Journalism, balance and faith in the world of content marketing
World Vision publications manager finds purpose in her work and journey through career in writing and editing.
By MADDIE CHRISTY | Storyteller
Kristy O’Hara, World Vision’s publications manager, hasn’t always worked from a newsroom with a deep sense of purpose fueling her daily tasks. She started out producing content for magazines that targeted business owners and greenhouse managers. Now, in Federal Way, Washington, she puts her resume to work to tell the stories of World Vision’s mission.
Can you start by telling me what exactly do?
“My role is to basically oversee the editorial content that comes out of World Vision. World Vision is a large international organization with over 100 offices around the country. We have support offices and field offices — the support offices raise the money for the field offices to use. Essentially, we are a marketing organization. I am a former journalist who now works in the marketing world.
“We have a magazine and a digital newsletter as well as a news and stories site on worldvision.org. I am overseeing the team that puts up any of that stuff. I make sure we have a print magazine that goes out quarterly and that we have constant content that supports the organization. We want to make sure donors are getting content that they really want.”
In this current position how much writing do you do versus managing and overseeing?
“It kind of depends on the season. For a lot of my time here at World Vision, I haven’t done much writing because my role has been mainly editing, sometimes copy editing, sometimes structural editing. Currently, my position is predominantly editing, but in the last few months, with the opportunity to travel to the field on donor trips, I have done more writing. On those trips, we will go and meet families that World Vision is working with and we’ll capture their stories for a packet that goes out to donors.”
How often do you get to travel?
“I have been on three trips this year. I was in Bangladesh for 10 days in January, in Guatemala for six days in June, and in Zambia for 16 days in August.”
Which trip was your favorite?
“I don’t think I had a favorite because they were all amazing in different ways. Bangladesh was really fascinating because it was my first trip to the field to see World Vision’s work. Our team sends out the writers and the photographers to get these stories but because I work more on the editing side I haven’t needed to go out to the field. It was incredible to see our work up close, but it was hard because it was a child-labor focused trip. It was disheartening to learn about these kids’ stories. One of the girls I met was Tania, who was only 16 and she was the head of her household. (You can read her story here). I also met Joytun, whose scarf caught fire and burned her body, but she never got treatment. She is in constant pain, and is worried about whether she will be able to support her family because she has trouble working due to the pain she experiences every day. I just came across a lot of stories that were hard to hear. I spent a lot of time in tears in Bangladesh.”
What excites you most about what you do?
“Even on your crappiest day, you know that the work you’re doing is going to help contribute to making a difference in somebody else’s life somewhere else in the world. We work with incredible people all over the world. It’s an honor to be able to serve them, to help them, to be able to provide something that’s going to give them more hope for their future, and to see them come to know the Lord. It makes everything worthwhile even on the worst days. And that’s a unique opportunity to have that kind of purpose behind all of the work you’re doing. Earlier in my career I didn’t have that.”
So how did you end up at World Vision?
“In high school I was passionate about architecture and writing. The 10th-grade honors English class was intro to journalism, and I had a teacher who had previously taught at the college level. As a 15-year-old, I started having AP style drilled into my head. Starting as a sophomore, I would get 5 points off on everything that had an AP style error. If we spelled a name wrong it was automatically a 60 percent. It was hardcore attention to detail. I started learning these essential tools to be a journalist as a high schooler and I enjoyed it.
“I purposefully chose a college that had strong programs in both architecture and journalism. I went to Kent State University in northeast Ohio. I started in architecture but two weeks in I decided I didn’t like doing abstract pencil drawings — it got really boring. So I changed my major to journalism and I concentrated in magazine journalism so I could go more of a feature writing route than a news reporting route. I had an internship at the features desk of the daily metropolitan paper. And I loved it. I got to do so many interesting stories and meet interesting people and you’re learning something new every day, not just about your craft but about the topics that you have to become a mini-expert on.
“I ended up working on a television show in college for a few years. Once I graduated I had kind of burned out writing so I decided to do something outside of the field for a year to try and refresh the creative juices. Then I moved to Cleveland and started working for Smart Business, which was a magazine that basically did feature business writing on CEOs. Then I moved on and got a position as editor in chief of Greenhouse Management, a publication for people who are professional greenhouse operators. I led a massive turnaround effort there. But it wasn’t somewhere I saw myself long-term. After a particularly bad day there, I went home and did an angry job search for any kind of Christian editor position. I figured there had to be work out there that had more purpose to it, and I found a senior editor position at World Vision, but I was not about to move to the West Coast. But God beat me over the head for a while and I applied and got the job and ended up moving to Seattle. That was five years ago, and then last year I was promoted to publications manager. So I have been in my current role for about a year and a half now.”
Is there a person who has influenced you most in your career?
“Yes, two! My high school journalism teacher, Barb Karol. She was the one who pounded AP style into my head. I really appreciate the foundation that she gave me. I was further ahead than a lot of my peers when I got to college because of the way she had equipped me. Throughout college and my early work she was really encouraging of me and my successes. I love her for all that she did to champion and teach me. I owe a lot of my career to her.
“And Todd Shryock, who was my editor at Smart Business. It is a rare trifecta to find someone who is an excellent manager, editor and writer. But he was excellent at all three. I learned so much under him about all of those areas. I loved working for him, and to this day I still keep in touch with him. I would not be the writer and the editor that I am today without his leadership.”
What is one thing you wish you’d known when you entered the job market?
“Life isn’t always fair and it’s not about if you’re the best candidate. Sometimes it’s just political. And in those circumstances of injustice you just have to cling to the sovereignty of God. He knows what’s happening even if you don’t and he’ll carry you through. And that’s literally the hardest thing in the world.”
“I never bring my work home with me. I don’t take my laptop home at night.”
What is your greatest failure or success story?
“When I was at Smart Business I got berated by Ted Turner, founder of CNN, for 40 minutes while conducting an interview. But I consider it one of my greatest successes because I was able to at least string together enough single questions to do a sort of business tips article. It ended up being not half bad and I was proud of that! To this day I have a picture of me interviewing Ted Turner on my desk to remind me that my day could always be worse.”
How do you balance your work life and your personal life?
“I am very adamant about work life balance. I never bring my work home with me. I don’t take my laptop home at night. I really love my life outside of work. Especially in an organization like World Vision it can be difficult to maintain balance because there is such a passion driving the work. It can be easy to lose the perspective that you can’t help anybody if you are not taking care of yourself . If you are not spending time with friends and family, doing hobbies, or you’re not doing things that give you life, spending time with Jesus, getting plugged into a Christian community and you’re not getting sleep, you are going to be completely ineffective. I have always been really big on taking every single one of my vacation days every year. I never work more than 40 hours a week.”
“Get a degree in journalism, not English. People think they are interchangeable, but they are very different camps.”
Do you every get pushback from that? Do you feel like you have to compete with people by working more?
“Yes and no. No in the sense that early on in my career I had bosses who demonstrated work life balance. They took lunch breaks, all their vacation days, and they didn’t send emails at 2 a.m. That culture that I started in shaped good expectations for my career. But there are times when people look at me weird for not being a workaholic.
“When you go into your career, fight hard for that balance. It is hard at times and you might feel like people look down on you. Don’t kill yourself to prove yourself. Work hard, but you don’t have to do it unhealthily to get ahead.”
What should I be doing now as I look ahead to a career in journalism?
“Get a degree in journalism, not English. People think they are interchangeable, but they are very different camps. I would encourage you to get some kind of marketing experience. The thing I am doing at World Vision right now is content marketing. It is not objective, unbiased journalism. Every piece that we create has a bias toward World Vision’s work. You want the creative chops to do the job as well as the business savviness. I would also highly recommend getting a newspaper internship even if you have no interest in going into that. You’ll learn valuable skills, like working in high-pressure situations with high expectations and deadlines, as well as heavy workloads.
“One of the biggest pieces of advice I could give you is to have an attitude of learning early in your career. You don’t know everything. You are not too good to do certain jobs. Editors want people who are willing to do whatever they’re asked. They don’t want people with an attitude of entitlement.”
“Most of the places I worked, there weren’t very many Christians. I wanted people to see Christ in me and the way I react to situations. I always wanted to do things well even if I was treated poorly. That’s an opportunity to show Christ, even without explicitly saying it.”
How has your faith looked for you in your career?
“Most of the places I worked, there weren’t very many Christians. I wanted people to see Christ in me and the way I react to situations. I always wanted to do things well even if I was treated poorly. That’s an opportunity to show Christ, even without explicitly saying it. You have to choose to act in a way that reflects Christ, or you risk ruining your witness. We are told to work unto the Lord all the time, not just when you are being treated well.
“It’s very easy to confuse doing work that aligns with your Christian values as growing in your faith. Working at a Christian organization does not give you a free pass to stop investing in your faith. Make sure you are being intentional about your spiritual life outside of your work life.”
What’s next for you?
“I really don’t know. And I think that’s OK. If I am always focused on where I want to be in five years I might overlook what God’s plan has for me. I want what His best for me is, whatever that ends up looking like.”
O’Hara is doing a job I dream of doing someday, or at least something similar. I learned the specifics of her personal philosophy — work-life balance, faith in the workplace and that life just isn’t fair. She is someone I wanted to listen to for as long as she’d like to talk. In just an hour, I gained years of wisdom straight from the world of journalism. She gave me sweet glimpses into future opportunities I hope to have. If I ever find myself out in Seattle, grabbing coffee with her will be a must-do.
This interview has been edited and condensed.