Mark S. Luckie on leaving Twitter, publishing a novel and becoming an advocate

November 2, 2015

In the off-minutes, when he’s not tweeting his life, Mark S. Luckie has been promoting his novel. It’s DO U., the book he started writing in his off-minutes, when he wasn’t managing journalism and news at Twitter. And when he’s not promoting his novel, he’s advocating for greater diversity in the tech industry and in online discourse. Luckie might sit still, sometimes, but he is so prolific that it’s hard to tell.

“I like challenging myself,” he says. “Every job I’ve had, I’ve been doing something on the side. It started with 10,000 Words, my blog, which I started after I got out of the J-School.”

While working at The Los Angeles Times and Entertainment Weekly, he built 10,000 Words into a resource for online storytelling. He sold the blog in 2010, when he joined The Washington Post as national innovations editor. “After that I wrote a book, The Digital Journalist’s Handbook.”

While that first book was becoming a classroom staple, Luckie worked with the Center for Investigative Reporting on a yearlong project that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2012.

And then, “When I started at Twitter, the 2012 election was about to ramp up. I hadn’t had a vacation in about a year.”

Still, he was writing what would become DO U., a portrait of three students at a historically black college. “I wanted to write something that would reflect my culture. Black culture and LGBT culture. It was an idea I couldn’t get out of my head. I’d write on planes, keep a notebook by my bed. It started as a side project, but eventually I thought, ‘I need to finish this.'”

When Luckie joined Twitter in 2012 with an assignment to help newsrooms use the platform, he told AdWeek, “I’ve always worked to be at the forefront of digital media, and this gives me a chance to run the marathon but also bring all the other runners with me across the finish line.”

After he left Twitter in May 2015, Luckie wrote in USA Today and on Medium of his new purpose. “Witnessing firsthand the lack of faces of color instilled in me the desire to apply my technology skills toward the visibility of Blacks in media.”

So the runners have changed, from journalists like himself to black people like himself, but Luckie is still working to bring others across the finish line.

“Until my tenure at Twitter, I strongly resisted being ‘the Black guy,'” Luckie wrote. “I didn’t want to be the sole representative of a multifaceted group of people or be siloed into focusing on Black issues. My position shifted after the shooting death of Mike Brown and the inception of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests. I realized that I and other Black employees could be the voice for a community of users who had been largely ignored or misunderstood by social media companies.”

Luckie hopes DO U. will amplify black voices, first with the story itself. “People talk about ‘black lives matter’ as a general idea. I wanted to highlight what black lives are.

“It touches on education, athletics, family issues, the black church, a big chunk of it about pledging black fraternities,” he says. “One of the major characters is gay. I wanted to talk about the intersection of black and gay, which has been very frayed. Obviously there are people who are both, but because of the ideas of masculinity in the black community, it hasn’t been really talked about. I wanted to break down those doors.”

He continues: “UC Berkeley is where I was dragged out of the closet, so that was incorporated into the book.” One of the secondary characters is based on one of his J-School colleagues. And some of Luckie’s reviewers, who helped with things like plot points, were his J-School classmates.

Luckie is also hoping DO U. will help him fund his new cause. “For the first time in my life, I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do,” he says, sounding delighted. “I don’t want to return to a newsroom or technology company. I want to move into the advocacy space. I lie awake thinking about what that’s going to look like. I have concrete ideas, but I am waiting to see what the proceeds of the book look like.”

“I worked in journalism and technology for 10 years,” Luckie says. “The only way to do something different was to go backward, to the printed word.”

DO U., which Luckie bypassed traditional publishers to distribute, is available in paperback and, of course, as an ebook.

 

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