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Man Repeller’s Editors Talk Media and Burnout
06.20.17

News broke last week that Emma Carmichael was stepping down after three years as the editor in chief of Jezebel. In a note to her staff (which she shared with The Cut), she wrote, “This has been the hardest decision of my professional life, but it’s one I feel clear-headed about — I’m simply a little burnt out and ready to take a break from running a website.”

The job of an editor in chief is difficult. Given media’s current challenges — the constant fight for traffic, adapting to a future wherein everyone reads content through apps on their phones — it’s no wonder that she cites burnout as an impetus for her decision.

The news struck a chord with Leandra. Below is the private slack conversation we had in response. We decided to publish it because we’re interested to hear your thoughts, too.


Leandra: I saw [the news] this morning. What do you think?

Leslie: My first thought was that the company culture of Gawker [Jezebel’s original parent company] has probably changed dramatically after being acquired by Univision.

My second thought is that of course an EIC is going to feel burnout. EICs are so in the spotlight. I had coffee with a former teen mag EIC a few years ago (she was very publicly fired), and she told me that all EIC jobs have a lifespan. Which is why I’m always impressed with long-term EICs like Robbie Myers.

The EIC job is a lot of things — part salesperson, part celebrity, part actual editor who is connected to the readership and what they want.

Leandra: The piece of the announcement that really struck a chord with me (in a way it may not have at a previous point in time) was her mention of burnout.

Leslie: Yeah, well, Jezebel generates a ton of content, and it’s around the clock. I can’t help but wonder (Carrie voice) if the role itself is becoming less attractive. It used to come with all sorts of perks — a wardrobe, a town car. People at Conde were able to access all sorts of stuff, even great mortgages. The role today looks very different. It’s much less glamorous.

Leandra: Right. And what maybe makes it harder is there isn’t an especially clear idea of what the future looks like, what a viable business trajectory is. You know? The Internet has taken a business model that stood the test of a long period of time and really, really flipped it on its head.

Here’s my thing though — I don’t think the burnout is tethered to the actual work. You can power through work if you have a clear idea of where you are heading. Burnout is generated, at least in my perception, from uncertainty. I know that to be true for myself — when I get exhausted and can’t keep moving any longer, it’s because I don’t know where I’m going.

Leslie: Well, you have to be a forecaster of sorts, as an EIC. Not only picking and choosing the topics your brand will cover, but also the way in which the content is disseminated. EICs are expected, in some ways, to read people’s minds. There are all sorts of pressures.

Leandra: Do you feel like you have a sense of the direction media is heading?

Leslie: The million-dollar question.

Leandra: Doesn’t have to be right.

Leslie: This isn’t a completely formed thought, but I think there’s something to the idea that the article doesn’t stop at its conclusion. That it continues to evolve and change after publication.

I was listening to a podcast called Pod Save America about the Comey hearings and the hosts were not only referencing the transcript, but also what people were saying on Twitter. They almost gave Twitter equal weight and time. Another example: The Atlantic published Alex Tizon’s posthumous piece “My Family’s Slave,” then followed it up with a collection of reader reactions. I thought that the responses to the piece were very illuminative.

Leandra: Do you think part of the problem with media right now is that, because it’s changing so rapidly, it’s hard to find fulfillment because the things that may have brought you into it (like maybe excitement to work with younger writers, eagerness to share perspective) are no longer valued how they were? Or no longer perceived to be valued the way they were?

I attribute a lot of my fertility stuff to being overworked. There is no doubt that I have been absorbing a slow burn for the past two or so years.

We live in such a different era. Generation Z is about working smarter, not harder. I wonder if that’s trickling into the content cycle and the structure of editorial teams.

Leslie: You do see teams being streamlined.

Leandra: Everyone who works on an edit staff should know how to do everything, it seems. And content lives and expands into mysterious places. There’s no nucleus the way there used to be.

If I had to guess, I’d say a lot of the burnout is actually fatigue born out of all this unknown. We see this information, we can’t avoid it (I mean, we can, but it will kill us if we do), but don’t know how to apply it. So we run circles around ourselves until we fall into a sinkhole and have to step down from our jobs.

Leslie: Media is a tough industry.

Leandra: It’s a GRIND. And I hate the grind, but I LOVE connecting with people. Sharing my story and hearing their stories. Everyone has a story if you’re willing to listen, you know? And being at the helm of informing which stories get heard is a power that I don’t take for granted or lightly.

Leslie: You have to really love it to do it, otherwise you can’t keep it up. However it’s being distributed, I love working with great ideas and great writers. When you pull too far away from that, it can feel a bit soulless.

Leandra: Maybe that is the resolution! Fuck the suits, follow your gut. I am such a gut person. The minute the job becomes about anything but feeding creative pursuit and passion, I die inside.

Collage by Emily Zirimis.

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  • Stephanie

    “I think there’s something to the idea that the article doesn’t stop at its conclusion. That it continues to evolve and change after publication.” Yes. For better or for worse. As an editor, it’s great to be able to re-purpose content at any time, but also you never really put anything to bed. It all gets revisited and harvested for parts and optimized. That’s why it’s so weird to come across a news article online that’s actually out of date–because I’m so used to line after line of updates from the editor later. I love reading magazines from years ago for the experience of “look at this amazing time capsule” (closest thing to time travel there is) but when I see out-of-date info online, my reaction is “I want to get to work and fix this” which is on the one hand a great instinct, but also basically the one-ingredient recipe for burnout because there is no such thing as keeping up with the internet.

    I love love love my job, so I view this as the literal cost of doing business, but I’m so thankful that the pendulum seems to be swinging back to working smarter, not harder. Ten years ago when I was a new college grad/intern, there was more of a culture of “look at my brand-new smartphone! Let’s have an email time-stamp contest to see who’s the most available ALL THE TIME!” and you didn’t want to lose that contest. Now the bragging rights seem to go to whoever can actually be offline when they say they’ll be offline.

  • Meg

    “…the idea that the article doesn’t stop at its conclusion. That it continues to evolve and change after publication.” I find myself gravitating to publications where, either by medium or editorial choice, the article doesn’t change (with the exception of corrections like “The article incorrectly stated that Meg is a librarian. She is an underwater basket weaver.”). Once it’s out, it’s out. Then, I really enjoy – luxuriate in! – the time and space to think about it for myself before a wave of well-linked interpretation and spicy hot takes overwhelms me. It’s nice to be able to participate in the marketplace of ideas if I want to, like right now. But I have lately become warier of the line between participation and someone telling me what (or worse, how) to think – or at least more aware of the pace at which media wants me to make up my mind about whatever article. Is EIC burn out contagious? Should I probably just read print newspapers and books and stuff and not whine about something I myself can control? In other news, I don’t comment places much, but I’m a fan, and MR has brought a lot of color, of all kinds, into my life – grazie mille!

    • Liza

      I love your comment so much, even though I think I might totally disagree with you. 🙂 I love this idea of long, luxurious time spent with good writing.

      But… thinking about my own voracious reading appetite, much of it is fueled by wanting to expand the story. In a book, it often includes finding something on the map, looking up pictures, reading a Wikipedia entry, and very often, reading more works by the same author.

      And in my online reading, I find myself drawn mostly to places with thoughtful, moderated comments sections (NYT, MR, Jezebel to name a few.) When a story strikes me, I often find myself researching the people involved, reading what other people have to say about a story, seeking out current updates or reaction pieces.

      The reason I put my comment as a response to your comment is that I think we may both be driven by the same thing – a respect and a desire for thoughtful writing and immersive storytelling. Which is super cool, I think. 🙂

  • Willa Konefał Davis

    This is not quite the point of your article, but does anyone else really miss how Jezebel used to be? It was the “investigative”/experimental(?) journalism pieces–“My 14-Hour Search for the End of TGI Friday’s Endless Appetizers” (so funny!!) ; “‘I Can’t Get Over How Bad It Was’: A Lisa Vanderpump Restaurant Crawl”; and the user submitted compilations such as “Behind Closed Ovens”, tales from restaurant workers– that truly drew me in (Ok I have more depth than this in general) to reading things on the internet that were not the actual news. This also lead me to Man Repeller, which has become my favorite place to consume content, and now fulfills my need to read about people doing funny things over a period of time for a story.

    Since then, the content that Jezebel produces has gone way down. It seems like they are only allowed to talk about celebrities and politics now. I enjoy both of those topics, but it really seems like the writers are more limited now, and can’t do fun investigative pieces anymore. And they’re my favorite 🙁 Also I really feel bad for the writers having to act excited/sassy about the same topics over and over. Sorry Jezebel, I’m just not that into you.

    • I Can’t Get Over How Bad It Was’: A Lisa Vanderpump Restaurant Crawl is easily one of my favorite pieces of journalism EVER.

      I was hoping this article would touch a little more on how most mainstream websites (not Man Repeller) only seem to be allowed to post click-baity articles vs the original content we used to see.

      • Leslie Price

        I think there are a lot of reasons for that. I can’t speak for other sites and their strategies, but there’s a constant need in digital media to drive traffic, often with limited staffing or resources. Perhaps those sites also do more in-depth stories or researched pieces, but they lean on click bait to get traffic? It’s hard because well-researched, reported pieces are very expensive to produce — and then some salacious, garbage content about a celebrity will get like double or triple the traffic.

        • Thanks for the response! I totally get that good content costs (time and money). Seems like media has gone the way of fast fashion, people want constant newness and they want it now. I’m just glad sites like Man Repeller manage to put out interesting and fresh content with it’s own unique voice.

  • I personally feel like I’m having media burnout in generally and even social media burn out. The never-ending clickable links to news items or articles that helped to create your ADD. And you’re telling me I have to post a photo to Instagram every day for the rest of my life? I’m doing my best to enjoy the few things that I read but not to over do it, and to cut out social media little by little.

    http://www.shessobright.com

    • Love your site! I went to Iceland, too! Speaking of social, I use it more now as a bookmark. For example, I followed you on Insta so I could remember to read your website. I have social media burnout right now too, and right now that’s the only getting me through! Thank you for your vulnerability.

      • Thanks for reading my stuff Erin! Yeah, it’s been too much lately, and I’ve heard from a lot of bloggers who are feeling similarly. Instagram was supposed to be more of a creative outlet and now it’s overdone and mainly a marketing platform. It’s amazing how much time you get back in your day by not checking things. Deleting facebook from my phone was a big relief and I didn’t miss it!

  • Anne Dyer

    I’m just burned out by the conversation that is exhaustingly perpetuated by main stream magazines and bloggers in general (MR not included which is why it’s one of the only I read.) Finding something new to talk about when you’re expected to post 3x a day is tough. Maybe less is more? Perhaps we don’t all need to read a life changing article morning, noon and night? I’m burned out by how I’m supposed to be a better mom, how to cook healthy, gluten free meals for my family, why I should not lose my sex appeal. God forbid I do that. My new mantra is – sit in silence and get the fuck off the internet every once in a while.

  • I love that this article is kind of journalistically metafiction. Writing an article about writing articles and that you can actually see what you’re speaking about in real form of the article presented. Like expanding the scope of the article including discussions about how to form the article *within* the presented “end product” itself.

  • I’ve missed these raw organic conversations from the MR team! Would love to see more of these on the site soon.

    I think media gives off the notion that editor’s have to always be on, and by on I mean keeping up with culture, politics, fashion etc. In this way it’s constant evolvement like Leandra mentioned. With something growing so quickly, how often do you make time to breathe? No doubt this leads to inevitable burnout.

  • theresa

    my favorite reaction when i tell people i’m a writing & communication double major w/ minor in digital media is the “wow”– and not the “oh shit, she’s so smart” wow. nope, i get the “wow” that comes with raised eyebrows and just a touch of concern in the voice that reads as, “good god, does this kid know what she’s getting into?” (does anyone, ever, know what they’re getting into?) this observation is frequently followed by some comment about how the “industry” is changing/difficult/different, or, my personal favorite, “dead.” (as if you can kill the media. many have tried; none have succeeded.) and of course they’re not wrong- but isn’t part of the draw being challenged to adapt to that landscape as it changes? or even better: shape it yourself.

    maybe i’m romanticizing it all- for god’s sake, i’m just a junior in college who can’t even legally drink and thinks that The Cheesecake Factory is fine dining. still, i’ve always loved writing because of how interpretive and non-concrete it is- more so than, say, a multiple-choice test. i like to think that the industry that harbors such craft is, too.

    my response to people who opt to question my major/intended career field is, “yeah, so… we’ll see.”

    we’ll see.

  • Hannah

    Great conversation. Media is truly a grind and a half. I work at a digital marketing agency and I struggle with being so immersed in the industry day in and day out because not only is it part of our work lives, media is a part of our personal lives too. It becomes difficult to turn off.

    Leandra’s point about the “unknown” plagues my clients every day. They can’t find fulfillment in the digital space because they haven’t yet been able to evolve with their customers. I think that the way we communicate through media has uncovered that a harmonious relationship between brand and customer involves trust and honesty, better known as the buzzword, “authenticity”. This is a hard pill to swallow for some. I think there needs to be a review of the definition of the word, because some just refuse to do the work to earn the trust. Instead they clog up our feeds.

    Those leading the way in this vast digital landscape we find ourselves in should keep writing upwards and onwards to continue connecting with people in interesting ways, this of course includes MR. We’ll all learn from each other and grow and hopefully keep our sanity along the way.

  • Bo

    This conversation kind of touches on a train of thought I’ve been boarding quite frequently lately. It seems like there’s so much more stuff available online these days than even, say, 5 years ago, let alone 20 – but I doubt the public’s appetite to read it has expanded at the same rate. For one, I’m just, I don’t know, sick of all the news and editorial we’re meant to keep on top of. Says who? What happens if we *don’t* drink it all in incessantly? I don’t reap anything major from absorbing a huge amount of content online, because most of it’s useless half a day hence when the next whatever comes up. In relation to this specific chat, I have to question why do we expect so much of editors/editorial staff all the time when we only want so much from media? (That being said, I make a point of visiting MR every day – but I’d still do so even if it only posted one new thing a day! That’s the beauty of #quality #content I guess)

  • kforkarli

    In a team like MR, do you think you could take a sabbatical of sorts, Leandra, if the opportunity arose?

  • Lou Boom

    I am very happy and thankful to see the way MR covers, and normalizes, mental health.

    What stood out to me in this article, however, was the thought on how an article “…continues to evolve and change after publication.” I have been really annoyed at the way the News, or any kind of (written) information, has become so absolute. As though we cannot allow a writer to propose an idea or simply voice a though she hopes to grow (together). I feel that the amazing resources of knowledge we have, through the brains writing, the brains reading, the brains wondering, can’t be accessed because a piece of mind we put forward will be ripped apart and one’s thought be called ‘wrong’. If those that criticize could change their voice to add to an idea or thought, we could be so much more. Imagine rerouting all the energy that goes into calling someone wrong (and often stupid) and using it to actually work out an agreement, a thesis, to grow a conversation, or simply supporting someone in forming an opinion. Maybe just making sure more than one side is being heard. Wouldn’t that be nice?

    • Lou Boom

      I’d like to add that i really enjoy finding this honesty, kindness and truthfulness in MR-articles and the comments to go with them. (:

  • Leslie, this idea of working around a current “conversation,” and exploring all of it’s offshoots, is how I like to get my information. It’s a bit akin to going down the rabbit hole, but with a clearer, more structured path. I’m wondering if it also provides a way to break up a lot of one-sitting content, into more digestible pieces (although I love a good, long story). Leandra, MR puts out SO much content. Maybe you could pull it back somehow, and create something like a community board sort of thing where readers post on a topic–sort of an Instagram within your site. As an industry leader, you can continue to forge your own path–you’re right to follow your gut. This is such a great site because you write about, and your readers are simpatico to, truly unique ideas. I think about how long ago you were the first to try out tying a scarf around your wrist, putting a bra over a t-shirt, and layering, layering. Smart women walk with you in your lead and your POV.

  • Karolina

    As a consumer, I definitely suffer from media burnout. I’m sick of so much writing being crap about celebrities. I want to hear individuals perspectives, I like wit and humor. So tired of the focus on whatever a Jenner or other supermodel is doing.

    • Sabletoothtigre

      We hate writing about that too — it’s just that that’s what gets traffic, which keeps the sites running. Everyone stop clicking those stories and then we don’t be made to cover that stuff anymore! Joint effort!

  • If you post stories to target a specific, short-lived trend, burn out is inevitable. If you post stories because they’re unique, potentially unpopular, yet creative, honest, different and have unique PERSONALITY and, soul to to them… That’s when you get good content, and creativity will snowball and people will be interested in your voice.

    I agree, it’s gut. It takes a hardworking person and/or team, to have honest conversations about life and/or specific topics. And then, it takes a trusting community, which MR has done amazingly well at building over the years.

    I’m no expert, but I can tell the difference between honest, genuine information being shared by a caring source and one that’s just trying to bring traffic by latching onto current trends.

    Thanks for being one of the good ones!!

    Meg @ its.meg-ramsay.com