Skip to main content

Prof. Heather Starr-Fiedler was one of the 2009 '40 Under 40.

Dr. Heather Starr Fiedler, associate professor of digital media, specializes in new and emerging media technology, particularly online journalism. She continues her "love affair with the web" in her other role, founder and general manager of, a website for parents now owned by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Fiedler was named one of "40 Under 40" for 2009 by Pittsburgh Magazine and PUMP. Selected from among nearly 300 nominees, the honorees are chosen for their commitment and overall impact on the region. The Point, the magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University, talked with Fiedler about digital and social media and more.

The Point: Did you start mainly as a way to connect with other moms, or for its business potential?

Fiedler: Well, I started it because of the lists, which now provide a way for people to find family-friendly options in Pittsburgh all in one place. I've studied social media and the idea of hyperlocal and niche media, so I built the directories and grouped everything by area. I knew that I needed something to keep people coming back, a social component. So I added the message board for people to chat about family things as well as blogs, to talk about my life and things other moms are thinking about too. PittsburghMom has turned out to be a great resource for not only parents but local businesses as well.

The Point: Do you teach your students about lessons learned along the way?

Fiedler: I was already teaching the technical side of creating websites. In online journalism we cover a bit of everything-creating and editing video, blogging, writing, interactive design. Classes also focus on how to market a Web site, how businesses advertise on social media, how to use Facebook and Twitter to promote a blog, etc. Students might become writers, stringers for newspapers, photographers or freelancers. For them to learn how to create a good site or blog and how to promote themselves through social networks is valuable. I enjoy seeing students finding a love for digital technology and learning how to use it well.

The Point: How do you teach students about digital media ethics?

Fiedler: Point Park offers a media ethics course, and I talk about ethics in everything we do. When a student uploaded a photo from a newspaper to her blog without attribution, we talked about why that's unethical and a copyright violation. They learn why they must seek permission and often pay for use because they are infringing on another person's business. On, I never use photos without permission, and I post just a bit of content and link back to the original article. That's acceptable in blogging circles, where so much of what the blogging world is doing now is aggregating news into one location. If we could never link to somebody else's stuff or write about it, [bloggers] wouldn't have the interaction that we have. People are generally okay with a small amount of content and links. It gives them hits they wouldn't otherwise have. But if someone posts a whole article with the reader never having to go back to source, that's wrong. I tell my students, when in doubt link instead of paste.

The Point: What's ahead for you at Point Park?

Fiedler: We've been talking about creating workshops for professionals, including journalists, to build their digital media skills. I'd also like to start a student chapter of the Online News Association. After 10 years of advising The Globe, I plan to step back from the advising the print side and help the student newspaper create more online content, adding interactive features and cool multimedia stuff, videos, podcasting and more Web extras. For The Pioneer, [the newsmagazine created by students in Publications Production 1 and 2], we are aiming to [develop it into] a magazine of downtown Pittsburgh, featuring articles about living in the city, small businesses and profiles of people living here.

The Point: What are some of your favorite websites?

Fiedler: I pay close attention to a blogger for, Jim Romanesko, who writes about the state of journalism. And I read, which covers what's going on in the world of technology and social media. If Facebook and Twitter merge, they'll have it there first. Another site I follow closely is the, which has an innovative approach to online news, including geo-tagging all content. Rob Curley is a new media guru, particularly related to hyperlocal, which today means not only geographic areas but also niche audiences. These are just a few of the sites and blogs I read, and have my students read, along with traditional news outlets.

The Point: What advice can you offer those who are apprehensive about social media or are just getting started?

Fiedler: I think everyone should be using social media, whether for personal or professional reasons. I know it helps keep people in touch with family and friends. My brother recently spent five weeks in China on business. He called me on Skype to wish me a happy birthday. This isn't social media, but an example of something that wouldn't have been possible before the Web. My advice? Just get on and play with social media. You have to be willing to teach yourself. Just dive in. My favorite quote about the new digital world is that old media was a lecture, and new media is a conversation.

Article by Colleen C. Derda
Photo by Bethany Foltz