The Rumpus Interview with Ann Friedman

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On Ann Friedman’s blog, there’s a faux news item that parodies an article from Women’s Wear Daily about the “Dude-itors”—male editors, bros, “big-boys”—at the helm of magazines for both men and women. But, gentlemen, please be seated. As executive editor at GOOD magazine, Friedman is proving that women are not only qualified to be at the top of the masthead; they’re needed there. She’s kicking editorial butt all over the Internet and in print, carving her way and taking women with her. Before joining GOOD, she was deputy editor at The American Prospect, editorial fellow at Mother Jones, managing editor of AlterNet.org, and editor of Feministing.com. And, just for the hell of it, she also knows how to rock a well-placed GIF.

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The Rumpus: You’re one of the first women to hold an executive editor position at an online magazine. Is that right? And why is that so unusual in 2012?

Ann Friedman: There are some very notable women who beat me to the punch – Arianna Huffington springs to mind, as do the Mother Jones editors, who (like me) are at the helm of both the print and web publications – but I do think it’s a pretty small group. Too small. Someone said to me recently that we have to encourage more young women to want top-level editing jobs. I think that will happen naturally as we have more role models, more examples of boss ladies who aren’t sad and cruel and overworked and undersexed (*cough* DevilWearsPrada *cough*), but who are straight-up owning it and notable not for their gender but for their editorial savvy. A lot of this is about narrative. Writers and editors, we find ourselves fascinating. We like to write about what’s happening in our industry. And every time there is an article about the blogger generation growing up or about a forward-thinking crop of young editors that features only men, the narrative perpetuates. One way to make more women executive editors is to ensure the ones already doing the hard work are more visible. I suppose this is a very long-winded way of saying thanks for interviewing me!

Rumpus: Yes, this straight-up owning it, tell me about that. What do you love about the work you do at GOOD? What really makes your day?

Friedman: I love working with such talented writers and editors. I love telling stories and finding great ideas and profiling fascinating people. I love playing with words. The best feeling is checking the site first thing in the morning, seeing so much great content, and being unable to decide which of our pieces to tweet about first. That, and the day the new issue of the quarterly magazine arrives from the printer. Pretty fucking satisfying!

Rumpus: My guess is that your enthusiasm also has something to do with GOOD’s dedication—by design—to socially conscious articles and themes. This mission was built in by GOOD’s founder, Ben Goldhirsh, but you’ve taken it a step further, printing some edgier articles and riskier topics. How would you describe your impact on GOOD’s mission? What editorial wishes did you bring to the magazine when you joined in 2011?

Friedman: Absolutely, GOOD’s mission is a big part of what drew me to this job. However, the problem with a lot of journalism oriented around social good is that it’s boring as hell. One of my goals in assuming editorial leadership of GOOD was to build on the brand’s reputation for positive, solutions-oriented journalism while pushing it a bit—making it funnier, edgier. I’ve tried to make GOOD’s core series and products, like our Daily GOOD email, even better, while expanding into new terrain with pieces like Mac McClelland’essay on PTSD or our Hustlin’ series.

Rumpus: Yeah I get the impression you wouldn’t last with “boring as hell” for very long. Last week our Rumpus Radar (*cough* IsaacFitzgerald *cough*) alerted us that you were the genius behind the Tumblr #realtalk from your editor. I was speechless when I saw it: every GIF is truth! Then I found International Slutty Women’s Day: a Story in GIFs on your blog. It’s like GIF paradise. You’ve raised it to an art form, Ann. How do you do it? Can you answer this with a GIF?

Friedman:

Rumpus: Dammit, that’s what I thought. You’re magic. You also bend time apparently because between being executive editor of GOOD and busting out GIF truths you founded and curate the LadyJournos! site, which is all about shining the spotlight on women writers. What defines great writing for you? What makes you say YES to something either for GOOD or LadyJournos?

Friedman: I know the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but being an editor is different than being a curator. For GOOD, I’m interested in pitches that have compelling people and ideas at the core—and a good news peg certainly doesn’t hurt. We look for stories that are solutions-oriented, but not irrationally upbeat, from writers with a strong voice. For LadyJournos, where I’m curating not editing, I’m looking for a balance of reported and essayistic work by up-and-coming women journalists. Often that means combing online-only sources or alt weeklies. I’ll feature the occasional New Yorker piece, but everyone reads the New Yorker, so that’s not super helpful. (Also, there aren’t a lot of women to be found in those pages. Zing!) The hope is that other assigning editors will use it as a resource, and the women featured on the site will make their way up the journalistic food chain until they’re freelancing for the $2/word outlets and getting the kinds of assignments that lead to National Magazine Award nominations.

I created the site so that lazy assigning editors would know how to put a steady stream of work by women writers into their regular feeds.

Rumpus: You’ve said on your blog that it’s the editors’ responsibility to achieve equity in publishing for women—a sentiment I totally agree with—and you prove this with balance at your own publication. Do you feel like you and your fellow editors have to work harder to get fantastic work from women? What does it take?

Friedman: I don’t have to work extra hard, but that’s because there are a lot of women in my professional network and I have hired a lot of women as full-time writers and part-time columnists. If editors truly want to improve their byline ratio, they need to stop lamenting the fact that few women journalists send them cold pitches and start taking a hard look at their stable of regular contributors. How many women are on the masthead? How many women columnists or bloggers are on the payroll? This is how real change is going to happen.

Rumpus: As someone who spends so much professional time on the Internet, how—and why, and when—do you disconnect? What’s the best thing about the time you spend offline?

Friedman: I have a dream of retreating to a #spinstercabin for a few weeks of respite from the Internet. In the meantime, I make a point of occasionally leaving my house without my phone. Or I drink enough whiskey that I am unable to operate it.


Julie Greicius is a writer and editor based in California. Follow her on Twitter. More from this author →