Be Connected: Behind-the-scenes with James Duffy, Senior Content Editor and Strategist
In this edition, Senior Content Editor and Strategist James Duffy, the City’s go-to guy for everything Boston.gov, tells us about his path to City government, shares his productivity tips (spoiler: there’s a lot of coffee involved), and gives some insight into a day-in-the-life of a working dad on a mission to empower the City’s workforce to communicate effectively with digital tools.
Be Connected: Okay, let’s start with acknowledging that [Chief Digital Officer] Jeanethe [Falvey] and I *lightly* pressured you into doing this piece. You said you’re “not someone who usually embraces the spotlight”. I really appreciate you going along with this anyway. I’m genuinely interested in what you do, and I think other people will be too.
James Duffy: Of course, I'm happy to help. Yeah, I try to stay away from the spotlight, I kind of like just doing the work. I like being productive and helping the City.
Totally. I love attention, but I get it. So tell me in your own words, what do you do at the City of Boston, and in what circumstances would I come to you for something?
So, technically I'm lead content strategist for the Digital Team, but in layman's terms I'm the online editor of Boston.gov. There's just me, and I work with every single department at the City. So, I've trained over 220 staff members on how to edit the website, and my goal is to empower them to be able to manage their content, and to be able to work with me on a content creator / content editor basis.
If I tried to be the only person who edits the website, it would be a tremendous amount of work. So, by leveraging staff at the City, we've been able to set up a system where folks make edits to their pages and then send those pages for me to review. Some departments are much more active than others, but everyone needs to get their content updated at some point.
Yes, and thank you for helping me learn how to use Drupal by the way!
Of course! Those training videos have actually been a huge help during COVID.
I still jump in to help those departments that don't have staff trained from time to time, and I definitely step in and help out on big projects even with departments with trained staff. So, if you need help on the website, I'm the person to reach out to.
There’s so many different paths someone with your skill set can choose to pursue. What led you to this career?
I was a communications and journalism major in college, and writing has always been something I've been good at and enjoyed. When I graduated from BU, I knew I wanted to turn more to the digital side of journalism, so I pursued that. I worked for the Boston Globe for 10 years before coming to the City, first at Boston.com, and then as part of the team that helped launch Bostonglobe.com. I loved journalism because of the impact it can have on the City and our residents.
Oh wow I didn't know that!
I can see how you would be drawn to the City after that experience. How does working on a purpose-driven product affect the way you approach your work?
Making a difference is the best part of my job, honestly. I feel like we all, just by working hard and doing our jobs, can have an immediate impact on the lives of residents. It's a great feeling to inform someone and then to feel the appreciation back from them for giving them help. You'll always get negative emails, but the positive ones greatly outweigh those.
Sometimes I worry that I'm smothering you with thank-you’s, but you really are the best.
Haha, no problem.
I thought it was funny that you responded to my request to interview you “Sorry to not get back to you sooner”...it had been like, four hours. I imagine you’re handling a high volume of work, and it seems like you move through it pretty quickly. What’s your go-to productivity trick?
Coffee and more coffee, haha.
I hear that.
So, I came from a breaking news background where time really was important. I tried to carry that with me, I know it can stink when you wait days for a response from someone. It's funny, if I respond to a feedback email from a resident within a couple of hours, they're blown away that they heard from me that quickly. It's always like, "Thanks for the quick response!"
Yup, I learned the same thing in my first job at City Hall. Even if you don't have an answer, people appreciate a response.
Definitely, just knowing there's a human on the other end. And if you're able to respond in a personal tone, it's even better — instead of your email or response feeling like it's been copied and pasted.
Are you working remotely these days? How are you finding it?
Yep, all remote, it's pretty insane. We have two boys, one is 5 and the other is 1. So remote learning was difficult, and my baby has been teething, so there's that. But it's been great to see them everyday. I'm guessing I'll miss it when we're back in the office, you know? Getting to see them, hug them.
I have so much respect for parents balancing all those responsibilities at once. I can barely handle myself.
My wife is amazing, I couldn't do it without her. She's not working at the moment, so she's able to be full time with the kids, and I'm able to give her breaks here and there, especially when the baby naps. And by "not working", I mean she doesn't technically have a job, but she's working every day.
Side note: I'll need to see pictures of your baby sometime. I love 'em.
How do you guys structure your day? Walk me through a day in the life of James Duffy.
Wake up about 6:30 - 7 a.m. Usually my wife is up with the baby in the middle of the night, so I try to let her rest for a few hours while I handle the kids. I log in and start working between 7:30 - 8 am. The kids are fed at that point and playing with their toys or watching a show on TV.
We're in the middle of hiring for a social media strategist, so I've been covering us on social. The first couple of hours are focused on scheduling posts across our accounts for the day. Usually we do 5 posts, but obviously following the news, we'll add to that.
Once social is set up for the day, I jump into the site. We have a process where content authors (staff) send me the pages they want published. I jump into that, and review any potential pages that need to be published — that happens throughout the day. And then I go through all of my email and respond to requests from constituents and staff.
That's typically my morning, the afternoon is for bigger projects, and then sprinkle meetings in between. If I'm lucky, I log off at 5, or whenever my wife starts yelling at me to help with the kids, haha. And there's lots of coffee throughout.
If you had an extra hour in the work day, what would you do with it?
Workout. I find that it really helps. You can decompress and get the blood flowing. A nice walk with my dog is great too.
What kind of dog do you have? This is (sort of) just for me.
Cockapoo. Her name is Maddie, she's an old girl, about 13 now.
Old dogs are the best.
I know! We had a Bichon too, but we actually had to put him down recently. Both have been great dogs.
Ugh I'm so sorry. Losing a pet is the worst. Makes you wonder why we do it at all, but then the answer is obvious.
I know! But, it also makes you appreciate how much of an impact they have on our lives. We're going to let Maddie enjoy her senior years, but I know we'll immediately get another dog when she passes.
I'm a big animal lover myself but I generally just enjoy knowing these things about my colleagues. Helps you to understand them as people, not just roles or titles. Which brings me to my next question: What’s been the coolest project you’ve worked on and/or a work-related accomplishment that you’re really proud of?
Public notices — getting that site up and migrated over from the old system was a great project. Previously, we had been posting public hearings and meeting information to the first floor of City Hall, and that was considered the legal location for that information. We were able to convince the state to use Boston.gov as the official legal resource for these notices. If you are interested, here's a pretty good breakdown of the project.
That's huge! I imagine with your background in journalism you have a particular appreciation for government transparency.
Definitely. Plus, the best thing about that project was, we trained four staff members from the City Clerk's Office to edit Boston.gov and post these notices, and they took it on with no problems. I love Maureen, and her staff are incredible, so it was a real pleasure to work with them.
Couldn't agree more.
Actually, that's one of my biggest accomplishments and favorite parts of the job. Just getting City staff used to and trained up to use the system, and to feel empowered that they can do it on their own.
Collaboration is a beautiful thing!!!
Definitely, and figuring out problems together.
So I keep a running list of dream projects I’d like to tackle, should I ever be blessed with the time and opportunity to do so. What’s a dream project you’d like to work on someday or a goal you’d like to achieve in this role?
On a personal level, I have a goal to continue to move more into the technical side while working with the Digital Team, maybe trying to do some development work, especially on the front-end. My one big thing for Boston.gov, though, would be to create a landing page for all of the active programs and initiatives in the City that allows residents to filter based on who they are and what they're looking for help with. We had an idea for that when we first launched, but couldn't get it off the ground. I'd love to see something like that in the future.
Me too! That sounds so helpful.
There's so much good work happening at the City, so finding any way to amplify that would be amazing.
Okay, I’m almost done torturing you with questions. Let’s wrap up with the lightning round. Ready?
Star Wars or Harry Potter?
Thank you, that is correct. Would you rather come face to face with a miniature hippopotamus or a giant cockroach? Both are in a bad mood.
Mini hippo, cockroach is terrifying. Those things don't die.
Go-to karaoke song — pass is not an option.
Oh boy. Tough one, my wife would know. I'll say Werewolves of London.
On a scale of 1-10 how annoyed are you with me right now?
Bless you. One last serious question — who should I interview for the next edition of “Behind-the-Scenes With”?
Yikes, so I'm biased. I think the whole Digital Team does amazing work.
But, if you want to go outside DoIT — Kerry Jordan, at the City Council Central Staff, he's great. Also, Kellie Donovan and Regine Desir in the City Clerk's office. John Fleming in Public Works would be a great interview. Super interesting job, he keeps all the records for Public Works planning in the basement of City Hall. I've worked with so many good people, it's hard to choose.
Great ideas! Well I really enjoyed chatting with you James – you are such a helpful colleague and I'm grateful for your time and candor. I'll type this up and you can review before I do anything with it...well I suppose you will have to anyway 😉 Perks of being the content editor huh?
Haha, that's right, thanks!
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER:
Erin Santhouse joined the City of Boston in 2014 as a scheduler for Mayor Walsh. She is currently a Project Manager for the HR Transformation and the lead content strategist for Be Connected. In lieu of providing further biographical information, she suggests googling “Kelly Kapoor quotes”.