Today, I spoke to Emily Bazelon, who is a senior editor at Slate and co-editor of DoubleX, Slate’s site for women. She is also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and the Truman Capote law and media fellow at Yale Law School. In this interview, Emily talks about how she first got into journalism, the importance of controversy, global freelancing, how she landed her current job and where she believes journalism is heading.
How did you first get into journalism and how did you make a career out of it?
I worked on my high school newspaper, and then in college on Yale’s general news magazine, The New Journal. In the spring of my senior year, I had the chance to intern at a local alt weekly, The Advocate, and that experience really made a difference to me. I worked on meaty stories and got to work with extremely talented people who took me far more seriously than I deserved.
You have written some controversial articles over the years such as the Hamdan v Rumsfeld trial. How does controversy help your journalism?
Controversy is like coffee: It gets the blood flowing and puts me on my toes. When it’s about substantive debate, and real disagreement about interpretation of facts, then it’s all to the good I think. That’s not always true on the blogosphere, of course–sometimes, people distort what you’re saying, or just get the facts wrong. But when the dispute is fully and fairly joined, then the web is an excellent place to hash it out in real time.
You were a freelance journalist in Israel. What was it like covering a different country? What were the cultural differences for you?
I was a freelance journalist in Israel in 1993 and 1994, which was an amazing time to be there. The Oslo peace process was getting off the ground and that opened up avenues to all kinds of interesting stories. I think that ideally every journalist would have the experience of reporting from abroad. It’s so good for honing one’s skills as a cultural translator and for running with one’s every curiosity. It’s also an excellent way for young writers to offer up reporting that magazines or any publication that relies on freelancers often can’t easily get. Israelis are remarkably straightforward, which is a great thing for reporting. And sometimes I think it’s easier to have critical distance about the problems besetting a different country.
How did you land your current gig with Slate? What has that done for your career?
I got my job at Slate after freelancing for the magazine for a year or more–that’s one way to get to know a publication, and for them to get to know you. I’ve been a writer and editor here since 2005 and it’s been a hugely fruitful time. I’ve gotten to write about legal issues I’m interested in, about my kids, about gender in politics and law. I’ve gotten to edit a fabulous roster of contributors. And for me the balance of editing and writing has great appeal. I think I’m a better writer for my editing work–better at structure, at seeing the elements of a story. And I hope I’m an empathetic editor because I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the exchange.
Where do you see media headed? How can journalists prepare for the future?
Ah, where is media headed–the three-headed monster question of the moment! It’s headed toward the web, more and more, to state the obvious. It’s headed toward more opinion and less reporting, lamentably, I would say. The most important question, of course, is what forms of journalism will prove to be economically viable. Display and classified advertising are no longer necessarily married to news gathering, as they were for the last half century. And so the old models are crumbling. To be optimistic, for a moment, there’s enormous creative energy in the field right now, a real intellectual foment. And so I’m hopeful that really good work will still find it’s way to readers and listeners and viewers. Even if it has to find new ways to get there.
Emily Bazelon is a senior editor at Slate and co-editor of DoubleX, Slate’s site for women. She is also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and the Truman Capote law and media fellow at Yale Law School. (Yes she wonders if that god of modern journalism is raising an eyebrow somewhere.) She grew up in Philadelphia and lives in New Haven, Conn., with her husband Paul and their two sons, Eli and Simon, who she hopes will forgive her when they figure out how much she has written about them. She has a desultory relationship with Facebook but will friend you back if you tell her you’re a fan of DoubleX or the Slate Political Gabfest.