a room. You have two options: Tape down the windows and edges or just try to do your best to not paint on the window frames, ceiling and crown molding. Taping down is tedious but when you finally get to painting, it’s a fast and simple (non-stressful) process. Painting without tape is slow, tedious and stressful.

Social media is no different.

If you tape social media down, you have set up an organizational structure that helps you track information that matters to you to do your job and improve your connection to information that may be personally important. If you don’t set up lists, RSS feeds, search alerts and more, you will feel overwhelmed and stressed.

Setting up lists, feeds, alerts and more can be tedious and annoying. But it is the best way to get your work done without feeling like you’re drowning in a sea of information.

My co-worker, friend and managing editor of the AARP blog, Alejandra Owens (@frijolita) is working on a series on her blog called #GSD (or Get Sh#t Done) and lists a great collection of ways to tape your social media down. She’s also shares how she personally stays up to date and organized. I am actually in the process of re-working my organizational use of social media since I changed jobs. The one thing I can say is no matter what you do in your career, being a part of social media is so much easier when you build a structure to help with how you manage time. Take a look at this presentation I’ve given a handful of times on time management and let me know how you keep social media taped down.

Social Media Time Management from Jen Reeves

We are all journalists

I’m working on a collection how checklists on what you need to do when you join some of the top social media platforms… Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram. The overarching theme I keep thinking about is how we all need to think like journalists before we post content into any platform. A blog, email, social media site… you name it. It’s so easy to hit publish, send, tweet, post before you really investigate the information.

Sometimes a story can seem too good to be true… And if you take a little time to investigate, you’ll probably discover you’re right. It isn’t true.

Imagine if just one sports reporter decided to look into Manti Te’o’s story about losing his girlfriend and grandmother in the same week. Fact: His grandma passed away and it’s documented how close he is to his family. Fiction: He never had a girlfriend who was sick, in a car accident or died.

How did that come into the open? Because a couple of guys at a website called Deadspin took a little time to investigate. And once they started that basic investigation, they dug even deeper and found some huge lies.


The investigation Deadspin started could have been launched by anyone. It’s a perfect reminder for each person who publishes to think, search, ask questions and report what they’ve learned or fact disappears very quickly.

Brands, Blogs, Influence and New Media Expo

I’m kicking off the new year with something a little different. For the first time, I’m attending the New Media Expo (known best as Blogworld). The conference is focused on people who create content online and giving them a chance to learn how to get better at it and meet all kinds of brands that may have helpful tools.

There was a time when brands focused on getting the likes, the follows… build the numbers. Get eyes on your social messages. But it numbers don’t mean much if those followers don’t actually have a relationship with the brand. One of my favorite comments during one panel came from BlogFrog’s Jennifer Beaupre: You need to improve the experience for current and future users and influence will happen.

Influence. It’s a major theme discussed throughout NMX. There are two sides of influence that seem to most dominant: Helping brands harness the power of influencers and helping individuals build influence so brands will want to work with them. Influence is complicated to gauge. Products like Klout and Kred claim to be able to score each person based on their influence on social media. Other products, like BlogFrog, try to harness influencer strength based on niches.

Brands focusing on influence is not new. But as IAB’s Susan Borst said during one panel, brands have always tried to harness the power of influence. But the difference now is the digital world comes with data. Digital has actual data behind it: followers, likes, tweets, posts… It goes on and on. The challenge for brands is identifying what data is really relevant, what is right. There are so many different tools out there that gather data. The trick for brands is working on learning how to use the right tools or process to reach the influencers that matter to your brand. There is no one overarching answer for every brand.

Social media has never been a one size fits all process. True relationships with brand advocates and brand influencers take time, effort and money. It’s fascinating to watch it constantly evolve.

Meeting a Writing Inspiration Face to Face

I love to write. As a little kid, I kept a very simple journal. I remember reading through a post when I was little and writing about Princess Diana’s wedding. I was very journalistic and kept to the facts, not a lot of emotion or opinion. But as the years went on, I learned to add more description and feeling. I never found a writing style I wanted to replicate. I did my own thing in my own way.

Fast forward to raising my two kids and it’s fascinating to watch their education bloom in different ways. Both of my children (almost 7 years old and 10.5 years old) are natural consumers and users of technology. My daughter (the almost seven year old) is an early writer and loves using the app, Photogram, to collect photos and send short notes via email. She writes phonetically and I declare it super cute. I can’t wait to watch her grow as a writer.

Her brother, Cameron, the ten and a half-year-old, is a rock star writer (when he wants to write). Years ago, he discovered the Wimpy Kid book series. The books tell the tale of a self-centered boy named Greg Heffley written in Greg’s perspective along with some very fun drawings. The illustrator and author, Jeff Kinney, became Cameron’s writing muse. When writing in first-person, Cam would take the Greg Heffley tone and turn it into this own confident style. It’s been incredible to watch a book series become such an inspiration. For a while, Cameron even learned how to draw the characters and eventually figured out how to use the technique to create family and friends in the same style. He was SO into the Wimpy Kid experience.

Fast forward to last night and my son had a chance of a lifetime: A small private event where he had a chance to meet Jeff Kinney. We couldn’t stay at the event for very long, but Cameron soaked it all in. He got a favorite t-shirt signed along with some books. In Cam’s book one, Kinney drew an iconic Greg Heffley inside the front cover. We had a chance to watch Kinney at work. Today, Kinney’s seventh Wimpy Kid book, The Third Wheel, comes out and I plan to head over to the bookstore to purchase a special copy that has Kinney’s signature written out to Cameron… The boy who was inspired to write thanks to Kinney’s fun book series.

My children are incredible tech-minded kids… So it’s really cool when the simplicity of a book remains something that evokes excitement. I want to send a huge thank you to Jeff Kinney for being a really nice person. I also want to thank the publisher, Abrams Books, for giving us the chance to meet Kinney. Cameron is still floating on air from the experience and is pretty sure most of the kids at school won’t believe this really happened.

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By the way, if you live in Columbia, MO, the University Bookstore is selling signed copies of The Third Wheel today, November 13th!

Room to grow

Nine and a half years ago, I embarked into a career adventure few could imagine. I was the proud mom of a one-year-old toddler who was looking at her first opportunity to help manage a newsroom. As executive producer, I had a chance to take my knowledge as a newscast producer into a professional environment while teaching up and coming journalists at the same time. No where else in the world can you run an NBC affiliate and teach at a world-renowned journalism program.

My career took a fascinating (and some would say geeky) turn when my news director, Stacey Woelfel, allowed me to research and prepare our newsroom’s transition from linear editing and an old newsroom computer system to non-linear editing that communicated with a new newsroom computer system. I analyzed how newsrooms used it, what they did right and wrong. The building and organizing process opened my brain to coding and digital organization. (By the way, that picture is me managing breaking news from the floor of an airport in 2007.)

About a year later, the Missouri School of Journalism’s relationship with Apple gave me an opportunity to help introduce podcasting to the higher education world. I helped lead EDUCAUSE into the concept of podcasting by collecting and sharing a collection of podcasts during the EDUCAUSE Learning Institute conference in January 0f 2005. I had produced an entire conference experience for anyone to hear on demand.

On demand!

In 2005 the only on demand experience I knew came from TiVO. The idea of delivering information that lands into your iPod blew my mind. This was BEFORE the iPhone and podcasts that easily fed into iTunes. It opened my mind and I just didn’t stop from that point forward.

How many work environments would have fostered my desire to continue to learn and teach young journalists along the way? I traveled to China, I taught and spoke across the country, I watched hundreds of former students do AMAZING things with their careers. At the same time I started really understanding the digital world, my daughter was born. My digital knowledge helped me as I started to navigate the special needs parenting world.

What an amazing ride.

As I move away from my 17 years of journalism… I have to recognize the remarkable experience I’ve had at KOMU 8 News, the Missouri School of Journalism and the Reynolds Journalism Institute. I was able to discover the incredible potential of social media long before it really caught on. The @KOMUnews account launched in June 2007. We had a Facebook page LONG before brands had pages. I worked in an environment that fostered and supported my energy to constantly learn and experiment. Sure, not everything worked. But everything we did on air and online taught the industry and students about the changing face of journalism. (That picture is from our J-school centennial in 2008.)

Without this experience, I would have never met members of the social team at AARP during SXSW in 2010. I would have never even known about the opportunity I’m about to take. I’m so excited to take my years of experience as a teacher and as a journalist to help the AARP. What an amazing challenge to take my teaching skills and help build a curriculum for the organization. I have even more to learn and so much to share. It’s really exciting.

Thank you to the many, many students who worked with me these many years. I am so happy to continue working and learning with you. Thank you to the fabulous faculty members at Mizzou – in and out of the journalism school. Thank you to the many J-School and KOMU staff who were so wonderful to work with. Thank you to the incredible social journalists and members of #wjchat for being a part of the journalism community that cares about the industry and good journalism. And most importantly, my husband and the rest of my family deserve a lot of thanks for putting up with my geekiness.

I am not closing my connection to journalism… I’m just going to be working differently. I’m planning to stay in touch thanks to my role as a moderator of #wjchat. My husband will remain in the KOMU newsroom so I won’t be too far away. And best of all, I have the many former students who remain in the journalism and communications industries. We’ll continue to share and learn from each other… Just like I said I always would. Once you’re my student, you’ll always be my student.

Online to reality

Almost two years ago, a friend who used to teach at Mizzou introduced me to a mom who was connecting with other professional moms. We both happened to know a lot of the same women in the mom blog world. Not long after that, Hollee Schwartz Temple asked me for a favor: to review her new book, Good Enough is the New Perfect. She wrote it along with Becky Beaupre Gillespie and focused the writing on research that helps us all better understand where many women are finding success and failure with work/life balance. The book looks at research that finds type-a moms or “never enoughs” tend to be more stressed and unhappy than moms who allow moments of imperfection. The “good enoughs” are okay with store-bought food or skipping a soccer practice.

I enjoyed the book and blogged about it on Born Just Right back in 2011. After the blog post, Hollee and I became Facebook friends. We would talk there and on Twitter from time to time.

Fast forward to this week. Our local women’s network invited Hollee to speak about her book and research. We finally had a chance to meet! We had breakfast together, I helped shoot video of her speech and I quickly discovered I’m SO glad we had a chance to meet online because we were meant to meet in person. Moving a friendship that starts online and moves into the real world is one of my favorite parts of being in the social media world. I’ve met people from around the world who I would have never known and when we can actually meet in person, the relationship just grows. It is never awkward for me because the person I appear online is exactly who I am in person.

I’m looking forward to my next chance to meet up with Hollee… and many, many more people as I move into my next career.

A huge change

My career has been an amazing experience… Having the ability to start out as a newscast producer and evolve into a social media expert is one of a kind. The transition from traditional to non-traditional was huge.

Well, it’s time to announce another huge change.

In two weeks, I’m stepping down as KOMU’s interactive director and will become AARP’s manager of social communications and strategy. It’s a chance to train social media skills on the national and regional level and remain in Columbia, MO. I’ll have a chance to build curriculum online through documentation, webinars and who knows what I’ll be able to come up with!

My nine and a half years at Mizzou and KOMU was amazing. It feels strange to step away. But this new opportunity is so exciting. I can’t wait to see the potential.

To my students, you still have me as an ear and eye. I will never break my promise to be there for you. Please know I did not take this job because I don’t like teaching you. I LOVE teaching you. Helping you grow as journalists has been an incredible gift. I took this job because my family deserves and needed me in a job that helped push me even further and help fund our needs. You have me forever even if I’m working at the AARP.

Thank you the many people who have supported me as I’ve grown in my career. It’s been a remarkable ride an I can’t wait to see what’s next.