How I Came Up: Twitter’s Mark S. Luckie
How a media innovator went from newspaper intern to journalism manager of the Twitterverse
What do you plan to have accomplished by the time you turn 30?
Will you have worked for some of the most reputable companies in your field? Will you have written a critically acclaimed book? Will you become a manager at one of the most visited websites on the Internet?
That’s Mark S. Luckie’s story. And he's only 29.
Widely regarded as one of digital journalism's most innovative and talented minds, Luckie is just settling into his newest role as manager for news and journalism at Twitter. Yes, that Twitter.
What’s more, his journey has had him transitioning to new opportunities nearly as often and as fast as new technologies and digital tools emerge. Luckie went from being a newspaper intern in 2004 to working as a digital journalist at the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post between 2007 and 2012. He accepted the position at Twitter this past June.
Amid all that, he managed to write “The Digital Journalist’s Handbook,” a popular guide to newsroom tools that is recommended reading in journalism schools across the country. Before that, he founded the hugely popular digital journalism blog, 10,000 Words, which he sold to Mediabistro in 2010. As for his academic credits, the Inglewood, California, native graduated from Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida, in 2005, one of the nation's historically black colleges and universities, before getting his master's degree two years later from the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Journalism.
Luckie, who now resides in New York City, credits his creative and artistic family with inspiring him to achieve what he has in a relatively short period of time. Having a knack for innovation and creativity almost came naturally. His mom is a published author in her own right, while he counts a choreographer, a fashion designer and an up-and-coming actress among his siblings. Luckie calls himself a "product of the people" in his life and of those he's met along the way. Here, he chats with Loop 21 about just how he came up.
Loop 21: Did you always have an interest in technology before social media networks took over our lives?
Mark S. Luckie: Well, that’s the thing. If you think of a Venn diagram, where journalism is one circle and technology is another circle, there was really no overlap for me. I always thought of two completely separate areas. I had experience in videography, digital imaging, and [computer] coding. But it wasn’t until I got to graduate school that it started to come together. I realized that the technical things that I was doing as a hobby could be combined with the journalism that I was doing as a career.
Loop 21: Your resume is quite impressive. How on earth did you find the time to write the book?
ML: I was unemployed after having worked [for more than a year] at Entertainment Weekly. I moved to New York City and started writing the book. I worked at the New York Public Library, so I had lots of free time at that point. While I was writing the book, I got an offer to join [the Center for Investigative Reporting in California]. So I continued writing the book there. A couple months into working at the Center, the book was published.
Loop 21: Did the book lead to your stint at the Washington Post?
ML: That happened after a chance meeting with one of the editors of the Washington Post. We talked about a position they had there, national innovations editor. I was happy at the Center, but obviously working at the Washington Post was every reporter's, every journalist’s dream. I stepped out on faith and worked at the Washington Post. And the rest is history.
Loop 21: So you make it to the Holy Grail of sorts. Were you looking for the Twitter gig?
ML: I’m always looking for what’s going on outside of the immediate job that I’m working on. I take [the new things I learn] and incorporate them into what I do. So part of that was exploring social media even more. The Twitter role opened up and I applied for it.
Loop 21: What was your reaction when you learned that you’d be working for one of the top 10 most visited websites on the Internet?
ML: (Laughs.) I was definitely dumbstruck. It was definitely exciting to be working at a company that didn’t exist a couple of years ago. At the Washington Post, I focused on one news organization, but now I’m focusing on news organizations all over the world. The gravity of that hit me. It was really a moment for me. I really felt that everything I had worked for had led to this one job. It was interesting [going from the Post to Twitter] being the only guy in the room wearing a suit jacket and feeling the vibe of Twitter a little bit more.
Loop 21: Can you explain what it is you do at Twitter?
ML: My job is to help news organizations understand how to use Twitter better. How do you get people to read the news, I think is the goal that everybody has. Twitter is one of the best ways of doing that.
Loop 21: It’s interesting and inspiring to see young African Americans get these types of opportunities. You’ve moved around pretty quickly. Does it feel that way to you? Was it too quick?
ML: I’ve always had sort of an accelerated career. I’ve generally been the youngest person in the room. That’s the reason why, to this day, I wear a beard. When I shave, I look much younger than I actually am. The key is that I know my stuff. I know what I’m talking about. And I’m well-versed in technology, journalism and multimedia. You may be skeptical because of my age, but you’ll never be skeptical of my ability to do my job or even outperform my job. To speak to the African-American issue, it is sort of interesting walking into journalism conferences and technology conferences and being one of the few people of color. And then, on top of that, being a young person of color. I’m here because of the people who came before me.
Loop 21: What has been your biggest challenge to date?
ML: I think every position creates its own challenge, especially personal challenges. But I think, at the Washington Post, really having to come out of my shell and not being an agreeable person, who just wants everybody to get along, to being more of a leader and organizing people and making things happen.
Loop 21: What was your big break? Was it Twitter? Was it the book?
ML: I always judge my big breaks on how my mother responds to them. (Laughs.) The fact that I had written a book and my mother is an author [Anita Moultrie Turner, "Recipes for Great Teaching"], I think that impressed her the most. She was very proud of her son, as she always is. What I’ve learned is that there is a certain amount of credibility that comes from writing a book. It takes a lot of hard work and sweat and tears. Late nights and things like that to put it together. It’s worth the payoff because then you can say, "I am Mark Luckie, author… I am Mark Luckie who knows what he’s talking about." And more importantly, when someone has a question and they are sort of doubting my reasoning, I can say, "Well, turn to page 27 in my book and you can get the answer."
Loop 21: Is the book something you are continually updating?
ML: Yes, I was just thinking about that this morning. I’m scheduling some time to do a new update to the book. That’s why I wrote it in the way that I did. I can continuously update it without having to take it off the shelves for a while.
Loop 21: What piece of advice would you give to someone who's trying to break into this field?
ML: A lot of people have ideas. A lot of people dream. A lot of people have ambition. Most people don’t actively work toward those dreams. It’s not enough to have an idea. You have to have a plan to put it together. You have to go beyond what your colleague or your friends or your classmates are doing. You really have to find what makes you unique and what makes you shine.
Loop 21: What has been your biggest failure?
ML: I don’t know if it was an out-and-out failure, but I think being laid off from Entertainment Weekly [in December 2008] certainly felt like a personal failure. The succession of having to apply for jobs, knowing what I was capable of, and not being able to communicate that to prospective employers was hard. It sort of broke me down. It does a number on your self-esteem. But what I channeled that into was writing the book. I continued to apply for jobs [for about five months] and it all worked out in the end. It was about not letting the job situation, which could be terrifying, not letting that get you down.
Loop 21: If you had to attribute your success to one person, who would that be? A mentor? A family member?
ML: I am a product of the people that I’ve met. I’ve met so many people who have impacted me, both in small ways and big ways. Some of these people will never know how they’ve impacted me. But the biggest impact is my family. My immediate family. I come from a very creative family. Like I said, my mother is an author and a teacher. My brother [known professionally as "Mr. Lucky"] is a choreographer [for Christina Aguilera and Nicki Minaj]. My sisters: one is a fashion designer [Arianna Janelle] and one is a burgeoning actress [Amani Moultrie]. So when you get the Luckie family together, it's just one big ball of creativity. That inspires me to be not only more creative in my work but also to be just a better person in general.
To see some of Mark Luckie's work, visit his website.