The best advice, wisdom, and general gems from this year’s Q&As
I was taking a spin through all 41 (!!) Q&As we’ve done for Deez Links this year and it reminded me of just how much wisdom, good advice, and general...socializing? this outlet has provided for me personally, so I wanted to re-up some of the top interviews that I think you’ll all find useful too if you missed ‘em the first time around. It’s like a TIL except it’s this **year** I learned...
1. That reporting on reporting (AKA, media reporting) indeed gets very meta! As The Daily Beast’s Max Tani put it:
The best thing about media reporting is everyone knows the rules and how it works (you don't have to explain to anyone what "on background" means). Most media people are also natural gossips, so I think it's probably easier to get info than on most other beats.
People also get what's newsworthy and what isn't; I regularly have sources tell me "well, if I was writing the story, I'd emphasize THIS part," which I actually find pretty helpful.
But it cuts the other way too: People who know and work in media are often the most scrupulous and critical readers. If you mess up or misinterpret one tiny word (never happened to me, of course) you can turn a whole news organization or media network against you. And reporters have long memories for that kind of stuff!
2. That there are therapists who specialize (and have designated groups) for journalists dealing with secondary trauma, like the one Melissa Stanger started via The Talk Suite
Many news organizations are now starting to recognize the role that secondary trauma plays in the work of reporting on first-hand trauma and are becoming more supportive. Still, many journalists find it difficult to talk about how taxing their work is with supervisors and fellow reporters for fear of coming off as "too sensitive" or "unfit" to do their jobs, when this isn't the case at all. I hope that the group provides reporters with comfort and hope in knowing that they're not alone in how they're feeling and that they don't have to struggle with it alone.
3. That it’s okay to let go of this idea of having a perfect straight line career trajectory, as New York mag’s Adrienne Green put it:
I've tried to become less rigid about how each job fits into some linear master plan to be a big-time magazine writer or editor, and it has been really, really liberating. I've learned that it is okay to make things up as I go along. To leave digital for print and come back to it. That I can tailor jobs to my strong suits or create new ones entirely if my "perfect gig" doesn't seem to exist. And that even within the same job, changing my own priorities could make an existing job feel entirely new.
4. That Heather Havrilesky isn’t just putting on some hat to write those Ask Polly columns; she’s investigating existential questions as a lifestyle
I’m pretty obsessed with how to live and how to feel less alone, honestly. I’ve been this way since I was very young. My journals are filled with questions about what I truly want and need. And I’ve always analyzed the people around me and also intuited things about people before they said a word about themselves.
That makes you a creepy party guest and a completely obnoxious friend, but it does work in the context of an advice column. So it’s nice that I have somewhere to put this creepiness. And no, I never get remotely tired of it. I get tired of reading sad letters some days, but I never get tired of answering them.
5. That even John Paul Brammer, a master of Twitter, has conflicting feelings about our fave hell site:
There's an unhinged rhythm to Twitter that's very off-putting to most rational human beings, but once you "learn the language," it kind of writes itself. I guess it reflects my overall feelings about life lately. My mood over the past year or so has been to flush everything about myself down the toilet. Burn it. Take it all down from the walls, smash it with a hammer, and move on. I've found that, to get on with myself, I have to separate from all the feedback and the ego and wanting to cling to identities like "funny" or "talented" or "gay twitter" or "shitposter" or whatever. It sucks, because I've wanted to be successful for most of my life, and I think I could very well be right now, but it's just not something I want to inhabit. It feels tacky to move around in.
It actually feels, and continues to feel, like people online are reacting to some entity that has little to do with me. Even when people compliment my work or my art or pictures of myself. I sort of think, that's nice, but it doesn't really reach my gut, you know? Because if I allowed that to happen, then all the negativity that people send so thoughtlessly would hit me as well, and I just don't have time for that.
6. That there are infinitely creative ways to cover heavy topics, as The Texas Observer’s Tristan Ahtone mentioned re: using speculative journalism experiment to cover climate change:
I think journalism sorely needs the kind of thinking that our staff is doing as they’re pushing the boundaries of what we can do as journalists. I think of journalism as a form. That form has rules, obviously — like, don’t plagiarize, be transparent, be accurate and accountable. But it is still at heart a creative and literary form, so if we’re thinking about this as a form that has to conform to a few bedrock rules, what else can we do with it?
7. That to succeed on a new platform like TikTok, you have to pay your respects to the young creatives who are already running the place, as Planet Money’s Jack Corbett put it:
There are already so many insanely creative kids and young people on TikTok. Honestly, just look at what they’re doing, and respect the platform. Make a video for TikTok so it’s 59 seconds max, 10 seconds minimum. It’s not other platforms. Just treat it like its own thing. And just scroll. From midnight until like 5 a.m. That’s what I did.
8. That going freelance can be the most liberating decision you make, at least according to Sable Yong:
I mean, a steady salary is nice but then eight months would breeze by and I’d be like “Wait, what the hell have I done that I’m proud of?” All I’d have to show for it was being tired a lot and buying random trinkets to amuse myself. That’s the 40-hour work week capitalism conspiracy!
Don’t get me wrong, I fucking love a trinket, but nothing beats the personal satisfaction of ideating some creative idea, producing it, blasting out into orbit, and feeling satisfied at having realized a VISION.
9. That you shouldn’t get too married to one medium or format! Per Kara Swisher:
People were surprised when it was announced I was doing a column with the Times and wondered if I was being retro. That’s the wrong way of looking at it. You use whatever medium works to get your content out there. I am multifaceted when it comes to media, but not in the careless way the word suggests. I think we need to reach audiences where they are and be willing to morph and change for them. It keeps you creative too.
10. And finally, that we should all take a minute (at LEAST) to fully appreciate those who’ve gotten us through this year, as The Atlantic’s Ed Yong beautifully put it:
Let me end on a happy note (and, in the process, completely out myself as a wife guy). Liz Neeley has been my rock this year. “Supportive” doesn’t even begin to describe it. She works in science communication, used to lead a storytelling nonprofit, and founded her own new company in the middle of all of this. Her intellect and ideas suffuse my writing, and her unerring compassion and moral clarity are my guideposts.
We both used to travel a lot more but because of the pandemic, we spend every day together. We go on daily walks, and I learn from her on every one. I get to listen to her take calls and be a boss. I’m more thankful for her than I can express, and that’s what I’m going to focus on over the holidays.
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