Hot Spotlight: Meet Anna Bloom
Journalist, artist, organizer, and all-around nice person Anna Bloom joined Hot Studio’s Brand and Content Strategy team earlier this year. It’s her job to help our clients realize their story, and then develop that story into a meaningful digital experience.
Like most people at Hot, Anna’s diverse experience allows her to work across disciplines to solve problems. Her background in creating digital communities, and working as a journalist, impels her to bring a story together.
When she isn’t at Hot, Anna does good. Recently, she’s built on her work with Code for America where she worked as a Fellow. One of her projects as a Fellow allowed her to work with four major U.S. cities, identifying and mapping their public art. Since then, she and a cohort, Laurenellen McCann of Washington, D.C., devised a plan for an art finder and map for San Francisco. She just launched a Kickstarter campaign for the app: ArtAroundSF.
Did you dream of working as a reporter?
Right out of college, I thought I wanted to be a painter even though I was an English major. I wrote a lot of fiction and some plays as an undergrad. Then I interned at Chicago Public Radio—it was my first taste of a newsroom and I loved it. But you know how plans can be, and I had this plan go to graduate school, then paint for a living.
So, you're not a painter. What happened?
I wanted to spend a little time out West and be a ski bum. So I moved to Utah. Rather than work the typical ski bum jobs at a restaurant or on the mountain, I submitted a short story and my resume to a local paper and got a call that day for an interview. I got a job as the business reporter and editor. Before I knew it, I was digging deep into editing and reporting—also interactive journalism. In 2005, a photographer and I made a video for the website. This was pre-YouTube so it was kind of a big deal for us to get it up there.
Did journalism become your plan or did you still consider painting?
I wanted to follow through with my original plan to be a painter. After two years at the paper, I enrolled at an art school in Chicago. While I was there, I felt this pull to be back in storytelling and journalism, and to interact with and engage the world in that way. I needed to get back into it. My vision of working as an artist was being holed up in a little world. It doesn’t have to be that way, but that’s kind of how I saw it at the time. Art was about being inside and in your own head, and journalism was about challenging your own assumptions. What I love about journalism is that it forced me, a natural introvert, to break out of my shell. There was a thrill to it; it made me challenge my sense of self. After one semester, I called my editor back in Utah. Luckily, she needed someone for the arts desk.
What did you like about storytelling?
Before I left the paper for art school I worked on multimedia projects. That video I mentioned was one of my first projects. It was a photo slideshow about the county seat, narrated by a long-time resident. I loved it. I felt like an artist on these projects, and enjoyed bringing together different elements. Working on the Arts & Entertainment section brought me closer to even more multimedia and graphics projects. All of this did eventually lead back to a Master’s degree, only it was in journalism, not painting.
What was the second round of graduate school like?
I learned how to be a producer and a better multimedia storyteller. Most importantly, I learned how to be part of a creative team. I blogged about the Bay Area for The New York Times. And I started a hyperlocal community news site with my classmates. I think that’s what I’m most proud of; working on the hyperlocal news site with a team. It was my first start-up experience, and it led me to think about journalism in a different way—as a way to organize a community, and connect people to one another.
Was your next stop a newsroom?
I thought I would be innovating newsrooms from the inside, but I ultimately decided to work on a project at YouTube. The project was to grow a community of citizen journalists in partnership with ABC News in the Bay Area. We trained 150 people to crowd-source news using their smartphones. I saw firsthand the impact of connecting real people and making real relationships. I began to understand how online communities strengthen offline communities, and vice versa. The project did well and other local stations are replicating it around the country.
How did this fuel your desire to do more content strategy?
YouTube led me to content strategy and community management at Code for America. There, people work to open up data sources and collaborate with government to create new ways of connecting government services—and the people involved—with constituents. I collaborated with other Fellows on a number of different mobile and Web-based apps. It was an amazing, challenging experience.
Leveraging the experience I’d gained at YouTube, I worked on two projects while at Code for America. The first project, ChangeByUs, empowers residents and local governments to communicate directly—without a journalist or a lawyer mediating—to improve their neighborhoods. Part of the project involved encouraging people to lend time and resources. It taught me so much about how to deal with risk-averse organizations and the power of liberating data.
The purpose of the second project was to create public art finders and mapping applications in major cities. How often do we pass by incredible art without having the ability to do anything with it? We wanted people to help create a living map of statues, murals, paintings, etc. We worked with metropolitan arts commissions in Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia to map public art, and made good progress, but never fully developed an iOS or Android app. The project led me to Laurenellen McCann, who built a platform and app for this very thing in Washington D.C.
I’m working with her on ArtAround, which is a web and smartphone app. The Arts Commission of San Francisco has been supportive, donating to our Kickstarter campaign. Check out the video or head over to Kickstarter to read more about it.
What excites you about content strategy at Hot?
Content strategy is an emerging practice here, and part of my excitement comes from being on the ground level of something new, with a team I enjoy working with.
I think content and content strategy matters a lot now that companies and organizations don’t just have one channel, but many channels—apps, websites, Tumblr, social media—to connect with communities and customers. People are creating, learning, and connecting in new ways, and in multiple ways. I think Hot is on the forefront in thinking about this. Content design can play a huge role in helping unify these various digital presences. There’s a design and strategy to doing it well, and I believe this is one of my strengths that I can bring to digital design teams.
My worldview is that it takes all kinds of people and groups to create positive change. Change isn't just made by governments and nonprofits. For instance, I think Facebook and Twitter are really the institutions that are testing the edge of freedom of speech and empowering new voices. Government paved the way for the Internet and enterprise. Now individuals, organizations, and private companies are creating the digital products and services that make up the Internet as we know it. People at Hot, I think, understand this well and are playing a huge role in designing and building these new services for a variety of organizations and companies and, by extension, shaping the way people connect and interact with the world. It’s thrilling to be a part of that.
We're bringing back the Hot Spotlight series! Get to know these other Hotties, all with very interesting stories to tell:
Hot Spotlight: What NASA Taught Holly Hagen About Company Culture
Hot Spotlight: Getting to Know Robert Kanes
Hot Spotlight: Dan Harrelson Blends Technology with Design
Hot Spotlight: Design and Music with Dave Eresian
Hot Spotlight: Catching Up with Kathy Simpson