The Birmingham Post’s Development Editor Joanna Geary has landed a job at The Times as Web Development Editor. Those in Birmingham who know Jo will already be wiping their eyes; anyone in London who doesn’t know Jo will soon realise just how lucky they are.
How lucky? Along with the likes of Jon Bounds and Pete Ashton, Jo Geary has helped make Birmingham the sort of social media haven that has people around the world scratching their heads in curiosity (I kid you not: this week a reporter is visiting from Sweden to find out if it’s something in the water – and he’s not the first).
While still a poorly paid reporter she was arranging meetings with local bloggers, looking in awe at the likes of Created In Birmingham, and persuading more than 40 people – including some who’d never blogged before – to contribute to the Post site (pick up the paper today and you’ll often find a story generated by a lead or comment from those bloggers). She picked up the nuances of blogging quickly – but has always made an effort to meet people in person, a skill that’s often overlooked.
Pete Ashton, who got Jo blogging, told me:
“The importance of Joanna’s contribution to Birmingham’s social media community cannot be overstated. Before she got involved we were pretty much just arsing about. She saw the potential of what we were doing and started applying it to the real world, encouraging us to think about this stuff in new ways. I persuaded her to blog because I thought it’d be useful for her career, but I do that with everyone. I had no idea how much I’d learn from watching her push it the medium to its limits. It was like giving someone a bunch of inert chemicals and watching them invent dynamite. She got us all using Twitter properly, introduced us to live video streaming and generally kept questioning, exploring and pushing the boundaries. And then she took the Tuttle Club model and tied it all together with the monthly social media cafes. I now have a rule: always keep an inquisitive journalist on hand, preferably one called Joanna Geary.”
Jon Bounds, founder of the gloriously titled ‘Birmingham: It’s Not Shit’ website-that-became-a-blog, said that Jo was an “intellegent and calming influence; she’s forced/helped us all to grow up and interact with the “real world” media. Brum’s better for that. she proved that other people might listen to what we had to say – gave the social media types a lot of confidence.”
Dave Harte, Economic Development Manager for Digital Birmingham, described Jo as “The doyenne of the Birmingham Social Media scene. She has done more than anyone else in the Midlands to drag the regional press into the digital world and is a key contributor to influencing the perception of social media tools in the wider business and professional sector.”
And Nick Booth, organiser of the Birmingham Bloggers Meetups and community media/local government consultant, added: “Jo understands that this was more than community and fun – it is also business, big business, not just little. She’s also bloody charming.”
Finally, Jo’s editor at the Post, Marc Reeves, wrote:
“Jo’s made a remarkable contribution first to the Birmingham Post, and then to its sister papers in the city, and ultimately to Trinity Mirror. She asked the big questions that no-one else seemed to want to ask, despite being a relative newcomer to the industry – she only got her ‘stripes’ as a qualified reporter in 2007. But as she learned more about the web and social media in particular, I think she put together the pieces and saw a picture emerge that challenges all the old notions of newspapers and all media. From straight blogging through to the application of new services like Twitter, Jo saw and drew out the potential of social networks. She’s a true experimenter, determined to teach herself the kind of skills that many other journalists believe are beyond their abilities. But those skills result in remarkable achievements, like recruiting a blogging community for the Post that truly reflects the paper’s brand values, or launching one of the first and most ‘followed’ breaking news service in the regional media. That she did this in the context of a venerable, serious newspaper that turned 150 years old last year is a testament to her tenacity. It’ll be missed.”
It will be missed. These are exciting times for the Midlands social media scene, with not only world-class fantastic (and fun) web projects being created, but money to fund them too (I’m hoping we can tempt her back with a big bag of it). But as Dave Harte put it in the many comments on her blog today, Jo has done a lot to ensure that “although Birmingham is losing a leading actor on the social media scene there are plenty more to fill your place.”
That’s the true mark of a “social media doyenne”: someone who supports others in the knowledge they’ll get that help back threefold; who builds connections rather than walls; who seeks to empower rather than control. If you ever get the chance to talk to Jo, take it.
If you don’t, re-read the statements above to understand why she was so successful in what she did, and how that represents the ways journalism is changing.
In the meantime, frankly, The Times needs someone like Jo. Please form an orderly queue at her door, and give her all the money, help and time she asks for…