We are excited to introduce a new column to Step Up that features established professionals on what it’s like--and what it takes--to enter their field. Today we are offering a glimpse into the media industry with Elizabeth Kiefer.
Name: Elizabeth Kiefer
Job title: Writer and Editor
Years of experience: 10
Elizabeth Kiefer is a writer and editor based in New York City. Her work has appeared in outlets like Marie Claire, Teen Vogue and Bustle, among others. She left the features-writing staff at Refinery29 in December 2017 and is currently a writer and reporter on the gender and women’s issues beat at Glamour. She is also working on a nonfiction book about women and the conservative movement.
In a few sentences, please tell us what you do and what your job involves.
I’m a writer and reporter (and sometimes an editor, too!) who writes about a wide range of subjects, from politics and the #MeToo movement to body positivity and fertility issues. My daily job involves a revolving door of tasks: coming up with and researching story ideas, pitching them, pitching them again when the first editor decides to pass, talking to sources, transcribing interview tape, writing stories, and then, since I’m a freelancer, making sure I’m actually getting paid. It’s a lot, but I love it.
What is something you wish you knew about your industry before you entered it?
I think I wish I would have better understood in college how little your actual degree would matter. You don’t have to have majored in journalism to become a journalist—and in fact, it might be better if you didn’t. But to have more technical producing experience in video or audio would have given me a leg up earlier on.
What has surprised you about your industry?
How quickly it’s changed. When I graduated from college in 2009, journalism was really just starting to really make use of the internet—what used to be a blog space has since turned into the lion’s share of how we get news. I think it’s also been surprising to me, more generally as I get older and have more years of work under my belt, how much this is all a grand experiment where everyone at the top is still trying to figure out how to make a publishing platform profitable.
What does an average morning look like for you?
Depends on the day of the week! When I work out of the Glamour offices, I get going early, snag a cup of coffee, hop on the train, and head downtown. If I’m working from home, my mornings are a little more leisurely: I sit down for breakfast, check my email, maybe hit up the gym before I really get started. But one thing I always do is make a list of what needs to get done that day, in the order it needs to get done. There’s nothing more satisfying than crossing things off that list!
What does an average afternoon look like for you?
Crossing off the list, a little lunch, maybe some time outside. When I’m in the office, I tend to just power through and eat while I’m working; when I’m at home, I take more of a real break. I’ve rationalized this by saying that I have extra time because I don’t have a commute, but I actually think it’s really important to know when you need a break and when a break is just a distraction.
What are some of your favorite parts of your job and what are some of your not-so-favorite parts?
I grew up in the Midwest, which is another way of saying that I love having conversations with strangers—it’s easy for me to strike something up. That’s the thing I love most about my job: I love talking to people about things that I don’t know anything about and learning their perspective, and then figuring out how that’s going to fit into the stories I’m trying to tell.
I think what’s hard, though, especially when you’re a freelancer, is that when you’re stuck on something—whether that means you can’t find the right word, a story isn’t working, or you just want someone to roll your eyes with—it can sometimes feel a little isolating. Luckily, I have a crew of colleagues and professional writer friends who I can always turn to. But in the end, it’s my story, and I’m the one who has to figure it out.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
This isn’t a piece of advice per se, but I think that, for women, it’s an especially important thing to keep in mind: My editor, Yael Kohen, at Refinery29 has been reminding me since the first time we met that I need to stop being afraid of entering the fray and asking questions that might tick people off, and to be confident in my ability to unravel something complex. The uncomfortable stuff is the stuff we need to dig deeper into.
What is your advice to a student who is interested in entering the industry you work in?
When you ask people if you can talk to them about career stuff, have questions prepared. So often, I get outreach from very nice, very smart younger people looking to break into the industry, who want to talk to me about… how I can help them break into the industry. I am happy to share wisdom and advice about looking for jobs and setting yourself up. But it’s important to be careful about what you ask of people you don’t actually know. The thing I tell everyone is to build relationships when you don’t need something, so that when you do that relationship will already be there.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
Twitter is really terrific for finding stories, as is reading a lot of history books and just paying attention to anniversaries of major (and minor) cultural moments. I also feel like your colleagues—and classmates—are a great resource, especially as a sounding board. In general though, especially if you’re someone who is hoping to break into features one day, another writer once told me to “pay attention to what you’re paying attention to”—especially when it’s something you become obsessed with. That’s often the best barometer for me to figure out what it is that I want to write about next.
What industry would you like to learn more about? Let us know in the comments below!