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.