You were 24 when you started there—were there people working for you who were older than you?
Yeah. That was really odd. I was the youngest person there except for one assistant and one of our writers. Other than that everybody was older, and some by quite a bit. My managing editor was probably in her 40s.
Did it feel weird to be the boss of people older than you, or did it feel natural?
From a creative standpoint, it felt natural, but I was really uncomfortable with having any kind of say over how much money people were making or whether they were going to be able to get out of work in time to go see their kids and stuff like that. I felt like I was in way over my head with that stuff. I would call my [older] brother a lot because he had an MBA from Duke University. I was like OK, he knows about business, so I would call him quietly from my office all the time and ask him what I should do in different situations.
Print journalism has been suffering a slow decline since the internet—is it still a viable field for a girl who might be interested in being an editor or a journalist, or should she forget it and just go for an online publishing job?
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.
What do you think of the idea that people just starting out should be willing to write for free for clips [examples of published work] or experience instead of money?
I think getting printed clips used to be a lot more valuable. When I was in that Rolling Stone internship, doing that for free—or even actually paying college tuition to be working in New York—was well worth it. But now it’s a little different because anybody can be published. You just start a blog or whatever, and you have clips. It doesn’t mean anything that someone’s had clips published now. So for me to ask students to come and work for me without getting paid, it feels different now. Our company doesn’t pay interns, so I always try to make sure I’m giving them really valuable experience, as well as school credit.
Does it really make no difference to you when you’re hiring whether someone has published clips or a self-published blog?
It really doesn’t. But at the same time, there’s so much more of everyone’s writing out there now, so when someone applies for a job, I have access to not just whatever they sent me, but everything they have ever published on their blog. So I might see something on there that in the past would make me write [a candidate] off—something that’s maybe derivative or not written in a way that seems thoughtful or whatever. [Publishing] is just so much more about cranking out quantity now, and most of us have published a lot of stuff that we’re not necessarily proud of. So I had to get used to seeing that stuff and not writing people off for it.
I remember when we were first finding staff for Rookie, one of the people sent us a link to her blog, and it wasn’t that far down from the top—maybe the third or fourth most-recent post—that we saw a really negative post about Tavi. [Laughs]
Yeah! It was unbelievable.
Yeah, that was not smart at all. But I’ve had to change my thinking a lot—it used to be that I had all these rules, like I would immediately disqualify anyone who ever used the word tresses or locks or mane instead of hair.
I love that that’s your thing. I’ve read that that’s your thing. I hate that too.
I hate it! Come on! Or the other one is tome.
I mean, call it a tome if it’s a tome, but not just because you said book already!
Or penned! Even home instead of house gets on my nerves.
[Laughs] It’s funny, because I think you and I disagree on the pun thing. But I like that you guys have just taken that and really OWNED it. You’ve been just as strong about owning it as I have about disowning it for 20 or however many years now.
Puns make us so happy that I feel that’s worth it in and of itself. You’ve also said that you’re really against using song titles as headlines…
You guys do that too! I was looking for other examples of this column the other day and I Googled “why can’t I be you” and I think—is that a song title?
[Laughs] It’s a Cure song!
I didn’t even realize it until I looked, then I was like, Wait a minute! [Laughs]
Every time I look through my iTunes to find something suitable for a headline I think of what you’ve said about that and I feel a little bit chagrined. What are some of the big mistakes that people make when they’re pitching stories to you, and what are you looking for in a pitch?
Personal stories are really good, because a lot of people are gonna have the same story ideas, but if there’s something that happened to you—ha ha—then, you know, it only happened to you in that way at that time, and only you had the feelings that you had about it and it affected you however it affected you, so that’s always a good way to get in. So many people that we publish on a regular basis started out with just an “It Happened to Me,” and we appreciate that they let us run their story, so we will look more at other things that they want to pitch from there on. We’ve gotten a lot of writers that way.
In terms of mistakes that people make, I would say anything that’s cliché at all or anything too snarky. I feel like snarky is kind of the accepted voice now for female-skewing online publishing in particular; it feels like you can’t write about celebrities without being a little bit nasty. It’s an accepted way of writing about entertainment or celebrities, to come at it from a perspective of superiority. So I really look for people writing about things they really unabashedly love and are excited about and aren’t looking to tear down.