Saturday, May 21, 2016

Summary of My Experience Writing About Skating for About.com



On September 16 2005, my husband Dan was in a horrible accident.  The accident was so severe, that I was told he would not survive, but he did miraculously recover.  My life changed forever on September 16, 2005.

During a time of my life that seemed surreal, I began looking for ways to help ends meet by using my writing skills.  I had been told by Susi Wehrli-McLaughlin (Director of Basic Skills at US Figure Skating at the time and now US Figure Skating's Senior Director of Membership), that "words about skating just flowed out of me," so during the time that Susi asked me to do some writing for US Figure Skating's Basic Skills Parents webpage, I stumbled on an advertisement from About.com that announced that the then owned New York Times Company was seeking a "Figure Skating Guide" and editor.

Application Process and Training:

When I read what was required for the "job," I knew it fit me like a glove.  I was familiar with About.com because I'd been in contact with former About.com's Inline Skating Guide Kathie Fry and also with About.com's former Figure Skating Guide Paula Slater for several years.

I applied sometime in March or April of 2006 and soon was told that I would compete against others in May for the position.  I knew my extensive knowledge of skating and my passion for the sport would make it impossible for me to not be seriously considered by About.com and was determined to become About.com's Figure Skating Guide and expert.

The two week trial process and "competition" began sometime in June of 2006.

For two weeks, I created a sample About.com Figure Skating site from scratch.  My mentor at the time, About.com editor and trainer, Madeleine Burry, was so supportive!  She gave me suggestions on what to write, and also gave me corrections and editing help.

Before I knew it, in that two week period, I had created a "masterpiece" that included a complete figure skating glossary, a blog, and links to articles on famous skaters, how to purchase skates and equipment, how to get started at figure skating, ice skating techniques, coaching, etc.

I was told that what I created would go live if I was selected as About.com's Guide to Figure Skating and that I'd get paid for those two weeks of work if I was selected.

JO ANN Schneider Farris - About.com's Figure Skating Guide!:

Only a day or two after that "trial period," I received the happy news that, yes, I was going to be About.com's new Figure Skating Guide!  Of course, I was totally thrilled!

I was told the day I was chosen to just keep working and adding content to what would be the live About.com Figure Skating site until the target date of going "live" happened which was July 15, 2006.

July 15, 2006 arrived.  I will never forget how happy I was on that day.  It was a Friday, I recall. Immediately, I edited my first Figure Skating Newsletter on that day and set my Newsletters to go out to my readers every Tuesday.

Wow!  Was I excited.  One of the favorite pieces I wrote at the time was about child ice skating show star and now skating coach Janet Champion.  I couldn't wait to give Janet and other people in figure skating I knew the credit they deserved!

Once my site "went live," I was so, so happy!  It seemed like I literally "ran and rushed to the computer" each day, at every free moment, to create About.com Figure Skating content.  I wanted the world to enjoy my extensive knowledge of skating and put my heart and soul into everything I wrote for About.com!  There were times when I wrote articles from morning to night.  (My poor kids and husband wondered what had happened to Mommy, but were also so happy for me.)

JO ANN's Early About.com Guide Days Were So Fun!:

Caryn Solly was the "New Guides Editor" at the time.  Every morning, I'd receive emails from her to a group of "newbies" and that group seemed like a supportive family.  All of us (there were probably 15 new Guides in July of 2006) wanted so much to make our sites the best on the internet.

At the time, in 2006, there was no Facebook or Twitter or anything really, so what I wrote about skating was totally unique.  There were a couple other figure skating websites, but none included original content that I just kept adding to.

Top of the Internet!

I was in "total heaven" when I saw my articles at the top of Google searches!  Friends and coaches at the rink would approach me and thank me for writing about them and skating parents would approach me and tell me they regularly read all my articles.  Wow!

When Olympic figure skating Silver Medalist Paul Wylie came to the Colorado Springs World Arena to mentor US national champion Jeremy Abbott, Paul immediately told me he was one of my fans.  World pair skating champion Tai Babilonia told me the same thing!  I was so, so honored to hear their comments.

By 2010, I had quite an audience and following and had built up so much confidence as a journalist. I'd interviewed many famous skaters and seemed to discover that I had a wealth of knowledge about the sport of figure skating that really did flow out of me!   My page views hit the thousands and just kept growing!

JO ANN Goes to the Olympics!:

When I was asked by the Sports Editor of About.com, Fred Meyer, to represent About.com at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I was determined to go even though I did not really have a lot of money to travel.  All seemed to come together though, and off I went to Vancouver with my daughter Annabelle.

After that Olympics, I returned home to Colorado.  One day, I casually looked at my page views in early March of 2010, and I hit over 4 MILLION PAGE VIEWS for the month of February during the 2010 Olympics!  I was paid by About.com based on my page views, so wow, that was a big check!  (I felt like I just won the lottery!)

I put the money I earned at that Olympics to go towards funding a trip to Sochi in 2014, but unfortuatelly, I was not ever able to get that many page views again, so I was not able to represent About.com again at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Page Views Drop - Am I On Probation?:

Sadly, staff at About.com may have changed that did not know me.  The newer staff did not have a memory of how hard I had worked to build the figure skating site up from nothing.

About a year after the 2010 Olympics, I recall receiving an email that said my page views were dropping and that my site was "under evaluation."  I tried to explain that figure skating has "two weeks of plenty" followed by four years of famine," but I'm not sure if those looking at "site metrics" ever really understood that.

Even though my site may have been "watched," and I may have been in "danger of being let go" I just kept writing and writing about skating for About.com.   I was sad that I was no longer a "hero" in the eyes of About.com's management team, but still, I was determined more than ever to not allow people that did not really understand skating to take away the joy I had when I wrote about the sport.

Monthly Requirements:

I am not sure exactly when requirements changed or when yearly contracts were implemented, but probably about four or five years ago, I remember getting communication that at least six to eight articles a month that averaged 600 words was required.  Blogging  to promote each article was in the contract too.  

Originally, I recall, when I was "hired" in 2006, I just had to write a good piece of Evergreen (content that does not ever get outdated) every two weeks and blog one to three times a week.  Weekly Newsletters had to be edited each week.  I never missed editing an About.com Figure Skating Newsletter in my 10 years writing for About.com.

I always wrote "way more" than was required and found it hard to stop writing about skating when I was on vacation, and it was common to find me working even on Sunday nights!  Rarely did I go to bed without finishing up articles.

I loved About.com's recommedation of embedding links to my own content, so after completely an article, I almost always spent another hour adding links that would keep my readers reading my content.  I never thought about making money, I just wanted my content read since I enjoyed writing about skating so very much!

Attened New York City's About.com Events:

I waited and waited for an About.com Guide Event to come to Colorado, but that never happened, so finally in 2013, I decided to take the trip to New York City to attend my first About.com Guide Event.  I was so nervous too!  I knew so many people through their computer personas, but going to a conference and seeing these people face to face in New York City seemed almost frightening to a "Colorado girl."

The best part of attending the About.com events then in 2013, and also in 2014 and 2015, was the face to face and personal contact I made with others who worked for and wrote for About.com.  It also made me so proud to be associated with a website whose headquarters were right under the ball in Times Square in New York City!  At the 2013 About.com Guide Event, we were told we were now called "Experts" instead of Guides.

I Loved Writing About Figure Skating!:

Anyway, as the years passed, the "blessings" of being About.com's Figure Skating Expert were more than I could have ever imagined.  I've interviewed Olympic figure skating champions and medalists and ice show stars.  I was treated "like royalty" by Stars On Ice and by the new World Figure Association when the inaugural World Figure Championship took place in Lake Placid, USA, in August of 2015.  I have made skating friends from all over the world and I have been determined that everything I write helps promote the sport I love so much.  I have been told that I changed certain skaters' lives!

All Good Things Come to an End:

In late April, 2016, when About.com launched VeryWell.com, a new "vertical" that highlights About.com's medical content, I noticed that there seemed to be "no room" for one person writing about any one topic.  Yes, the authors were credited for their work, but the original About.com model of "one expert writing about one topic" was gone!

"Gulp...I thought."  I wondered if my topic, Figure Skating, would survive, since it just seemed like sports would not fit in with About.com's new focus.

My About.com yearly contract was always usually renewed at the last minute, in June, about a month before July 1 of each year, so I sort of put a idea in my head that I may receive bad news in June 2016.

Then, what is called "Black Tuesday," by many former Guide-Experts, I, and what seems perhaps to be about 100 others, received an email that our subject would no longer be included on the About.com network.  Immediately we all discovered on May 10, 2016 that we were unable to get back into the software which was so sad for me and others since it would have been nice to be given a couple weeks of notice to make last minute edits or improve photos, etc.

The suddeness of being "locked out" and "fired" was and is a shock for many.  Some About.com Guide-Experts had written for About.com for 17 or 18 years, from the very beginning when the company was called The Mining Company.

10 Years at the Same "Job" - A Record for JO ANN:

Writing for About.com was the "longest job" I've ever stayed with.  I may have stayed with About.com for another 10 to 20 years, if I'd been allowed to stay.  I love writing and About.com gave me the platform I needed to share my passion.

I even kept About.com's Inline Skating blog for a period during the time that the company was "between" Guides for Inline Skating. Later, I was delighted to become online friends with Carlesa Williams, who took over About.com's Inline Skating site.  Sadly, Carlesa informed me that the topic of Inline Skating was discontinued by About.com near the end of 2014.  Every year, around the winter holidays, Carlesa would call me and we'd chat about the work we did for About.com.  She too, was passionate about skating!

About.com gave me the incentive to write for other websites.  For a time, I had a regular Figure Skating 101 column on icenetwork.com and I wrote articles for Rainbo Sports.  My autobiography, the ebook version of My Skating Life: About My Fifty Plus Years of Skating includes links to at least 100 of my About.com Figure Skating articles.  I continue to contribute to Examiner.com.

I Will Keep Writing:

At this time, I'm not sure I want to continue writing for financial profit, but I will always be writing something!  Thanks to About.com, I think I've written at least two to three thousand skating articles!

I do know my goal is to make sure my 10 years of figure skating articles that were and are still on About.com Figure Skating continue to be available for those interested in the sport.  Some of that content has been redirected, but fortunately, much of About.com Figure Skating is archived on the Internet Wayback Machine which makes me so glad that all my work will not completely disappear.

Anyway...Thank You!:

Thank you to my readers, family, and friends for being so supportive and thank you for appreciating all the work I have done through my writing about skating!

Happy Skating!

JO ANN Schneider Farris
May 21, 2016

Further Reading:

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