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Media Minds: Brittany Highland

Editor

In Austin, March truly is a month of madness–welcomed madness of course. It’s a time when Austites’ inboxes are chocked full of info on free SXSW events, but hey, we’re not complaining! So we figured it was the perfect time to highlight the editor of a truly Austin-centric publication. Brittany Highland is the editor of the Austinot, the top-ranked blog about the city of Austin. The Austinotexploded in early 2012, shortly after its creation. Today, it reaches up to 200,000 individuals a day through blog articles, social media communities and online partners. Brittany and her team utilize their influential platform to promote businesses and organizations that make Austin a better place. They have a special passion for local non-profits.

Brittany also provides online marketing consulting and account management for small businesses across the country, through her company Knektion. Her ability to work online is allowing Brittany to chase a crazy dream. She and her husband have sold everything and are moving into a 40 ft. motorhome to travel the country. Want to learn what makes Brittany tick? Read on.

How did you get your start?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Most of my childhood poems and song lyrics will never see the light of day, but I did write an entertaining short story as a seven year old that I still laugh about. In it, a girl named Hannah was the captain of a row boat on its way to China. On the way, she and her companions encountered a dragon and all sorts of obstacles. The characters in the story were based on me and my two younger brothers.

I was a liberal arts major during my university years. Though my profession today has very little to do with the subject matter I studied back then, the rigorous and constant writing assignments definitely strengthened my abilities to research, crank out content, and strive for accuracy.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

One of the biggest pet peeves of all blog owners is spam email! I’m sent a constant stream of press releases and pitches, many of which are irrelevant to my blog, poorly written, or don’t contain the essential information I need to make a decision about coverage.

On a positive note, some of my favorite press releases are the ones that buck convention. Some PR firms here in Austin make use of a gorgeous photo at the top of each press release, with an attractive email template below. You might be surprised at the difference these aesthetics make! When I’m wading through dozens of emails, a pretty picture can be the encouragement I need to stop and read a couple of paragraphs and maybe even type out a response.

What story, in your career, are you most proud of?

I’m my own worst critic, but my favorite articles are the ones where I’m able to be myself, have fun and stay informative at the same time. My review on Thai Cuisine, currently my favorite Thai spot in Austin, is a good example.

There’s one story that’s more important to me than any other. It’s the only true editorial I’ve ever written on the Austinot, and it was instigated by the 2013 Veterans Day Ceremony at the Texas State Capitol. In the article, I thanked Texas for supporting veterans, but outlined a number of ways I thought the annual Veterans Day ceremonies could serve veterans and educate the public better, rather than featuring speech after speech from elected officials in front of an unengaged audience. I’m passionate about caring for our country’s veterans and I couldn’t keep silent after attending the ceremony.

What story do you wish you would have been able to cover?

The Austinot has a defined niche. We’re hyperlocal, which means we only write about businesses and events that were founded here in Austin. At times, our mission to support local feels restrictive…like when Cirque du Soleil is coming to town! I’ve had to make some hard decisions about where to draw the line, and I’ve had to say no a lot.

But I’ve found that our community has rewarded us for having the integrity to maintain our identity, even when it means we don’t get to chase the big story or the big name that would bring in a lot of traffic.

What makes a good story?

Stories need to resonate with their intended audience. Demographic factors like age and social status matter when determining story content and the way it’s presented. You might think of it in terms of a “tuxedo voice” versus a “blue jean voice” – I’m sure you can imagine the difference between those two.

Generally speaking, our community eats up “round-up” articles that list the best in a category, whether it’s the best coffee shops for dating or the best Texas state parks. They also love big news about people and places they’re already familiar with.

When did you know you wanted to be a journalist?

Journalism found me, not the other way around. The Austinot was never meant to be a long-term, full-time project. It was originally created as a showcase for the online marketing work my husband and I do for small businesses. But with 20,000 pageviews in our first month of tracking, 30,000 in the second month, and 40,000 in the third month, it was obvious we were on to something. After two years, we’ve expanded to the point that we have five writers on our Contributing Blogger team, and many other guest writers who have submitted articles over time.

I wish I could give a formula for success to those who want to become journalists or bloggers. I don’t know what sparked the Austinot’s original success, but I think our sustained and growing popularity is based on a few things:

1) We’re consistent. We know who we are and stay true to our voice, and we also consistently publish at least four new articles every single week.

2) We’re genuine. We care about the community and want to make it better, and that comes across every time we meet a local business owner for an interview, or post on our social media networks. And we are who we are! We don’t have formal training in journalism and we don’t pretend to. We write as though we’re talking to friends in our living room.

3) We’re positive. Though we’re honest in our writing, we really do try to see the best in people and give them the benefit of the doubt. There’s not enough grace and charity in the world, yet people are drawn to these qualities.

Why is journalism rewarding to you?

I love to help people. Because we focus on local people and places, we get the chance to promote so many startups, mom-and-pop shops and small non-profits that have never received any kind of publicity before. Their gratitude is truly moving, and it takes relatively little effort on our part to encourage them and brighten up their whole life with an article on our blog.

It’s also rewarding to know we’ve been a source local news stations have used to find stories!

What famous historical figure do you wish you could have interviewed and why?

Oh my goodness, Theodore Roosevelt is my all-time favorite historical figure. I have way too many of his biographies on my shelf, so I could go on for hours about why he would make the perfect interview subject. But, to sum up, he was an adventurous spirit, a voracious reader, a prolific writer, an astute critic, and a brilliant orator. If I had my way, we would break the world record for the longest interview in recorded history.

If you’d like to be in-the-know on the latest from Brittany, you can follow her on Twitter at @QuasiBrit.

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