by Chandra Turner
It’s no longer news that some of our best editorial talent are leaving media for non-media brands. The story has become a staple in industry press (well, we do love to cover ourselves!). And the numbers bear it out. In the Talent Fairy Hiring Report, 45% of editorial folk considered leaving traditional media for other content roles in 2020 — in return for more stability, higher pay, and career growth potential. But to many who are still working in traditional media (which I now define as both print and online publishing) making the move to a brand can feel out of your comfort zone at best, and at worse, like you are totally selling out.
There is something special about the connection you have with the reader when you’re creating pure editorial. But who’s kidding who? Those opportunities are few and far between these days, even within traditional media. If you have been following Talent Fairy and Ed2010, you know that I’m a huge advocate for unleashing editorial talent on the rest of the world.
My Q&A subject this week, Gabrielle Korn, agrees with me. As the former Editor in Chief of Nylon — and the first gay EIC of a women’s fashion site — Gabrielle recently left the editorial world to lead strategy for The Most, which is Netflix’s home for LGBTQ stories on social media. She also, as it so happens, has a book coming out this month: a collection of personal essays about working in women’s media, Everyone Else is Perfect: How I Survived Hypocrisy, Beauty, Clicks, and Likes. I loved how frank she was about what it’s like to work in fashion, how shit the pay can be, and where the industry has failed marginalized people. (The book already has rave reviews.) In our interview, she shares why editors tend to sell themselves short, what brands can offer that traditional media can’t, and what it would take for her to come back.
Talent Fairy: Congratulations on your book!
Gabrielle Korn: Thank you!
TF: Let’s start with the basics! What is your role at Netflix?
TF: I loved the pussy video I saw on Instagram today. Is that your doing?
View this post on Instagram
GK: Yes — and my team.
TF: Can you share the mission of The Most?
GK: We exist to create community between Netflix and our LGBTQ+ audience. We tell them about the shows that represent them and we promote Netflix’s queer talent. It’s basically an ongoing conversation with the queer community, on social media.
TF: Are there any other brands that are getting it right, representing the queer audience in a way that you admire?
TF: You have an authentic way of connecting with people which is why I’m sure Netflix hired you. Where did you learn how to make that connection?
GK: I started out as an EA at On the Issues magazine, a feminist journal that has been around since the ‘80s. I left there and started freelancing for Autostraddle; that’s where I learned to hone my voice. They have an actively engaged audience and getting immediate feedback on your work is really crucial. It’s why I think digital took off when print couldn’t; because you’re always in touch with what people want. I landed on my voice and how to write trending stories and tap into cultural conversations before I even worked at my next job at Refinery 29.
TF: How did you land your job at Refinery? That was the heyday of the brand!
GK: Honestly I applied through the HR portal! I had enough clips from freelancing at that point to make a case for myself. It was a production assistant job. The biggest part of my job was building posts in the backend. As I was working I would notice, for instance, that a slideshow didn’t have an intro or a dek would be missing. So I would write them in myself and then send it to my editor and say, “I thought I’d help you out by just throwing this in there.” I did that enough that they knew that I could write. Three months later the company strategy shifted and my department was suddenly responsible for 18-20 posts a day versus 3 to 5. That’s when I started writing for them.
TF: I loved how honest you were in the book about how little you were paid in your entry level roles and your frustration with the low salaries in women’s media in general. An excerpt:
In the women’s digital media boom of the 2010’s, writers and editors were not paid a lot, even while we worked for companies that experienced commercial success. Many of us were told that our youth was the reason why we weren’t paid more, while at the same time that youth was clearly what got us attention. To me, it seemed the model was to hire young, ambitious women, work them as hard as possible for as little money as possible until they burn out, and then replace them with a younger, cheaper person from the metaphorical line of people waiting for the chance to have a byline in a beloved publication. I was terrified of burning out and being replaced. — Everybody Else is Perfect: How I Survived Hypocrisy, Beauty, Clicks, and Likes, (Simon & Schuster, January 26, 2021)
Why is it so important to be transparent about salaries? What advice would you give other young editors coming up now?
GK: Revealing my editorial salaries was one of the scariest choices I made. But because it was so scary, I realized I had to do it. The advice I would give young people is talk to your peers. Your employer will always discourage you from doing that. The only way to combat the culture of silence is to try to normalize talking about money. The most helpful thing anyone ever did for me is tell me how much they are making. When I was at Nylon and was promoted from Digital Director to Digital EIC, I was making $100K. I asked the video producer, a man who worked under me, how much he was paid and he said, $115K. It was a really nice thing for him to do. Otherwise, I never would have known for sure that I was being underpaid.
When you are asking for money, the most important thing to have is leverage. That is information — averages or competitive salaries or what people are making to do the same or lesser jobs. You can’t just say I want more money because I want more money.
TF: Totally agree. Let me just jump in here to plug Ed2010’s Real Salaries posting board for comparing editorial salaries — and add your own anonymously. Okay — Go on!
GK: Women have no idea what they are worth. Something I used to do when I was hiring: I would have X number in mind and if they asked for a lower number, I would say, “But did you mean $X?” I wanted them to come in at the most I could pay them.
TF: How did you make your pivot to working for a brand after working in traditional media? Not to mention one of the biggest tech brands in the world!
GK: When I left Nylon in 2019 I needed a major life change. I was so burned out on editorial. Instead, I made a baby step and went back to Refinery. I got really lucky that Netflix reached out to me after I had been back at Refinery for less than a year. In a lot of ways my personal brand had become being a gay magazine editor; I was the only lesbian running a fashion magazine in New York! I mean if you google “lesbian editor in chief” I’m the one who comes up. But mostly and more importantly, I had experience talking to marginalized people and shaping a voice across platforms.
TF: What do you find is different about working for a brand versus working for a media company?
GK: Promoting a brand was never the main part of my job before. But it’s a really nice space to be in. I’m surrounded by brilliant people, a lot of whom are former journalists. Everything is different. It’s so good.
I think that I have always been interested in affecting change with my work and what is hard about doing that through journalism is that there is an automatic barrier to entry. Not everyone reads what’s on the internet. With entertainment and social media you can reach so many more people. It feels a lot more powerful in a lot of ways to me. Representation is so important. As the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I get to amplify positive representation for queer people versus just writing about it, and that just feels productive.
TF: Any advice for current or former editors who are trying to make that transition from traditional media to the brand side?
GK: People in media underestimate how valuable they are. Big tech companies are looking for inspiration on how to craft stories and voices. As a journalist, you know how to do things that other people don’t. It’s a matter of understanding that what you do can be translated to so many different platforms. Media is competitive and hard! We forget how valuable we are.
TF: You’re preaching to the choir! What would you like to tell folks today who are still in media?
GK: I want to tell them that it’s okay if you want more. If you aren’t satisfied with what you are told to be satisfied with, that’s okay. With editorial there is the glamour, the integrity, the gifts, and the fawning of PR people. And it’s easy to mistake that for success. It can be a trap. The things that look shiny feel like wins. But the purpose of a job is really so that you can support yourself. The perks don’t equal financial stability. And it’s really important to evaluate what you need out of your job. There are so many ways to be a writer. I don’t want to diminish the benefits of journalism. But I also don’t think that means individual sacrifices need to be made.
TF: That’s a great point. Let’s go back to your book for a second. Towards the end, you include a woke checklist of sorts for hiring managers and companies. Can you share what you believe needs to happen to get more LGBTQ+ representation in media and at brands?
GK: I think that hiring needs to be treated like an emergency at this point. There is no way to diversify content without diversifying who is making that content. And they should be well compensated for doing it. That means a top-to-bottom overhaul needs to happen. What was so positive about the reckoning we saw this summer was that as a result, women of color have been hired to top spots — Lindsay at The Cut, Simone Oliver at Refinery29, and more. But they need to have diverse teams underneath them, too. And a focus on retention. A lot of places think that they don’t have a hard time hiring diverse people, but it’s not just about hiring, but about keeping them. If they don’t want to stay at the company it’s clearly the company’s problem.
TF: Well put. Before we go it’s time for the Speed Round!
What buzzword do you wish people would stop saying already?
TF: What terms or insider lingo did you have to Google when you started your new job?
GK: Everything! It was a different language.
TF: What would it take for you to return to “traditional media”?
GK: So much money. And the power to make the structural changes that I want to make to make the editorial jobs sustainable.
TF: What three words do you think describes a good editor in 2021:
GK: Creative. Organized. Fast.
TF: Love it. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
GK: Thank you!
Chandra Turner is founder and CEO of Ed2010 and Talent Fairy. She is a talent recruiter specializing in the content and media space. She also offers personalized career coaching for media professionals at all stages of their career.
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Photo Credit: Lauren Perlstein