[Update: Just to clarify, my thoughts shared below concerning any of my professional experiences do not pertain to any specific organization I’ve worked for—past or present. They only represent my collective experiences in media.]
I know I’ve neglected my blog recently and I’m hoping that, in the near future, that’ll change. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post explaining my absence.) Until then, though, I couldn’t not make the time to share this powerful interview Cosmopolitan published last night with the former New York Times editor, Jill Abramson. If, like me, you pay attention to the goings-on of the media world, you’ll remember Abramson was fired from her post at the Times in May. Since then, she hasn’t given an interview to any publication—though, to be clear, she hasn’t stayed silent.
But she’s now given her first interview since the firing and she gave it to Cosmopolitan, which will probably surprise some. But not me. Since Joanna Coles took over as EIC, the magazine has undergone some major changes—more political coverage, more longform, a decidedly stronger feminist perspective—and Abramson clearly noticed. It’s also not unsurprising that in the wake of everything that’s happened, she’d steer clear of the men in media who’ve scorned her and put trust in a publication that serves women, with a mostly female edit. staff. (For insight into Abramson’s mindset, see this tweet.)
Regardless of the reasoning behind her decision to sit down with Cosmo first, this is a poignant interview. For many reasons. But I’m specifically sharing her interview on my blog because, as a young woman in my first legitimate job in media, I found myself moved by some of her quotes. In the interview, she makes some shrewd observations about the truth of being a woman in a position of power in a man’s business. She also talks about rejection, pay disparity, and, of course, that infamous Politico story. But of all the things she said, nothing struck me more than this:
The reason I wanted to do this interview is that I think it is important to try to speak very candidly to young women. The most important advice I would still give—and it may seem crazy because I did lose this job I really loved—you have to be an authentic person. I did cry. That is my authentic first reaction. I don’t regret sharing that.
In my blogs, I think maybe I keep overstressing how new I am to this media shark tank. But, really, I don’t think I can possibly stress it enough. At my new-ish job (which I’ll talk about more in my next post) I work mostly under men. Until very recently (two days ago, actually), there wasn’t a single woman in a position of power directly above me. Yes, there are women editors at my job—and brilliant ones—but I wasn’t hired to work in their specific department and so they are not technically my bosses. As a woman, and not just a woman, but a woman in her early 20s in her first real job a year out of grad school, I struggle with holding onto my authenticity.
I try to maintain integrity, stay true to my voice, and only do work I’m fully committed to and believe in. But it’s hard. Sometimes when you work in media, the challenge of the ever-in-a-state-of-flux business model that currently depends on click bait and ad dollars will force you to write about things you might not care about and, even worse, sometimes things you aren’t proud of. I’m lucky that I’ve rarely had to compromise my authenticity as a journalist, but it’s happened. It happens to everyone in any field at some point, I think. And I too have cried about it. I have felt shame in publishing something I felt forced to write—and struggled heavily in writing it. But, the truth is, if your editor needs something from you, and it’s your job to do it, your opinion doesn’t matter. You just do it. And I’ve cried about it—at home, of course. That’s not because I’m weak, oversensitive, or a woman. It’s because I care deeply about my work and words. That’s why I find solace in Abramson’s explanation of why she isn’t ashamed to cry about her own work. (Really, she isn’t ashamed of anything that happened with the Times: “Is it hard to say I was fired? No. I’ve said it about 20 times, and it’s not.”)
Because even though Abramson’s words in this piece are actually quite grim—in a way, she’s saying that it never really gets better—her resilient spirit is soothing. And, as I think the piece intended, it does ultimately feel like she’s speaking directly to me, a young woman journalist. That’s why I’m sharing this interview here now and highlighting that quote above because it’s not something young women journalists will likely hear often, if ever, in their careers. Most of us might never experience a work environment where a woman is in charge. I don’t like to admit that I sometimes get emotionally discouraged when my male bosses don’t share my perspective on something, perhaps, because we differ in race and gender. But I do. And I don’t necessarily think having a woman boss would change that, but it changes something. It changes something in me just reading the words of an established woman journalist who’s been through it all—and then some. Anyway, read the whole piece. Read it twice. Her words are invaluable.