Vibe Check with Kayli Plotner
5 min read

Vibe Check with Kayli Plotner

The Denver Post digital strategist (and my former professor!) talks furloughs, Instagram and why she left The Chicago Tribune.
Vibe Check with Kayli Plotner

A song to read by: “Video Life,” by Chris Spedding


Good morning, Lyters, and welcome to another shocking, media-elite-tells-all exposé edition of Medialyte. Today’s guest is Kayli Plotner, a digital strategist for The Denver Post.

I met Kayli because she taught one of the first classes I took at Medill, Intro to Web Development, so back then she was Professor Plotner. Unlike our other professors though, Kayli was young and cool and digitally with it, so she immediately felt more like a colleague than a dusty old faculty member.

At the time, in addition to teaching, she was working full-time for The Chicago Tribune, which was within walking distance of our downtown Chicago campus. Near the end of the course, she gave us a tour of the building and even set up a Q&A with The Tribune’s managing editor, Chrissy Taylor.

Then, when we went to San Francisco for the fall quarter, we heard that Kayli had left her position at The Tribune to move to The Denver Post. I recently got the chance to ask her about that move, the difference between the two newsrooms and what digital strategy looks like in 2020.

The interview

Who: Kayli Plotner, digital strategist at The Denver Post

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kayplot

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kayliautumn/

What does a digital strategist do?

Well, they call it “digital strategist” because it’s intended to be a role with much more foresight in terms of what we’re doing with content, as opposed to just being given the material and told to produce it. We do the SEO for every story that we put out: we check the headlines, the meta data, embeds, crosslinks – anything to help people engage with our stuff longer. We also do the social media for the main Denver Post social media accounts. Social is probably my bread and butter, or at least that’s where I feel my strongest.

Then, each digital strategist has one or two teams that they are liaisons for. They asked me in my interview which desk I would want to work with, and I said, “I didn’t hear anyone say the photo department? They produce content too.” They said they hadn’t really thought of that, so I said, “Great, I would love to be the first one to do it!” So now I’m the photo team’s digital strategist.

We also put out all the newsletters for the various verticals that we have. Denver has a lot of newsletters, so we put those together and keep track of how they’re performing, in addition to tracking the performance of our social platforms and the regular website.

At The Tribune you were part of the duo that ran the paper’s Instagram, and now you’re the go-between for the photo department. Do you see yourself as a photojournalist wearing the garb of a digital editor, or more of a digital editor who’s fluent in photojournalism?

At an internship in college, an editor told me my versatility was one of my greatest assets in this industry, and that really stuck with me. It’s part of why I went back to grad school for multimedia. If I had to be just a reporter, I would feel unfulfilled. Or if I had to be just shooting or editing photos, I’d feel unfulfilled. Honestly, I’m kind of a weird hybrid when it comes down to it. Or maybe I’m a mutt?

I like wearing multiple hats and being part of multiple teams, because I believe that cross-collaboration is what makes the end product its best. I have the visual training but the digital as well, which I think is what draws me to Instagram so much.

In November you left The Chicago Tribune for The Denver Post – what was your motivation for the move?

Working at The Tribune has been my dream job since I was 14. And when I finally got there it was great. But I just went through so many regime changes in such a short time that it never felt like there was any longevity to what I was doing or where I fit in.

I think in journalism it’s easy to feel like a hamster on a wheel, which can make the work feel monotonous. That can happen in any newsroom, but I felt like it was happening way too early in my career at The Tribune; I didn’t want to be at that stage of burn-out already.

So I started looking for jobs. And honestly, when I was on the phone during the interview process with The Post, I just somehow knew I was going to get it.

Our ideals about journalism, both outwardly with what we produce and inwardly with how we function as a team, were so aligned. The Tribune is just going through so much right now; I knew I couldn’t ride out that storm with them.

You are among a number of Denver Post journalists who have been furloughed for financial reasons related to Covid. And the company that owns The Post, the infamous Alden Global Capital, made headlines in 2018 for laying off 30 Post employees. What are your thoughts on the situation?

The layoffs The Post went through when Alden took over, that was something we talked about in my very first phone interview. It was very candid, and I appreciated that a lot.

From what I understand, Alden came in and gutted the newsroom, as they’re known to do, but the people they left are, kind of by necessity now, very adaptive and flexible and receptive to change.

But because the newsroom went through that gutting, they have an open-mindedness and are more receptive to change and growth and whatever’s going to make the news product better. Because they know. They know that we only have so many people, so those people have to be willing to do a variety of tasks.

In a way, because those cuts from Alden were so traumatic, the result is a smaller, more nimble, flexible staff. I love being part of it.

What’s one trend in media/journalism that you predict will gain popularity this year?

It’s already popular, but the way data journalism gets its chance to shine in the political sphere, I think Covid is giving it another chance to demonstrate its ability to tell powerful stories.

What does your media diet look like?

It varies based on my mental health, which in the past few years I’ve actually learned to take care of. If I’m in a good spot and can go read a long, heartbreaking story, I do. Sometimes it’s all I can do just to keep up with everything The Denver Post puts out.

Also lighter stuff if I need to. If I’m going to take a Buzzfeed quiz about what kind of dog breed I am, maybe that’s the kind of day I’m having.

I also try to follow other outlets who I think are doing great things. The Dallas Morning News, the things they’re doing on Instagram are really interesting. There are plenty of papers that are not major outlets that catch my eye regularly.

What’re you watching right now?

I’ve made it through five season of “Love Island” and that took work. I only have one season left and I haven’t started it, because I know when I finish I’ll have to change to something else.

I spend so many hours of my day trying to maintain a high level of thinking that when I watch TV it’s normally just shit. The trashier the reality TV the better. I watched “Love is Blind” – mind you I was sick – but I watched the whole season in one day.

What’re you reading?

I just started “This Is Your Brain on Birth Control”; it’s basically the evolutionary psychology of hormones. I’m 20 pages in and taking photos on my phone because some of the stuff is so mind-blowing.

What do you miss most about Chicago?

Denver is great, but I miss Chicago so much. The architecture here is much more Western and newer, and I loved the old Chicago style, the three-story brownstones I used to walk by every day. I miss its personality, its style.