Building a Career in Digital Media: An Interview with mom.me’s Angelica Lai

Blogging, social media marketing, online streaming–we live in the age of digital media. By now, it seems to be a fact of life. We’re more likely to discover breaking news on Facebook than in the newspaper. Likewise, many of us follow fashion blogs instead of subscribing to Vogue and stream movies online instead of visiting the cinema. While many critics condemn the ever-growing prevalence of technology as harmful to our relationships, as well as our very psychology, there are those who celebrate digital media as a promising platform for innovation.

I belong to the latter group. Though I am first and foremost a fiction writer who fervently believes in the preservation of print books and actual bookstores (rest in peace, Borders), I am also a social media junkie and active blogger. I document my day-to-day life through edited Instagram shots and (hopefully) witty tweets. My blog is like a serialized collection of memoiristic essays, available to anyone with Internet access. Some may call my obsession with online sharing narcissistic–very “millennial.” However, I prefer to think of it as digital storytelling, a culturally relevant and effective mode of expression.

Recently, I realized that I could actually transform my love for online content into a career. This epiphany, though exciting, prompted the following daunting question: how do I close the gap between amateur blogger and digital media professional?

*   *   *

To begin my journey for answers, I conducted an informational interview with UCLA alumna Angelica Lai, who is currently an Associate Editor for mom.me, a digital brand under the parent company Whalerock Industries. Mom.me is an online destination for mothers that builds community through engaging and relatable articles. Since she joined the company in 2014, Angelica has expanded the contributing network to about seventy regular writers and works with them throughout the pitch process, editing, packaging of their blog posts, and tracking of their web traffic.

“Is this factually correct? Is there a more palatable way to say this? Does the headline make you want to continue reading? Is the photo on-brand and relevant to the piece? Is the post SEO-friendly, or search engine optimized?” These are just some of the questions that Angelica must consider as a digital editor.

angelica
Angelica Lai

I asked Angelica what drew her to digital media. She said:

Digital media is a really exciting field because it’s a relatively new form of media and an empowering one. You get to write something or shoot a video that’ll reach millions of people around the world pretty immediately. You can do a lot of cool things on the “page” that you can’t really do on paper, whether it’s embedding GIFs or informative videos, highlighting quotes or complementing posts with interactive infographics. It’s taking the storytelling experience to a whole other level. The people you meet are really inventive, always pushing and thinking up the next big idea. But the people I work with are also really caring and passionate about what they do—they get behind the writing we publish and promote, want to give a voice to all perspectives, and care about the issues parents all over the country face today.

Angelica’s path to digital media wasn’t a direct one. Her résumé includes positions at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women (assistant), The Daily Bruin (copy editor), the Nevada Ballet Theater (marketing intern), the Screen Actors Guild Awards (publicity intern), the Hammer Museum (development events intern), as well as leadership roles in student groups like The Writer’s Den and Westwind Journal of the Arts. She launched her post-grad editing career with Disney Interactive as a professional intern.

The Daily Bruin and Disney Interactive were perhaps the most formative professional experiences for Angelica, transforming her into what she calls “a reading and editing machine.”

Reflecting upon her professional trajectory, Angelica said, “I realized the one thing grounding all my experiences is my passion to tell and celebrate stories—whether it’s that of a grad student working to promote women’s rights, a dancer, an artist or a single work-at-home mom.”

Angelica frankly discussed with me the realities of working in digital media. The field is relatively new, and although this makes the work fresh and exciting, there are constant changes and challenges. Social media continues to change the advertising business, decreasing ad revenue for media websites. Consequently, companies like Mashable, Salon, Disney, Yahoo, and AOL have laid off significant numbers of employees due to budget cuts within their digital properties. “You have to have a tough skin [and] to be ready for just about anything,” Angelica said. “It’s scary, but it’s the kind of scary that will (and does) push people to innovate.”

In order to become a digital media professional, Angelica suggested that I look for internships that give me an idea of how to digital space works–and these positions won’t always be spelled out the way that I’d expect them to be. In terms of being a digital editor, she said, “you also need a really good grasp of how stories and articles work and flow, what types of posts will work for certain audiences, and a really awesome attention to detail.”

My conversation with Angelica reminded me that developing a career in digital media or any field for that matter is more than building an impressive resume; rather, it’s about cultivating a core set of skills and sensibilities. Digital media is extremely accessible–thus, I can begin my exploration of the field on my own terms, even before I score that job or internship. My blog and my social media accounts are not only hobbies, but opportunities for professional growth.

As exciting as this is, it doesn’t make my imminent graduation/entrance into the “real world” any less terrifying. Searching for any hint of comfort that I could find, I asked Angelica if she had any advice for graduating seniors. Her answer was honest, but encouraging–and I felt myself leaving the interview energized, my morale uplifted, ready to tackle adulthood.

I think the main challenge I and my graduating peers faced was: How do we get work experience if it seems like no one will hire you without any job experience? It’s like a crazy and frustrating Catch-22. But it’s possible. […] You have to continually put yourself out there, whether it’s cold-calling a company to see if they have internships, having coffee with someone in the field, or taking a job you didn’t expect you’d ever do […] People need to know that you’re looking, what you’re capable of, what you’re passionate about. So start a blog, try to make a viral Instagram account, volunteer for an animal shelter—take time to also do something you care about while you’re trying to land that job.

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