Tracy Moore is a writer for the website Jezebel. She previously covered the music beat for the Nashville Scene in Tennessee. In this interview, conducted via email, Moore talks about writing and reporting in the world of snarky blogs.
Q. Describe your work with Jezebel. What is your typical workweek like?
A. Jezebel is a feminist-infused pop culture site, and most of what I write for them falls under that umbrella, from reaction pieces to current events coverage to explainers about trends.
I especially enjoy doing good old-fashioned rants about the little injustices in the world (and luckily, there are so many). In a week, I’ll usually pitch three “splash” pieces — these are longer essays featured more prominently on the site — and turn those around in a few hours, or spend more time if it’s a reported piece and I have to track down experts.
Q. How do you come up with ideas for posts? Do you have free rein, or do editors at the site influence your choice of topics?
A. I scour the Internet constantly in my downtime. I read what people are posting about on Twitter and Facebook. I read a lot of comments on stories to see what really sticks in the craws of readers.
And I am lucky in that I am easily irritated about the world, which means it’s very easy to find subjects to get worked up about. In my actual life in Los Angeles, I try to pay attention to whomever the most progressive- or New Age-seeming person in the room is, because that’s how you discover that everyone is going to energy healers these days or that Bulletproof coffee is a thing (both of which I’ve covered).
I have free rein to pitch anything that is broadly of interest, and while most of that is related to women or feminism, the editors also sometimes send along tips or make suggestions for breaking items they want covered. From there, we may shape the idea a little on the front end by hashing out the angle, and I go from there.
Q. How does editing and headline writing work for the site?
A. I write both and save it in the system, and then an editor gives it a once-over and finesses if necessary for maximum appeal. After reading the site for so long, I’ve got a decent sense of headlines in the viral world, but that’s always up for tweaking.
Q. You previously worked for the alt-weekly the Nashville Scene. What are the similarities and differences between writing for that publication and Jezebel?
A. The alt-weekly sensibility — reported stories that are either interesting or important, told by voice-y writers — is not so different for Jezebel or the other Gawker sites. One big, obvious difference is the lead time on stories and the turnaround.
The only thing I did in an hour for an alt-weekly was a blog post linking to a reported story — often I spent three weeks interviewing dozens of people for a 7,000-word cover story. Now I might write 1,500 words in a few hours and only interview myself.
While Gawker sites also do long-form journalism that sometimes takes months and travel to report, the bulk of the content is blogging opinion pieces or covering breaking news with an opinion. And of course the snark is dialed much higher.
Another huge difference is the way stories are valued via the medium. At the alt-weekly (I left in 2011) it took some time to convince the powers that be that the blog or Web version of the paper even mattered (and especially that in some cases it actually mattered more), so stories you would blog were often considered an afterthought, a way of technically giving coverage to something without deeming it premium enough content to appear in the hallowed pages of the dead-tree edition.
At Jezebel, whatever gets a lot of attention is a “good” story, whether that’s a story about wage discrimination or Kate Upton’s boobs. Cute baby animals are as essential to the site as think pieces on sexism, and that’s a refreshing change to the old alt-weekly days of (sometimes) having to convince an editor that a softer, fluffier story also had merit because it was a fun read, or silly or controversial. This is not so much the case now, as many alt-weeklies’ web presence is similar to the tone and style of Gawker and BuzzFeed, sites that set the bar for newspapers in this regard.
And probably the other major difference is that alt-weeklies were/are hyper-local, whereas at Jezebel, the location of a story is U.S.-centric but largely irrelevant. Covering national news is also something I’ve noticed alt-weeklies do more now.
Q. What advice do you have for students and other people looking to break into writing for the Web — and getting paid for it?
A. I think it’s not so different than it has been for years. Writing online is still a slog. There are more places than ever to do it, which is great, but the majority of job listings out there are not compensated at all or very poorly.
If it is at all possible, be willing to do it for popcorn long enough to show you’ve got the chops. There is real leverage in that.
It’s also important to know what you’re after — to build a byline? To land a magazine job? A book deal? Different sites offer different networks/cachet. And just like pitching old-school newspapers or magazines to freelance, know the site you’re trying to write for, the tone, the content. And make sure your voice aligns.
And finally, blogging for a living means being able to cover a wide range of subjects very quickly and reliably. So being a fast, accurate writer with a wide knowledge base is a must. Bonus points for having an endless reservoir of feisty opinions.