In the course of Amy Vernon’s pioneering career, she has made a name for herself as a prize-winning journalist, social media expert, adjunct professor, conference speaker and mentor to young women in tech.
So it comes as a delicious irony ― and we mean that literally ― that the exuberant, irreverent Vernon is best known in certain quarters of the Internet by a name she has coined for herself: the Bacon Queen.
In that role, Vernon’s royal alter ego presides over “the only [online] bacon news aggregator,” a sizzling mash-up of breaking bacon news, irresistible recipes, trivia and even the odd (indeed, very odd) bacon-related police blotter item. As Vernon’s husband crisply put it in a 2011 interview, “They don’t warn you about certain things when you get married.”
From Pulitzers to Venture Pitches
But don’t let Vernon’s ability to turn her eating habits into a multi-platform showcase for her social media prowess fool you. At the Miami Herald ― her first job out of college ― she was part of the team that won a public service Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Hurricane Andrew.
Since then, Vernon has brought the winds of change to the newsroom of The Journal News where she incorporated blogging into her reporting, to her mentoring support for young women in tech and to her freelancing efforts on behalf of companies “ranging from individuals to Fortune 500.”
CMSWire caught up with Vernon recently to talk about old media, new media and women in media. Regrettably, no snacks were served.
Sobel: Your career in journalism spans nearly a quarter century, from your time at Northwestern earning your BSJ degree to your current work as a freelance writer and editor with your own company, Amy Vernon, LLC. Can you give us a brief peek at your journey?
Vernon: I started as a clerk-reporter at the Miami Herald and spent several years there before moving to Arizona to work as a reporter in the Phoenix suburbs. I worked my way up to Deputy Metro Editor and then came to New York to become an editor at The Journal News, which serves New York City’s northern suburbs.
When I was laid off in December 2008, I decided to see if I could make a go of it with freelancing, social media and consulting so I jumped into the NYC startup and social media scene. The people who were into social media back then had a strong tech bent which dovetailed with my own interest in learning to use tools like HTML, CSS and Microsoft Access.
Sobel: Blogs were really in their infancy when you first used them to expand news and feature coverage at The Journal News. Did you see blogging as something that would help to change the newspaper industry when you first started?
Vernon: We added blogs in 2004 when I was on maternity leave. I was chomping at the bit to get involved by the time I returned and we definitely learned by doing.
In fact, our initial effort was intended to provide behind-the-scenes insights into how our editors made decisions in the newsroom. But that topic didn’t turn out to be all that interesting so I created a local news blog for our Rockland County newsroom and that was the breakthrough.
The format and flexibility of blogging liberated my reporters to think about presenting the news in completely different ways. Suddenly, we had the freedom to turn little tidbits that hadn’t made it into news stories due to time or space constraints into supplemental coverage that added real value for our readers.
Those small but deep-dive insights really gave our readers a fuller picture of the community.
It was also great fun to see my veteran reporters embrace a new way of communicating. My best blogger turned out to be a reporter with over 30 years on the job who really enjoyed being able to repurpose all the pieces of background information that he used to be heartbroken to have to toss out.
Sobel: You cite the statistic that “only seven percent of investor money goes to women-led startups” as your reason for getting involved with the Women Startup Challenge, the second in a series of pitch competitions led by Women Who Tech. Can you tell us more?
Vernon: Women Who Tech is a terrific organization led by my friend Allyson Kapin and strongly supported by Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.
As head of the host committee for the New York City-based event, my job was to spread the word to our communities, which turned out to be both fun and easy because the finalists were so impressive.
The winner was a technology that can turn any clothing into wearable tech, and other finalists included everything from a platform that turns municipal open data sources into user-friendly information to a device for early bedsore detection.
Sobel: Earlier this year you were quoted in Fast Company as saying, “One of the biggest false assumptions about using social media for marketing is that it doesn’t cost money and it’s fast." Can you share your thoughts?
Vernon: For years, I’ve been hearing people claim that they spend no money on traditional marketing and do everything on Facebook, Twitter or whatever platform is hot at the moment.
Hearing stories like that when I attend conferences is one of my pet peeves because I think it’s disingenuous to leave people with the impression that they can get something for nothing. In my experience, time spent on social platforms has tremendous value and social media is nobody’s marketing shortcut.