From Journalist to Blogger: Insights from Cassie Hepler
We had the opportunity to hear about the career transition from journalism to blogging when we spoke with Cassie Hepler, expert travel blogger and media influencer. Although both professions utilize the power of words, they are sometimes miles apart. Making the switch from a journalist to a blogger comes with adjustments and new priorities. Through her discussion of the differences between the two jobs to her sharing tips on writing, we walked away with many insights. Here’s a glimpse into our conversation.
You have an impressive background! Could you tell us about your time working for the Philadelphia Tribune and The Times Herald?
Thank you, I like to say I’m Type A+! I moved to Philadelphia, PA for The Times Herald as a copy editor, which also included graphic design and layout of newspaper pages. It was my first full-time newspaper job. Working for The Times Herald in that huge, old building in Norristown was… interesting. It was quite a motley crew of people and there was never a dull moment. I soon grew bored as a copy editor and left for a short stint as a website content writer, a position that began the journey of owning my own business.
Five years later, The Philadelphia Tribune called me in for an interview and told me they implemented all my ideas. A little too late. I was all in: contacting Google, wanting to have them come speak and work with the company (they were hesitant), coming up with a whole plan for the company to stay ahead of the technology curve. I also wrote for examiner.com (a folded company) as well as acting/modeling on nights and weekends to fulfill that creative side of me.
What types of limitations on your creativity did you experience while working at those newspapers?
There was a glass ceiling for sure. I hit it multiple times. Bosses loved my creativity and ideas but it was always “our hands are tied”, blah blah blah. Journalism has always been a boys’ club. I applied for multiple higher-level newspaper jobs and my boss, who was allegedly a “friend”, gave me a backhanded reference: i.e., “she’d make a great entertainment editor” for a news editor position.
It was brutal at times. But I’m probably the only white woman who can just roll into The Philadelphia Tribune and walk upstairs after greeting security and say hello to everyone. I made some great friends there and still have utmost respect for some of the people still working and plugging away. I just wish they would be more inclusive in their coverage, as Philadelphia is mostly an African American city and not so elitist, but that’s who’s paying the bills, so there you go.
When did you decide to leave the more traditional journalism lifestyle and why?
I’d been trying to leave for a while, but like a lingering relationship, it kept coming back to me. The defining moment was when I left – on a gamble – to go to the website content writing position at Yellowbook, which is now Hibu, on a six-month contract that “might” extend. They were going to give us crash courses in writing for online Google 101 and it was like free college. I figured I would learn all I could and if they didn’t extend it then I would use it for my own gain.
I saw journalism was a sinking ship, mainly because no one wanted to adapt to the changing times and it is an antiquated way of delivering news. I banged out thousands of small business websites for Yellowbook, and would at times compete with the top website producer for fun – and then go back to normal. When I left, I emailed everyone a “nice meeting you” email and sent along my modeling/acting website and let them know I’d be just fine.
What was the transition like from journalism to blogger and influencer?
As my high school friend said the other day, “you’ve always been an influencer”, but there was no word for it then I suppose. I try to do the right thing, help others who don’t have a voice. After you’ve been through all the above (and more) as well as scoliosis fusion surgery (where they literally break your back and put you back together like a car), life seems finite. I am so happy to have a healthy, functioning body again it’s like another life I was given. And I’m not wasting it for sure!
I had been hoarding modeling pics for years, since I started in college, and now there is a place for them other than my portfolio. I was also photography obsessed, and same thing. In fact, I still think long live the blog though because it’s your website, your media and has evergreen staying power if you do it right. My dream was to own my own magazine and since everything is digital, a blogazine is the best way to go. I have multiple people working with me and it’s not too far off from a magazine.
Tell us more about your blog, Explore with Cassie. How do you manage to include so much diverse content while maintaining consistency and a great look and reader experience?
Explore with Cassie (formerly Explore-Philly and Explore-NJ) is a travel and lifestyle blog with a team of writers, explorers and photographers/videographers who find the unusual, out-of-the-ordinary from the East Coast to the West Coast and beyond. Some people love to travel all over the world (myself included) and I’ll never be able to just be a publisher. Lately I’ve been doing some videos for TravelZoo, which is fantastic to extend my media skills in a new direction. Each team member has their strengths.
Working for multiple freelance news outlets last year (which all had huge budget cuts… see a theme here?), I encountered one of the worst, crazy editors I’ve ever experienced in my life, that taught me even more what NOT to do. If you encourage, teach and water your team, they thrive and grow. We also have the best IT guy, who is not only a friend but a business consultant, as we both have that newspaper background. We have a formula we stick to and it works well. Everyone takes pride in their work and if they don’t, we part ways.
Where do you work most effectively and does the location change if you’re doing writing or media work?
I work from home blogging most efficiently at my casita farm oasis in Arcadia section of Phoenix, AZ. Creating content I work best on the fly – no set scripts or plan. That is the journalist in me, I capture what I see and is happening in the moment. My photography is always photojournalist style – even my wedding photography. I’m trying to step outside of my oasis box though and get a little PC “road” laptop, as hunkering down at home is not always going to be possible in the future.
No way I’m touting my beloved MacBook Pro across the world! Also, having the best photo/video quality smartphone (I like the colors of Samsung) works fantastic in a pinch but there’s nothing like a real camera (I love Nikon’s color pop). And sometimes simple is better.