Featured Member: Jigsha Desai

By on June 25, 2012

Current Location: Knoxville, Tenn.
Current Gig: Visuals Editor at the Knoxville News Sentinel || knoxnews.com
Quick and Dirty Resume: I started as an online producer and worked my way up to visuals editor at the Knoxville News Sentinel in eight years. It’ll be my tenth year at the News Sentinel in October. My most recent job change, which occurred two years ago, has gotten me more involved in the print side of our company.
Six-word memoir: Never thought I’d end up here.
Favorite fictional character: Some of my favorite fictional characters have appeared on television: Don Draper on AMC’s “Mad Men”; Vic Mackey on FX’s “The Shield”; Bunny and Gus on HBO’s “The Wire.” I was a little embarrassed when I realized most of them are unsavory characters with warped moral compasses. However, I realized they all have something in common which speaks to me: These characters are not afraid to challenge the status quo. They are outspoken and will try things differently. Draper continually innovates in his advertising; Mackey uses tactics, some not authorized by law enforcement, to fight crime in rough neighborhoods in Los Angeles; Bunny was head of a police unit who took on a very novel fight to the war on drugs; Gus challenges the newsroom establishment in order to protect the journalism.
Favorite tech tool? Hands down, the iPhone — it’s made sharing the “moment” so much easier. There are a multitude of apps for video shooting and editing, photography, FTP, blogging and writing to various social platforms. And they’re good apps, sometimes even better than legacy software products tied to a desktop computer. One doesn’t need fancy equipment to get the job done anymore. Just take out your smartphone –- which everyone has on them –- capture your content, and immediately publish.

What happens during your average day?

Meetings bookend my day. Between them, I oversee the website and visuals in the print edition; check with photographers and videographers on their work; look at other media; troubleshoot tech/content/coverage issues; ensure we’re promoting web content in print; edit video as necessary; help with social media efforts; train colleagues and handle general administrative paperwork.

Why did you choose to get involved with online media?
I took a new media course in college (Temple University) in 2001 where I first learned about HTML. That summer, I interned for Time.com in New York, which made me realize I love online content and production. The following summer, I was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund copy editor. I realized my passion was more for online journalism than copy editing, so when it came time to hunt for a job, I focused primarily on online media production.

You held internships at four different companies before landing your first media job. What did you learn from each place?

  • Experience matters. Figure out a way to get that experience, even if your commute is convoluted and you’re doing it for free.
  • Hard work is noticed. I did everything that I was asked to and more. I was always ready to jump in as needed, work weekends when necessary and find a way to be useful. I wanted to make sure I absorbed as much information as possible, not just about the job role, but also about interacting as a team in a newsroom environment and as a working adult. I learned the importance of communication and keeping members of my group aware of what I was doing; the value of praising your peers for good work; the importance of details; and that it’s OK to ask questions. I didn’t learn any of this in college.
  • Someone is always needed to do the grunt work; but it’s OK. You will be appreciated for said grunt work.
  • Beware of toxic environments. Find a place/newsroom where you enjoy the people you work with. One of my internships was in a newsroom where morale was very low and where I felt I was treading on eggshells everyday for fear of aggravating my boss. I never wanted to be in a place like that again.
  • You became a U.S. citizen in 2005 (born in Zambia in south-central Africa). What stands out to you about coverage of immigration and citizenship?

    There are many stories out there about illegal immigrants and alleged crimes they have committed. But there are fewer stories about the positive impact new immigrants have had on this country. In essence, I rarely see stories that reflect a path similar to mine.

    I came to this country legally. My parents applied for residency when I was very young and about 12 years later, our file was processed and we became green-card holders. We worked hard, volunteered, integrated with our neighbors and finally became Americans. (You can read about my journey to citizenship here.)

    I’d tell journalists that the immigrant community is rich with stories, they just need to be willing to walk the beat to find these stories. Also, something I find frustrating is when looking for the voice of these communities, we tend to always go to the same people –- the community leaders. It’s almost expected that a story will include a quote from “community leader X.” Instead, spend a bit more time in the community, and get a quote from someone not always accustomed talking to the media.

    What does your 30-year-old self wish your 20-year-old self had known before choosing a career in journalism?

    Be prepared to work a very harried schedule. When I started work as an online producer, I worked nights and weekend on a very irregular schedule. If breaking news happened, I stayed late, or came early. This can hurt if you’re in a new town and trying to create a social life for yourself.

    Understand the importance of the work/life balance early on. I still struggle with this at times and as my responsibilities increase I have to work harder on the balance. Now, when I’m off on the weekends, I don’t check our website or work email all the time. Sometimes I avoid getting on my computer on the weekends. I make it a point to be active outdoors and to not look at my iPhone every few minutes.

    If you had a million dollars dedicated to improving media, you would …
    … build a seamless content management system that journalists can send content to via their mobile device. There are many CMSs out there, but I don’t know of one that incorporates the use of mobile media transmission. With the social Web there is a lot of content segregation, and sometimes the flagship brand misses content being done by an innovative journalist on his or her own brand. By funneling the content through one pipeline, an editor in the newsroom can see all the content, and can package, publish or promote in a cohesive fashion, ideally through that same CMS.