By Heather Taylor
Today’s political landscape is like nothing the world has ever seen before—and it’s particularly hectic for the journalists and writers covering it. The pace is exhausting, with breaking news being published or announced ASAP through every possible medium from CNN to Facebook. This amount of news saturation has been overwhelming and often incredibly disheartening, but Julie Zeilinger, politics editor at MTV News, believes that storytelling is here to combat hate. Ed got the chance to talk with Zeilinger about why people need a platform to share their stories, her own intersectional feminist media platform called The FBomb, and tips for keeping your sanity while submerged in political verticals.
Can you tell me more about your career backstory?
My career in media started somewhat accidentally. I created a feminist blog for teens called The FBomb when I was 16. While my goals for it were centered more on creating a feminist community and sparking youth activism, I ended up catching the attention of some successful people in media, especially women creating feminist media. A few became great mentors and I decided to try interning in the women’s media space while in college (specifically at HuffPost Women). Mic hired me right after college, and I have now been at MTV News for the past year and a half.
Can you tell me more about The FBomb?
The FBomb is an intersectional feminist media platform created by and for socially conscious youth. It started as a WordPress blog I created in my childhood bedroom after I discovered feminism and sought a like-minded community beyond my small Ohio town. It has grown exponentially since then and became part of Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan’s organization, the Women’s Media Center, a few years ago. An editorial board of high school and college-aged feminist writers contribute posts every month and we facilitate a community of young feminists via social media. It’s also open to submissions—any young person who wants to write can submit to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Throughout the course of a day at MTV News, what are you working on?
MTV News is currently in the process of transitioning to a new editorial model, so it’s been an interesting time to experiment with different mediums and approaches to the news. Typically, I’ll start the day by identifying the most pressing political story that is most relevant to our audience of young people. I’ll usually ask myself if there’s a young person who has firsthand experience who can better speak to the issue, and if so, will try to reach out to them for a Q&A or other collaboration. If the topic seems better suited to video, I have the ability to collaborate with MTV News’ video team and will often talk through ideas with them.
What are the challenges and rewards of being a political editor?
It’s honestly challenging not to feel overwhelmed and depressed by what feels like an onslaught of disheartening, even disgusting, news stories every single day. In just the past couple weeks, we’ve covered the rise of white nationalism, DREAMers put at risk, and devastating natural disasters—just to name a few things. It’s often hard to feel optimistic or hopeful about the future when you spend all day every day thinking about these things and talking to people impacted by them.
At the same time, I feel privileged that I am able to help provide a platform for these people to tell their stories. Now more than ever, I believe storytelling is crucial to combating the rising hatred in our country. The strong, courageous activists I often get to work with inspire me and I am grateful that I can play even a small part in helping them achieve their goals towards making positive political change.
What are your tips for practicing self-care?
It’s something I’ve honestly struggled with a lot. It’s hard not to feel like I’m doing the audience I serve a disservice if I’m not constantly up-to-date with every single political development and creating content about it. But I’ve also found for my own sanity, it’s necessary to disconnect when I leave for the day. I try not to check Twitter after work (too often, at least) and have made an effort to interact with people who don’t work in the political or media realms so we can have conversations divorced from the news cycle.
Can you share a piece that you’re proud of right now?
I’ve been experimenting with as-told-to pieces with young people who have witnessed and/or been part of political current events and I’m proud of how those have turned out. Most recently, I spoke with a Charlottesville counter-protestor and a survivor of the Houston flood.
Fill-in-the-blank: If I could interview any political figure, it would be ____________.
Elizabeth Warren (and Kamala Harris, and Tammy Duckworth, and Kirsten Gillibrand—I can’t choose!).
Heather Taylor is a former entertainment writer turned brand mascot aficionado (and head writer) for Advertising Week’s Icon Blog. She shares her thoughts on pop culture at HelloGiggles and has been published in Brit + Co, The Drum, and BettyConfidential. Chat with her about anything from SNL to the Pillsbury Doughboy on Twitter @howveryheather.