I had Rookie Mag’s recent interview with Jane Pratt sitting in my tabs for over a week before I decided to finally sit down and digest it last night. Because I’m an idiot who doesn’t recognize career-affirming advice when it’s staring me in the face from my laptop screen. For some context to my readers unfamiliar with the two subjects mentioned in the headline (glad that didn’t deter you from reading), Rookie Mag is an online mecca for teen girls founded by Tavi Gevinson who represents everything I wish I had the guts to be at her age (17). And Jane Pratt founded the groundbreaking women’s magazines Sassy and Jane before taking her talents to new media two years ago and starting xojane, which to me is one of the most important online resources to learn about, understand, and appreciate the female human experience ever created.
As a journalist in the, well, rookie years of my career, I’m constantly on the hunt for articles and interviews with journalists I’m impressed with or inspired by. I’ve read so many stories about Jane Pratt before but none have been as refreshing and enlightening as this one and, surprisingly, it’s only a Q&A. But Anaheed Alani, the editor who conducted this interview, is great as what she does and so her questions dig at the side of Jane Pratt we rarely get insight on: her life pre-Sassy as an up-and-coming editor with a passion for telling real-women stories in a world where those stories are often dismissed. Then again, most of the stories I read about women journalists like Jane are written by men, so I can’t be shocked when they focus more on her editing prowess rather than her rise to that notoriety.
You don’t have to like or even care about Jane Pratt but if you’re a young journalist, you need to read this interview and know how she got to where she is today. Or if you like to read success stories, then this one’s perfect for you too. I know from going to J-school and working in the field that getting an education in this industry goes far beyond a year or four’s worth of college credits. You need to do your research and figure out why you care about journalism. And that is why I urge young journalists, especially women, to read this interview.
Jane keeps it real when she says:
I always think people should go for what they love. If you love print magazines, there’s still gonna be some around for you to work on for the rest of your life, is how I feel. And I don’t think forcing yourself to try to pursue something that is not your real passion is the way to go. If you’re going to do that, then maybe just don’t do journalism at all, because there are plenty of other things that are more secure or where you could make more money. It takes so much energy and so much passion and creativity to keep working in this business, so if you’re not totally in love with it, quit while you’re ahead—you’ll probably end up moving on to something you do love, or that’s a little easier, eventually anyway.
One of the things I appreciate about this interview is its candidness about what it takes to make it in magazines. From my own personal experience, you can either follow the rules and guidelines spoon-fed to you by career counselors and recruiters (not all misguided, of course) OR you can follow the advice of editors, the people you eventually want to become. At a lot of J-schools you’ll spend weeks perfecting your résumé, and that sounds like a no-brainer for getting hired. But Jane says that because internships at high-profile magazines are much more accessible now than they were when she interned at Rolling Stone in college, having a laundry list of the same companies as everyone else has pretty much made the résumé irrelevant.
She also thinks the same about clips, saying that the ease of publishing now that blogging and self-publishing platforms exists makes your writing samples less valuable. Though she doesn’t discourage blogging and actually welcomes young journalists to submit links to blogs as a supplement to your cover letter when applying to jobs. I don’t know why, but I think journalists of my generation have this impression that if our work doesn’t have some media company’s name above the byline then it never happened. That those well-reported features we spend months working on in college aren’t important enough to use in our job hunt or even when pitching stories to editors. In regard to cover letters, her advice falls in line with everything I’ve heard in the past and that is to make each letter you send out original and tailored to the magazine you’re sending it to. If you’re applying to xojane, she says write in a voice and style that demonstrates you can write for xojane. I follow media news closely, so I also try to make sure I mention relevant news about the magazine or publisher somewhere in my cover letter so they know I’m paying attention to what the company is doing. The same goes for recent content that stood out to me.
There were so many times I just felt like a loser; I felt like, This is never gonna happen. I don’t mean becoming an editor-in-chief, but just making a living doing what I wanted to do in the field that I wanted to be in. I was utterly depressed at that point about where my life was going. I ended up leaving New York and moving back in with my mom for nine months in North Carolina.
I have a friend who recently tweeted that this part of her life is called “trial and error.” And I think the quote above from Jane speaks eloquently to that fear we all have in our early twenties that if we’re not making it now, then we’re never gonna make it. That if we don’t love what we’re doing now, then we never will. I get consumed by that fear almost every day, especially when I see my peers living out their dreams at such a young age—or so I assume. I don’t know when it became wrong to fail, but I love Jane’s admission that she felt like a loser even after climbing the ladder from intern to associate editor at McCall’s. She actually packed her bags and moved home for nearly a year to reevaluate her life before deciding to give NYC another go. For young journalists in this industry, I think the greatest takeaway from this interview is that you need determination. When Jane returned to NYC, she found another job that led directly to her EIC offer at Sassy. But imagine her life now if she didn’t come back or even if she had just stayed at McCall’s knowing it wasn’t what she wanted. She may be just as successful doing something else or would’ve found her way to xojane either way. The point is there’s no destination without the journey and for those just starting out in their journalism careers, that journey will involve missed connections, lost luggage, side roads, and flights booked on a whim.
In addition to this interview, I also recommend reading Cosmopolitan web editor Amy Odell’s wise words about freelancing. Talk about keeping it real.
What do you all think about Jane and Amy’s advice?