Notre Dame alum takes publishing talent to Beijing

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UPDATE: Sobodash recently founded Boom Reset Media as a small workshop that offers design, visual identity and photography services to clients ranging from luxury jewelry brands to IT startups and game publishers. He also continues to work at publication Beijing Today, now as director of content. 

Derrick Sobodash graduated from Notre Dame in 2000. He matriculated at Oakland University and double-majored in journalism and Chinese studies, after which he wondered—as most college grads do—where he would apply his education. Unlike most of his contemporaries, though, his job search focused not in the U.S., but in China.

“Everyone thought I was crazy for combining those two majors in college because there's really no overlap at all, which is why it took me five years instead of four to finish up,” Sobodash said in a spring 2013 IRISH magazine article. But sure enough, he secured a job teaching at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, and moved to China in 2005. After about a year at the university, he landed a job as a copy editor at "Beijing Today," which was founded as the Chinese capital’s first English newspaper and has been serving the expatriate community since 2001.

Now more than 11 years into living in China and married (Liu Chenlu), he’s never looked back.

Sobodash said in a recent interview with NDPMA’s advancement office that things are going well. “I was promoted to content director for the newspaper in late 2013 and started pushing hard to develop Beijing Today's online presence,” he said. “We've had several of our stories on the front page of Reddit and one or two of our top posts went viral for a day.”

He said the site is getting an average 70,000 unique readers per month (peak month was 1 million), but he won't say how abysmally bad it was before the online push. “Still, it could be better. But I'm happy with the growth. After all, it's an English publication in a city that doesn't speak English.”

No puff pieces
His work is made even more difficult, Sobodash said, because the newspaper is government owned. He said that fact, plus the paper's dubious early history, causes many people in China to view his and his team’s work with suspicion even though he made it a policy to ban puff pieces and Xinhua wire copy.

After his promotion to manager with Beijing Today, Sobodash has spent a lot of time reinventing the publication. The year 2014 was spent on restructuring, social-media development and recruiting a new editorial and production team. 

“I’ve been really proud of how the new journalists have progressed,” he said. “Yang Xin, one of my editors, has been really good about going after corruption in China's education system, and we've had quite a few good features. The hard part is finding topics we can explore that haven't already been blocked by the government.”

He said that while the government doesn’t force them to print things, they do tell the editors what not to print and sometimes demand a certain angle on hot topics. 

“When that happens, I pass up the story,” he said. “I won’t run anything where our office does not have full editorial control.”

Brand-wise
It’s not just the editorial side Sobodash keeps an eye on. He oversaw a complete redesign of the look of Beijing Today and managed an overall brand-identity revamp that included a new logo, a company seal and other branded materials.

If all that isn’t enough to keep him busy, Sobodash also spent the last few months doing all the visual identity (logo, brand colors, etc.) and content work for Talkmate (talkmate.com), a new startup company that's offering free Rosetta Stone-like language learning software. 

It's pretty cool, he said, and it’s one of the only places you can go online to learn a lot of less popular languages like Uygur, Tibetan, Kazak and Persian. “They have 36 languages so far, if I recall correctly.”

Sobodash is a busy guy, so we’re glad he spent a few minutes updating his high school alma mater. But he left the best update for last. . .

“In very uplifting and joyous news, my wife and I welcomed our first two children, Rozalia and Viktor Sobodash, into the world in January 2015.”

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy

Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.

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