New horizons in digital media: this week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade talk to Anna Holmes, the founder of Jezebel and current SVP of Editorial at First Look Media, where she recently launched the visual storytelling site Topic.com. They discuss her early magazine career, the rise of online media, comment sections vs social media conversations, and what it’s like to run a more reflective site in a world of reactive takes.
Anna: It wasn’t something that I engineered in advance…that this was going to give birth to this commenter culture. But a lot of the commenters then became writers themselves, some of whom were, like, paid writers, now. Like, one of the takeaways from that job that continues to make me feel really warm and fuzzy is that there were a number of women who have said that they…this sounds corny, that they kind of found their voices commenting in the comment threads, and having that community and then found the courage, maybe that they hadn’t —
Rich: Gained the confidence…
Anna: That they not only had things that were important to say, but that other people outside of, let’s say, the comment threads of Jezebel, might want to hear them. So that’s great.
Paul: This is a human fantasy, though, that everybody else is kind of incompetent. And that if you could just get in there, right?
Paul: I mean, we all do it, and then the minute you get a taste of what the actual work is like, you’re like, “Oh my God,” and then eventually, over time, you’re like, “Wow, I guess everybody kind of has hard jobs.” If they’re working hard and they’re, like, leading or doing something or making something, that to me, like, the amount of process necessary to get a thing out is…
Rich: Most people don’t come to that revelation.
Paul: No, they’re like, watching TV and going, “I could make a better TV show than Breaking Bad , right?”
Anna: Yeah. Let’s see you try.
Paul: Or it’s, like, I don’t like his forehead. [laughter]
Anna: I talked to him about my frustration with digital media at that time — which continues today. There was a lot of noise on the internet and on social media, a lot of reactivity to news cycles, and a kind of sameness that I was seeing among certain media brands to all cover the same thing, and react to the same thing, with the same point of view, or similar point of view. That there was a certain sameness to conversations online, and that I was more interested in exploring how to tell stories visually. Because what is baked into telling stories visually, or at least the sort of stories I want us to be telling, and that we are telling, is that they take a long time to put together. So they cannot be reactive to the news cycle. They can be reflective of the culture. They can certainly feel very relevant to an era, or a time. But they’re not reacting to something that Trumps said a week prior.