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So why’d you leave your job? I’ve been asked that question hundreds of times since I left msnbc.com last year. I’ve come up with a formulaic answer now, kind of like an athlete answering inane questions during a press conference.

There were — and are — many reasons why I left a desirable job and a great workplace for the great unknown. Perhaps I can share one.

In May I went to the Poynter Institute to participate in the Multiplatform Journalism seminar. Below is the letter I included in my application. While it doesn’t include every reason why I decided to become peripatetic and (somewhat) homeless, it does offer a glimpse of where my head and heart are at in terms of my career.

I’m unemployed, out of a job since December.

How’s that for a direct, provocative lead?

After five years working in online newsrooms — two years at FOXSports.com, two years at ESPN.com and one year at Msnbc.com — I decided I needed to step back, look around and figure out where I was headed as an editor and journalist. Somehow I had lost that fire, each day fighting the malaise and monotony that would shroud my work day like a dark, sinister cloud.

I left Msnbc.com in December (not entirely, however: I’ll be covering the Beijing Olympics for the site in August) to clear the mind — and the soul, as cliche as that sounds — and to ponder the question: Do I want to continue to be a journalist?

After three months — time spent researching for my upcoming trip to China and into my family’s background (I’m a first-generation Chinese American) — I’ve answered my own question, dispelled my own doubts: Yes, yes, yes.

Yes, my passion in journalism — especially in new media — still burns. Yes, I still want to connect with users in a medium that continues to grow, evolve, mutate, surprise, impress. Yes, I want to be on the forefront of journalism 2.0.

At ESPN.com I was one of three front page editors, setting the national sports agenda, prioritizing budgets and reacting to news. What gave me the most thrill, however, was using the limited real estate of the front page — with words, pictures, video — to tell a story, to engage and snare the reader into the site.

When I went to Msnbc.com in 2006 as a senior editor in the sports department, I took on more responsibilities. But what excited me, what make me literally jump out of my cubicle, was being able to collaborate with designers and photo editors to share an interactive project that went beyond the game recap or typical wire story.

After taking a step back, I realized I was still in love with a good story. And that I wanted — needed — more skills to become a better, stronger storyteller and journalist.

The Mutliplatform Journalism seminar resonates with my background and where I want to go. I want to continue to tell stories. The next step is to learn how: how to capture vibrant visuals, incorporate audio and package it all together in a coherent and compelling way. I’m eager to learn and grow.

The skills I’ll learn will undoubtedly help me when I cover the Olympics in August. I’ll be able to approach the Games not only as a reporter, but as a “multiplatform journalist.” And when I do return to the newsroom as an editor or producer, I can be directly engaged in how a story can be molded into something innovative and dynamic. I won’t just be part of the conversation — I’ll help lead it.

You might have heard that Tim Russert died today. A sad day for journalism. I tried to post a video from msnbc.com but it just didn’t work. So I searched for other videos of Russert online and found this gem. Here, he’s interviewing the Good Doctor, Hunter S. Thompson, about Iraq in 2003.

Two guys with completely different backgrounds and lifestyles (unless Russert enjoyed ether in privacy) but two guys who shared a passion for journalism and the truth, even though their approach and methods couldn’t have been more heterogeneous.

I seldom, if ever, watched “Meet the Press.” But whenever I caught Russert during election coverage, especially on primary and election nights, you could see that twinkle in his eye. It was authentic. He loved his work, and his passion was palpable through the screen. More so than his keen intellect and considerable skills as a journalist, I think viewers connected with that exuberance. 

Life is cruel some times. It’s a shame Russert couldn’t cover this historic presidential election to the finish.

That’s the trailer for David Maraniss’ new book, “Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World.” If you’re a sports book fan, you might have read his other books, “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi” and “Clemente.” He’s also an associate editor at the Washington Post, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a total bad ass.

I just finished reading an excerpt from his book in the June 2 issue of Sports Illustrated. Maraniss has an interesting thesis. He argues that at the Rome Olympics “forces of change were at work everywhere.”

In sports, culture and politics, interwoven as never before, an old order was dying and new one was being born. The world as we know it today, with all its promise and trouble, was into view.

While I can’t dispute his argument for the 1960 Olympics, I can’t help but think that the 2008 Games in Beijing will be a confluence of radical and divergent forces — political, economic and social. Like 1960 for the late 20th century, 2008 is the “watershed Games” for the 21st century.

It’s no coincidence that this book is coming out this year. Its themes — angst, alienation, controversy, suspicion, perseverance  — resonant now. Maraniss (one digression: I was fortunate and lucky enough to see him speak at Poynter last month about the Post’s coverage of Walter Reed) is a PhD student of history. And it’s amazing to see the historical parallels from 48 years ago.

I’ll be picking up his book — once the library gets it in. I know, I’m a cheapskate. But he already got my money when I bought “When Pride Still Mattered.”

No surprise, since it’s been in the works for a while: ESPN.com is poised to launch its redesign later this summer or early fall (link via The Big Lead). ESPN president George Bodenheimer said the site will have a simpler, “cleaner” design. As a former front page editor at ESPN.com, I’m curious what the next incarnation of the .com will look like. (Check out the the site’s progression here).

A source told me to “think Yahoo but sleeker.” Apparently, they think the current homepage is too cluttered. I wonder if users who have grown accustomed to the design think it’s cluttered, because I don’t. Perhaps it’s because I’ve gotten used to where everything is.

But to borrow a line from Prince Akeem:  It is also tradition that sites must and always do change, my friend.

“[The redesign] is not a sign of weakness,” Bodenheimer said. “It’s a sign of strength.” 

I couldn’t agree with him more. Users are always going to complain about a redesign (“THIS F’N SUXXX!” is probably quite common in the feedback forum), but after a couple months most of them won’t even remember the old design.

The last time the site radically changed its look, in late 2006, I think it set the bar high among sports sites. The rotating spotlight area has been copied by others — including hard news sites — in one shape or another (can anyone think of an example of a rotating spotlight pre-2006?). What’s up to debate, however, is how effective that area is for driving traffic.

The main issue with any redesign is how to address the “top” story (or centerpiece or main stage — every place has its own moniker for it). That’s the most important real estate on the site. It’s a daily battle for section editors as they lobby for their stories to get “stronger play.”

Editors everywhere — from newspapers to online — believe the most important page is above the fold. Sure, the top story gets the most play, but I think it’s wrong to believe that users won’t navigate and scroll.

The section slices at the bottom of msnbc.com are very effective. Word is that users are navigating to those areas in high numbers to click on stories and content. I think any redesign should maximize space and use the scroller effectively. Not maximizing the potential of the bottom of the page is a weakness of many a site.

So I’m eagerly awaiting the new look of ESPN.com, seeing if they solve the issues that plague every news site and if they set the bar high again.

But I’m not too optimistic about their redesign launch date. Like any redesign — and I’ve been through a few — projects deadlines and time frames are thrown out the window. My source seemed to agree: “NO WAY” they’ll hit that time frame.

So maybe we’ll all have to wait until 2009.

I vaguely remember Jim McKay, the esteemed sports broadcaster who died Saturday. I remember watching “Wide World of Sports” when I was a kid. My memories have faded, replaced by the clips being run by NBC or ESPN.

While his defining moment was his coverage of the Munich Olympics, I take away two important life lessons from McKay.

The first lesson: To be a good journalist — to be a decent human being — one has to have humility, empathy and respect. Those words are pretty easy to type, but pretty hard to practice. Even McKay had to learn this.

From Michael Hiestand’s column in the USA Today:

Today, offbeat sports on TV become setups for announcers’ punch lines. But McKay didn’t talk down to competitors. In 2001, he told me why: “One time, half-kidding, I asked a guy who won the World Demolition Derby title about his ‘achievement.’ He said it was because he went to church a lot. And I thought, damn it, I’m not going to make that mistake again. It was the achievement of his life.”

The other lesson that every reporter should understand: we scratch, claw and dig to find the deeper stories and meaning.

From Alan Abrahamson’s piece at NBCSports.com:

One time, Jim said, he had been sent to Switzerland to cover a skiing event. After it was over, he and a young production assistant went to Zurich to stay the night. The next morning, they took a taxi to the airport. As they headed down a main boulevard, Jim kept turning his head. The assistant finally said, what’s going on?

“I said, ‘I’m just looking down the side streets.’ And then I thought, that’s what we do. We don’t just look down the main boulevards.”

Inside the farmhouse, it was suddenly still and very quiet, the shafts of light arcing through the windows. Jim paused. He closed his eyes. Here he was in his 80s, yet he was seeing that part of himself he always saw, the young reporter he had been at the Baltimore Evening Sun, long before he got into television and TV made him famous and he, with the incomparable grace he displayed under extraordinary pressure at the 1972 Munich Olympics, moved television and sportscasting forward. In his mind’s eye, as I would write about this moment in a story published six years ago in the Los Angeles Times, Jim still saw himself as that cub reporter making all of $35 a week, $28.50 after taxes.

“We look down the side streets,” Jim finally said. “And we see.”

Simple lessons, yet profound and not always applied. I hope to remember these tenets when I’m in Beijing in August.