5 Favorite Things I Wrote in 2016

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And so it ends. I’ve never been happier to say goodbye to a year in the 26 that I’ve already endured. 2016 was the hardest 12 months of my personal life and, for that, I won’t miss it. Professionally, though, I thrived. I don’t think I’ve ever written so much, pushed myself so hard, or challenged myself as constantly as I did in 2016. You’re supposed to grow with time. I’m only just now beginning to consider whether or not my growth has been in the right direction. As I do every year on the final day, I like to pause to reflect on the year past to gauge how far I’ve come and where I’m going. So as is my annual tradition, here are my five favorite things I’ve written this year.

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5 Favorite Things I Wrote in 2015

2015

Credit: Wikipedia

Sorry for the wait, but, hey, here I am. Work-wise, 2015 was a year of transition for me. I left my job at Slate in February to start at New York Magazine — specifically Vulture. (That’s their site that reports on culture, fyi.) It’s nuts. In just two years, I’ve shot up the masthead at what feels to me like record pace. I’m now an associate editor, but this year I also turned 25, and so it feels like I might have that title for either awhile or not very long at all.

I say that for two reasons: 1. I enjoy my job. It drives me bonkers. It’d drive anyone who has to monitor Twitter more than they monitor their own pulse mad. Not to mention then having to turn said Twitter content into content. It’s a daily headache I’m genuinely excited to greet most mornings when my alarm jolts me awake and I sign onto Slack and get to writing. (That working from home life.) 2. I know I can’t do this forever. My mother’s from a generation who’ll work at a company for decades. I’ve worked at three different companies in three years, mostly by choice. Journalism, while still a great joy to lose myself in, no longer stimulates me creatively the way it did when I decided on it as my career in high school. (Stop making teens do that, ya’ll.)

I’ve been thinking about working at a record label. But who knows where the future will take me. I haven’t a clue. Until I do, why not reflect on the past year. (Here’s 2014’s reflection.) I did some challenging, honest, worthwhile work that I’d like to publicly declare my faves right here and now. But before I do, let me also add that I think I may retire this blog. I’ve outgrown it, both age-wise and professionally. I may transition it to Medium, or maybe tweak my Tumblr to be more than just music musings. Stay tuned.

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My Five Favorite Pieces I Wrote in 2014

We’re already four days into the new year, and so I figured it’s about time I revisited my blog—which I regrettably neglected for most of 2014. Last year was probably the most important year of my life to date. I’m now nearing 25 and it feels like, in 2014, I started to get a glimpse of what the rest of my life could look like. I got offered my first full-time job at Slate, moved into my first apartment in New York City, and adopted two kittens—among many other crucial life events. But that was just the beginning. And I’m confident I’ll evolve even further, both personally and professionally, in 2015.

But you can’t move forward without taking pause for the past. I usually reflect on the pieces I wrote over the past year on Twitter, but this year I thought I’d highlight a few here on my blog. These aren’t necessarily my best pieces or the ones that did “well,” in terms of click bait. But they’re each meaningful to me and represent the work I was most of proud of in 2014. So, here are my five favorite pieces from 2014 that I wrote:

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Young Women Journos, Please Read Jill Abramson’s Cosmo Interview

Image via KLRU

Image via KLRU

[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:

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What Kevin Spacey Can Teach Journalists About Interviewing

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Image via Pinterest

Before I begin, shout out to my former Newhouse classmate Meera Jagannathan for inspiring this piece (she shared the interview on Facebook). Appropriate that it comes from one of the most impressive interviewers I know. True story: I once covered the 2012 presidential election night at the Syracuse Democratic Committee party with Meera and a few other students, and I nearly flubbed my own interview because I got so distracted watching her interview prowess out of the corner of my eye.

Anyway, Kevin Spacey. You know him from films like American Beauty and Seven, and more recently as the affectionally maniacal Frank Underwood on House of Cards—his best work yet, if you ask me. But if you’re a journalist, as I’ve come to realize very recently, then you know him as a pain-in-the-ass interviewee. The thing about Kevin Spacey is he’s profoundly brilliant, obnoxiously so. He makes you feel wrong even when you’re not. He makes you feel stupid even when you’re not. He makes you feel inept at your profession even when you’re not. I only just found this out whilst reading his interview with Rachel Dodes for the Wall Street Journal. Rachel Dodes has been reporting for over a decade, she’s interviewed countless big names and, in her role as the WSJ film features writer, has spoken with dozens of actors. But none like Kevin Spacey.

I’ve also interviewed many, many people. And probably about 60 percent of those interviews taught me that even the most basic things can go ridiculously wrong. Your interviewee might forget to call/email to reschedule and leave you waiting awkwardly in a company’s lobby for over 15 minutes. Your recorder you swore had full battery when you checked 30 times before leaving your apartment dies a minute into the interview—and you don’t even realize ’till you go to transcribe. Then there’s my absolute favorite: your interviewee could be one of those men- or women-of-so-few-words type. Or the kind that spends two minutes in uncomfortable silence pondering the answer to a question only to give you a 10-word response. Interview fail. And, really, there’s nothing  J-school or anyone can teach you to prepare for any of it. Not even degrees from the London School of Economics or Cornell saved Dodes from her painful interview with Spacey. But Spacey himself; he could’ve. Here’s how.

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Why Young Journalists Need to Read Jessica Hopper’s Q&A with Jim DeRogatis On R. Kelly

Image via The Village Voice

Image via The Village Voice

I was born in 1990, so the first time I heard of R. Kelly, I was very young. It was his uplifting Space Jam anthem “I Believe I Can Fly.” I remember later discovering he had disgustingly married Aaliyah, one of my childhood idols, and I remember the vague allegations of pedophilia against him, and I, of course, remember the peeing incident.

What I don’t remember about R. Kelly are the specifics of absolutely anything related to his predatory behavior, his blatant and grotesque sexual abuse of young women in his hometown of Chicago. Until now. Recently, the excellent Chicago-based music journalist Jessica Hopper paired up with the equally excellent Chicago music critic and reporter Jim DeRogatis to discuss at-length the 15 years of work he spent exposing R. Kelly for his paper the Chicago Sun-Times. That Q&A was published yesterday in the Village Voice and it’s one of the most important pieces of music journalism of 2013.

But beyond being a piece that completely dismantles your understanding of R. Kelly’s “monster,” it’s a unique and free lesson for young journalists that teaches the fundamentals of our profession and how this profession let down dozens of young girls in failing to correctly report on R. Kelly and is continuing the tradition to this day. I want to point out a particular passage from the Q&A:

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Why Young Journalists Need to Read Rookie Mag’s Jane Pratt Interview

Olivia Hall/Rookie Mag

Olivia Hall/Rookie Mag

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.

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#HearstMagFront: My Thoughts

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Via People.com/Angela Pham

I know I said I’d stick to tweeting about media industry news, but I couldn’t contain my thoughts about this particular event to 140 characters so here we are. Two days ago Hearst Corporation, one of the leading magazine publishers, held what they branded as a “magazine Upfront.” Basically Hearst invited media buyers, advertisers, and current cover stars like  Vanessa Hudgens and Miranda Kerr (pictured above) to their NYC headquarters for a presentation on upcoming content. When I first heard the idea, I perceived it as some gimmicky scheme to attract new advertisers and try and one-up the competition. TV networks do their Upfronts for similar reasons. But I was thinking of it too simplistically; I just assumed it would be previews of next year’s big feature stories and a few cover teasers. Maybe one of the mags got a big exclusive on some high-profile trending story from this year and want to sell the corresponding ad pages ASAP. That completely misses the bigger picture, though, and rudely ignores all the steps Hearst Digital has taken over the last few months toward the future. For example:

So, here are three of the most exciting #HearstMagFront announcements:

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Another 1,000 Words on Syria

Assad (left) and Putin (right)

Since I last spoke on Syria, the unthinkable has gone down: international diplomacy. Or at least that’s the fantastical illusion. Where do I begin? For the last two weeks the world has sat waiting for a vote from Congress on whether or not the United States would carry out a military strike against the Syrian government for its use of chemical weapons. Call it a consequence of spontaneity, but in those two weeks the U.S. has done a staggering amount of backtracking. And by the U.S., I mean Obama. At first, his decision to strike Syria appeared unanimous and irreversible as though it would come in the following days or even hours. But then, understanding the negative public perception of a quick- to-war president and taking his cue from British Prime Minister Cameron, Obama called on Congress to approve authorization of a strike.

Years after Obama’s presidency has concluded, someone from his administration with inside knowledge of the situation will someday write a tell-all which will include a passage describing Obama’s deep displeasure in turning to Congress on Syria. He won’t say it now, but Syria is about saving face for the president. When he drew his now infamous “red line,” he was drafting a public promise to the world that his administration would take military action against Syria in the event of chemical weapons. He ignored that red line multiple times since setting it, but the events of August 21 were different. This time, there were widespread visual accounts of the attack on social media and a higher death toll. And so now Obama faces a conundrum: take action or go back on his word. Because that’s how it might seem to those internationally who took his “red line” statement as more than just empty rhetoric. And a president who wants to have some political life after his or her tenure ends can’t look like a liar.

But it’s not that easy once you involve Congress. Now, Obama faces defeat and embarrassment as PM Cameron faced when Parliament struck down a proposed British strike on Syria. And that is exactly why the news I woke up to this morning is such a poignant moment in United States foreign policy that it drove me once again to blog.

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September 11, 2001: A Magazine Memory

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I’ve been soul-searching all day to figure what would be the best thing to do to commemorate the 12th anniversary of September 11 on my blog. On MLK day, I spoke about his profound effect on my life as a journalist. This day, for me, is no different. I could write a lengthy personal essay about where and who I was when it happened, but I’ve told that story before too many times to count and now it feels uncomfortably worn out. And so, instead, I’ll give some context to an image I tweeted out this morning and put on Tumblr of a magazine cover that changed my life.

It came from the New Yorker dated September 24. I was only 11 at the time and not at all familiar with the publication. I’m still not, not really. Those were the days of Seventeen, J-14, YM, and all those made-for-preteen-girls magazines I could get my hands on (and beg my mother to fund the subscription.) But I saw this cover at the local drugstore in the town where I went to middle school, just a quick drive from midtown—a suburb with the perfect view to watch the city burn that day. It’s one of my earliest memories of falling in love with magazines. I’d seen so many newspaper front pages depicting images from that day and the days that followed, but they were all just snapshots of the moments to have on record for someone to someday update the U.S. history book I was currently reading for school as proof it happened. But the New Yorker was something else. It felt like the memory of a feeling preserved in print forever. It just meant so much more to me than anything I’d seen the NYT or what was then called the Bergen Record, my local paper, do.

Illustrated by Art Spiegelman and his wife Françoise Mouly, it’s an indelible cover that I know for many who became used to seeing the NYC skyline the way it was depicted exactly what we feel when we see it now: darkness. I remember picking up the cover in the drugstore, analyzing it, flipping it every which way to see if there was something I’d missed. Could a magazine really publish a black cover? My creative naivety exposed because I didn’t see the real image on first glance. For the New Yorker’s 10-year remembrance of September 11,  Françoise Mouly had this to say about the original cover:

“Ten years ago, my husband, the cartoonist Art Spiegelman, our daughter, and I stood four blocks away from the second tower as we watched it collapse in excruciatingly slow motion. Later, back in my office, I felt that images were suddenly powerless to help us understand what had happened. The only appropriate solution seemed to be to publish no cover image at all—an all-black cover. Then Art suggested adding the outlines of the two towers, black on black. So from no cover came a perfect image, which conveyed something about the unbearable loss of life, the sudden absence in our skyline, the abrupt tear in the fabric of reality.”

-Dee