Member Spotlight: Melissa Major

Melissa Major, digital marketing coordinator at Random House Children’s Books, swung by the ol’ blog to chat about working in both publishing and television industries and why Cookie Monster would make a great roommate in theory only.

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Can you tell us a little about your professional background and what drew you to children’s media?

Since I graduated from the University of Maryland, my jobs have been in digital media and education. These included working as a media coordinator for PBS, a production assistant for WNET (the umbrella company of the PBS channels in the NYC area), a substitute teacher, and an independent tutor. Currently I am a digital marketing coordinator at Random House Children’s Books.

I think children’s media is the natural culmination of my main interests: media (digital and print), the fine arts, education, and psychology. Children’s media is an especially exciting industry to be in now, since there’s such a focus on transmedia storytelling. Kids can watch their favorite characters on TV, read about them in books, and play games with them on an iPad.

My favorite kind of children’s media is both relatable to kids and funny or meaningful to adults (Sesame Street parodies, I’m looking at you). Children’s media is just plain adorable and unbelievably creative. There’s also a certain level of nostalgia in it. I remember when I was a little girl–I’d stay up late reading with a flashlight until I was so tired that I’d fall asleep with the book on top of my face. Now I’m thrilled to work for a company that produces such a wonderful array of stories for children. It’s great to be a part of that mission, even though my role is very humble.

As someone relatively new to the industry, please share any tips on how to get that first job in children’s media. 

Don’t underestimate the importance of internships, temporary jobs, and freelance gigs. Sometimes, a company may not be hiring staff, but will have short-term jobs open. Take advantage of these opportunities. Companies often  turn to those who’ve made a good impression interning or freelancing when a permanent role does open up.

It’s also important to take your work seriously regardless of your title and to get to know people on your team. Volunteer to help coworkers on a project when they need it. People don’t forget others who lend a hand when they’re in a tight spot. I’m not implying that helping others should only be for selfish gain, but I believe in karma to an extent.

I’m preaching to the choir here, but I’d also highly recommend joining a professional organization such as the Children’s Media Association.  I joined CMA on the recommendation of Corey Nascenzi, our Director of Events.  Corey was kind enough to introduce me to her connection at Random House Children’s Books, which directly led to attaining my current position there.

In summary, actively create opportunities for yourself and capitalize on your network and resources.

You are currently a digital marketing coordinator at Random House Children’s Books.  Can you tell us about your role there?

As the digital coordinator on the content development team, I assist producers with various projects. One of my main roles is to coordinate with the graphic design team to update randomhousekids.com with fresh content each month. I also help create graphics for e-newsletters and build landing pages for giveaways and popular books/series.

Prior to joining Random House, you worked in public television.  What are some similarities and/or differences between these two industries?  

The major difference between the two is that Random House is a corporation, while public television is in the non-profit sector. When I worked in public television, many of the projects were based on grants the organization was awarded to create very specific products. We typically aren’t working under grant money in publishing and are more driven by sales. I really love that there is an overlap between the two organizations. For example, Random House Children’s Books publishes The Cat in the Hat books, and PBS Kids airs the The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That–so we work closely on that property. Public television and Random House are similar in that they both strive to produce quality, engaging content for children across media platforms.

If you could live in any TV program, game, or book, what would it be?

I’d like to live on Sesame Street, but ideally all the Muppets would live there (not just the Sesame Street crew). I’d be roommates with Cookie Monster. Although come to think of it, he probably wouldn’t be the tidiest of roommates. And I’d always have to hide my cookies.

Complete this sentence: My media guilty pleasure is…

MTV’s Catfish. It’s so predictable, yet so addicting.

Remember friends, “If he doesn’t Skype, he’s not your type!”

CMA Event — 3-2-1 Contact to Minecraft: The Evolution of STEM Programming

Happy 2014 CMA-ers! Laurie here, your intrepid guest blogger. I’m kicking off the New Year as your OFFICIAL blogger! Firstly, I hope you had a great holiday season.

Secondly, CMA had an event this past week! (I was too sick to post it then, so I’m putting it up now. Ta-da!)

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 Ta-da!

To kickoff our year, CMA decided to take a look back at all of the awesome educational programming that taught STEM before STEM was even a thing.

Like 3-2-1 Contact.

And Voyage of the Mimi.

And lots of other awesome shows, courtesy of funding from the National Science Foundation. The NSF cut its funding this year, prompting worried chatter from some children’s content creators — but the folks on CMA’s “3-2-1 Contact to Minecraft: The Evolution of STEM Programming” panel on Monday, January 27 weren’t worried.

They were excited to turn kids into scientists.

Our lovely panel of experts – Carl Wynter (American Museum of Natural History), Sandra Shepherd (WNET), Carla Seal Wanner (Climate Cartoons), and Harold Moss (FlickerLab) – shared about their experiences creating educational programming that was both entertaining and accurate. After they all shared about some of their greatest successes, Moderator Dr. Margaret Honey (New York Hall of Science) kicked things off by asking about core principles that each kept in mind for audience engagement.

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There they are!

Sandra shared about how Cyberchase was just as committed to character and narrative as much as it was to teach math skills. Math is always essential to saving the day in world of Cyberchase (and she showed us a clip to prove it), but she stressed the importance of keeping your content and your narrative in sync. If you’ve got characters that aren’t mirroring the way kids actually learn, or you’re missing a character with a point of view that the audience can relate to (which they initially were), then you need to build that in.

Carla jumped off that point to discuss her experiences with Voyage of the Mimi, encouraging media makers to show characters with different learning styles. Model different ones and show different perspectives. Kids don’t all learn the same; neither should the characters they learn from.  She also shared some great tidbits about how external forces shaped Mimi’s content – like how it was half episodic drama and half documentary because it was cheaper than doing either full-length format, and how they created 11-minute episodes to meet teachers’ need for classroom-appropriate length material.

Dr. Honey threw Sam Gibbons’ infamous “If it smells like PBS, they’ll flee,” maxim to the panel and asked how they managed it in informal learning settings (i.e. – not being in school). Sandra opened up on behalf of PBS, stating that kids ALWAYS like learning. Always. And it’ll be fun if the content they’re learning from is both engaging and relevant to the kids themselves.

Carl tackled the generalization that media people were fearful of science as a way of thinking in his answer.  He knew it was a generalization, and clarified it as such, but also cited it as a very real drawback in his experience. Most content creators treat science “as a bauble,” he said, a shiny gimmick to add to their show. Children are sensitive to that stuff – and they know when it’s being sugarcoated. More than anything, he wants writers and producers to think that science “doesn’t taste icky” and is worthy of being content in its own right.

The audience ate that up.

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See? Hanging on every word!

That answer broached a question about using transmedia to create scientists and Harold jumped all over it. He agreed with Sandra’s earlier point about writing the story around the topic (and making characters work in multiple mediums to maximize learning), and elaborated that getting kids to understand content is more than transmitting facts to them: it’s about making the information immediately available in a hands-on way that gets them excited to use it. That kind of engagement teaches kids to experiment, fail and defend their thoughts – aka, SCIENTIST STUFF.

Carla encouraged the room to think about what hooks they had in the material – and, most encouragingly, do things with the camera that the human eye can’t. The room agreed with that one – and Sandra chimed in with testing your content early and often. Even the pilot. Building your audience’s feedback into your process from the beginning ensures a better product in the end.

Dr. Honey wrapped up her questions by asking about funding. “We’ve stayed alive and that’s saying a lot. And we’ve done lots of stuff we love.” That’s how Carla summarized it, and it rang true of the entire panel. She encouraged everyone to not always go for the big funding opportunities – and Harold added to that by explaining that more companies are going after the same small pool of funding. There’s less to go around – but be creative. Education is privatized now. Companies are interested in educational content, and there’s a political angle to be exploited there in terms of funding content… but with greater funding opportunities come greater responsibilities to make a good product. “It requires us to be advocates of what’s actually good for kids,” Harold concluded. “And we should be.”

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Yet another instance of Spiderman logic applying to real life

Sometimes you can’t do that (Carla admitted she and Harold had both walked away from work), but you can still create content that will allow kids to build, share and defend fact-based opinions with their peers. Those critical thinking skills may not make them scientists – but it will absolutely make them better people.

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And sometimes they’ll learn statistics to interpret their results – as Carl shared about a SimAnt experiment

The conversation than switched to audience questions, which got dominated by hatred of Minecraft as an educational tool (it isn’t), CTW, and the results of the recent CUNY study. However, someone asked why this content was not available for older kids and the entire room was flummoxed. Carl offered, “I think science is not cool anymore,” while Carla pointed out that preschoolers are a more captive audience and the inroad for older kids is mobile, Sandra reminded us that other countries actually DO have that content. She wrapped the evening up by giving us the biggest encouragement of all: “If you build it, and it’s great, then the audience is already there.”

In short, “As media makers, we have the ability to make this stuff engaging and exciting,” as Carla put it. And we can.

So get to it!

Lend Us Your Skills!

Volunteers are an integral part of CMA’s success and volunteering provides a great opportunity to connect with new people and build your networkIf you are interested in lending us your talents, please email info@cmanyc.org for more information.

Calling all photographers…

Utilize your professional skills and/or hobby interests to help strengthen CMA and capture stellar photographs for use on our website and in other marketing materials.

Duties:

-         Take photographs at CMA events (free guaranteed registration for all events);

-         Maintain a file folder of all signed photo release forms;

-         Edit photographs as needed and share with the Directors of Events and Communications.

Qualifications/Requirements:

-         You must own your own camera that has the ability to download the pictures online.

-         You must possess the ability to edit photographs

Length of Commitment: CMA does not require a specific length of commitment for this position, but prefers a 1 year commitment. The amount of hours depends on your schedule and what events you are available to photograph.

Join our special event planning boards

In 2014 we will launch two new event/programs and could use your help in planning and executing these events.

  • CMA Mentoring Program-We are dedicated to helping our members advance in their careers and achieve success! Assist us in developing the structure of this program and launch our first mentorships.

  • CMA Fundraising Event-We are developing a fundraising event to assist our organization in delivering the quality events and workshops we have become known for.  Join us in brainstorming and executing what promises to be one of the most fun events of the year.

Duties:

-       Attend monthly planning meetings.

-       Maintain regular communication via email with committee members

-       Complete all tasks as assigned

Qualifications/Requirements:

-        All committee members must be CMA members in good standing

Length of Commitment: Committees will meet monthly between January and April. Please plan to be in communication with committee members via email otherwise.

Member Spotlight: Kendall Haney

Our guest today, Kendall Haney, just wrapped up her internship with CMA.  Before she flies the coop to spread her wings, she was kind enough to share her thoughts on the experience and what’s coming down the pike.

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You recently graduated from NYU earning a B.F.A. in Film and Television Production. Can you tell us a little about why you chose to specialize in children’s media?

At NYU I focused on producing for animation and absolutely love it. My interest in children’s media really began with my passion for animation. The more I looked into children’s media I realized those are the stories I enjoy the most as well. Now it just makes sense! Plus, there were so many hip film students doing the hardcore films– I had a lot more fun making films kiddos could enjoy.

You are also an intern at CMA.  What do you feel you’ve gained from the experience?

CMA has been AMAZING. I’ve loved getting to know members at events and expanding my interests beyond Film and TV. After being a part of CMA for only four months, I feel way more prepared to enter children’s media in two big ways– a foundation in how children’s media works and a network of wonderful people. Thanks to all!

After completing the CMA internship, you will be joining the staff of DreamWorks as an employee.  Congratulations!  For those seeking their first position in the industry, can you share some tips on how to job search, interview, network, etc.?

Thanks! I couldn’t be more excited. I interned at DWA two summers ago and I think internships are very key. I worked extremely hard during that internship, stayed in contact with my supervisors after I left, then when the time came to start the job search I went to them first. It became very apparent early on how important it is to know someone at the company you want to work for– get to know as many people as you can!

If you could live in any TV program, game, or book, what would it be?

So hard! I’m going to have to go with Harry Potter… Little cliche, but who wouldn’t want to be magical?

Complete this sentence: My media guilty pleasure is…

Currently, Scandal. I mean…  What will Olivia do next?! #teamfitz

Red Chair Event (Much Better Than a Redrum Event)

This is it, gentle reader.  The last blog of 2013 and well…the last blog for me.  I hope you readers have found it to be a lot of fun, very educational and more than a little bit wacky!  I know that’s how I feel about the last two years.  I’ll see you all at a CMA event on the other side of 2013!  Happy holidays and may the new year be prosperous for everyone!  So say we all!

At last month’s Red Chair, Amy Friedman sat down with President of Nickelodeon Cyma Zarghami for an informal chat about life at the slime time network.

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Cyma got her start at Nickelodeon as a scheduling clerk and became General Manager after 10 years, 10 years after that she became president.  Cyma’s job as president is to coordinate all the different departments.  She bridges digital and TV and every other department you can think of.  Cyma said when looking for a job it should be at a company you like and respect, that makes a product you like and/or a company with people that you love and respect.  She was fortunate enough to find all three at Nick.

So what was it like in the early days of the network?  Well, for one thing there was only a small conference room, it was a scrappy place where they made up rules as they went.  And they’re pretty much still doing that today.  Nick has to change when kids change and with the right amount of data and observation you can convince people that change is a good thing.  The role of Nickelodeon is to make kids laugh and the millennials sense of humor is different than the generation before.  They adore their parents, are more protected and so they like safe, good, random fun…and cats.  But really, don’t we all like cats?

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Cyma was even kind enough to delve into the dreaded ratings crash of a few years ago.  It came suddenly and was also the year the iPad came out.  (I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that.)

Just look how sinister.  Is that Camp Crystal Lake?

Just look how sinister. Is that Camp Crystal Lake?

They found that heavy viewers were tired of the old content and not crazy about the new content.  The audience was turning over and competitors were hitting it hard at the same time.  Talk about a perfect storm.  Internally, Cyma had gotten a new boss who had a very calm approach that she adopted.  “Own it and make a plan.”  About a year after the crash they saw improvement and now it’s been about 3 years since the whole hoopla happened.  So how do you inspire employees when things may be looking bleak?  Cyma says to always celebrate great work.  They have a Friday morning show and tell meeting to show off new work.

And they’re always looking for new ideas.  Now they’re bringing back some original show creators to work with up and coming creators and when the interns did a presentation on the Nick shows of the ‘90s that inspired “The ‘90s are all that” which you may have seen on-air.

The_'90s_Are_All_That_logoWe then got secret sneak peeks at new shows.  I’d tell you but then my top secret security clearance would be compromised.  Geez people, stop trying to make me look bad.

Main Takeaway:  So how to succeed in business without really trying?  Nope, you gotta try.  Cyma credits her success to adopting great parts of people she admired into her work style.  She took her time and moved up.  A strong work ethic and experience can never be underestimated.  I like that.

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Personal Takeaway:  As a pending mom, I was interested to hear that on her first day as president Cyma threw up.  But it wasn’t the pressure of the job, she was pregnant.  She said motherhood was good practice for execs as a sense of humor for both roles is key.

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Inappropriate Takeaway:  I am totally having a kid just so that when Family Double Dare comes back, the LaRoses can compete.  Watch out world!

Everything about that looks awesome.

Everything about that looks awesome.