Meet LaunchHouse member Jen Jones Donatelli. Jen has actively continued turning her passions into a profession through her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Her enthusiasm for what she does and kind-hearted personality has brought such a cheerful energy to the LaunchHouse community.
What is FreshWater Cleveland:
Jen: FreshWater Cleveland is an online publication that covers the people, projects, and places that are shaping and transforming Cleveland. Our tagline is basically, “Covering what’s next in Cleveland.” That could be anything ranging from a public art project to a city sustainability initiative to a new business opening up to really cool stuff that’s happening in neighborhoods that isn’t being covered elsewhere. That’s kind of our bread and butter: the stories that aren’t being told in major Cleveland media.
Tell me more about FreshWater. What areas do you cover? How are you different from other Cleveland media?
Jen: We only cover Cleveland for the most part; as I like to say, “we stick to the 216.” We have coverage of 24 different neighborhoods on Cleveland’s east and west sides, along with downtown and the inner-ring suburbs like Lakewood, Cleveland Heights, and Euclid. We try to keep it Cleveland centric-and to take a strong neighborhood focus.
Our goal is to identify the changemakers in Cleveland neighborhoods and find out what they’re doing to make their communities better. We try to be very on the ground with our coverage; in fact, we just finished a 10-week intensive community reporting series in Old Brooklyn, which has been incredibly rewarding.
We have partnerships with a lot of different community organizations, along with community development corporations. Via our editorial advisory meetings and other channels, they feed us story ideas and tell us what we should be covering in their specific neighborhoods. We try to form strong relationships inside of the the neighborhoods so we can get those grassroots stories that may not be interesting or available to major media. It is always gratifying when a major media outlet reaches out to share that they found a story idea through FreshWater!
What is your role in the company?
Jen: I’m the publication’s managing editor. As a managing editor, I determine our editorial calendar, assign and write articles, determine the creative vision for the publication, and manage the budget.
Why did you choose to join FreshWater?
Jen: It’s an interesting story, actually. I just moved to Cleveland in December after 16 years in Los Angeles. My husband and I knew for about five years that we were going to be moving back to Cleveland at some point—it was just a matter of when.
With that in mind, I started following FreshWater while we were still in LA as a way to keep up with what was happening in Cleveland. As I read the publication, I became a big fan of it and I told my husband over the years that when we move back I would really like to work with this publication. I kind of thought it was a long shot because they already had an editor in place. When I saw the job come open last July, I decided to apply, and through serendipity, I managed to get my resume noticed and get the job. I worked remotely from July to December, and after moving here, I’ve been doing it ever since.
What were you doing before?
Jen: I’ve been a freelance writer and editor for the last 13 years, so I write for many different types of publications and also do copywriting. I have also been the managing editor for several publications.
Previously, I had worked in the film and TV industry for eight years. I’ve always been involved in the media and storytelling, but I’ve worn a lot of different hats over the years. When I was just out of college, I worked on a talk show in Chicago and just really got the bug for the entertainment industry. After working at “The Jenny Jones Show” for three years, I moved out to LA in 2001 and became a production assistant where I worked on feature films and sitcoms. Some of the films I worked on were Daredevil with Ben Affleck, The Ring, and Just Married with Brittany Murphy and Ashton Kutcher, as well as a sitcom with Jason Bateman right before he did “Arrested Development.” I also worked as a red carpet reporter for E! Online for about a year, but then I went back to talk shows such as “The Sharon Osbourne Show” and “The Larry Elder Show.”
After that show got cancelled in 2005, I shifted course. I was always doing freelance writing on the side, and I just happened to have a lot of writing work going on at the time. I thought I would just write for the summer and then continue working in TV, but I ended up just staying on the journalism side. I still always kept a toe dipped in the entertainment world, though—working on awards shows and one-off projects. It has been a wild ride!
What inspired you to join the LaunchHouse Community?
Jen: Ever since I became a freelance writer, I’ve worked from home. When you work at home, you can’t help but crave community and connection, and I’ve always wanted to work in a coworking space. We cover LaunchHouse a lot in FreshWater so I decided to come check it out since I live on the East side. I thought by getting in on the ground floor it would be a great way to connect with entrepreneurs and new startups and try to uncover stories that may not be told in the press yet. It’s also a great way to meet new people since I’m somewhat new to the area, even though I grew up here.
How has the LaunchHouse Community impacted your work with Freshwater Cleveland?
Jen: It’s been a great feeder for story ideas, and it’s also been really great to connect with local entrepreneurs and just kind of take the pulse of what’s happening in the startup world here in Cleveland. It has also been exciting to be here when LaunchHouse introduced its West side location; at some point, I may even alternate weeks working between the two locations just to try to meet more people and just cover more ground. I love that LaunchHouse is a very established coworking community here in Cleveland. They’ve really been one of the pioneers in this space, and it’s just great to be affiliated with it.
The best advice you ever got?
Jen: One piece of advice that has always stuck with me is to “Ride the horse in the direction it’s going” (which I initially read in Hollywood producer Lynda Obst’s book, Hello, He Lied, but the quote is actually attributed to self-help guru Werner Erhard). It’s tempting to try to control every area of your personal and professional life, but sometimes going with the flow and resisting less can yield better results than you could have ever planned yourself.
What has been your biggest learning experience?
Jen: The art of time management has been a huge learning experience for me, one that I am still trying to master after 13 years of being self-employed. As a freelancer, I wear many different hats—from editor to writer to author to teacher—and I tend to be a bit of a “job hoarder,” taking on many different opportunities in tandem.
Now that I have twin toddlers and work full-time, I have to be even more regimented with my work, budgeting my time almost to the minute. I use FreshBooks to track my time, as well as a paper planner to keep track of the ever-growing to-do list. (There’s nothing quite as satisfying as checking something off that list!) It’s not a perfect system, but I’m working on it day by day. I crave more work-life balance and am very focused to try to create more passive income and financial freedom. Hopefully, I’ll have more lessons to share with you soon!
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs and small business owners to get press coverage?
Jen: Don’t be afraid to reach out and introduce yourself—you don’t necessarily need a PR person (although that is certainly a huge asset). You can do the outreach for your own company and identify both local and national media who may have an audience that would be interested in what you do.
You can also use a resource called HARO (Help A Reporter Out), which is a free or paid subscription where journalists post queries for articles that they’re working on. Say for instance I was doing a story on startups in Cleveland, they would see that posted on HARO and could respond to me and tell me about their company. As journalists who are looking for leads, sources, and active stories, it’s a great opportunity to connect with media who need sources and press. It’s also categorized so there’s categories such as travel, healthcare, business, medical, etc. The only advice I would give to entrepreneurs would be to make sure your company is the right fit for what you’re responding to and explain why it’s the right fit. That’s the best way to ensure you’ll get a response from the journalist. HARO is so robust that you will find the right fit at some point.
How do you define success?
Jen: I would define success as being able to turn your passions into a profession. One of the things that I love about being a freelancer is that the world is kind of your oyster as a freelancer. You can explore any topic or job that interests you. As a freelance journalist and editor, I get to dive into a lot of different topics and genres, and I find it endlessly interesting.