On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, BuzzFeed’s Doree Shafrir stopped by to promote her first novel, “Startup,” about the tech media scene in New York.
You can read some of the highlights from the interview at the link above, or listen to it in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That’s me, this is part of the Vox Media Podcast Network. That’s the first time I’ve said that, so I’m very excited. I’m here with Doree Shafrir. Did I pronounce your name correctly?
Doree Shafrir: Very good.
I’m so proud. Doree does many cool things. She is a podcaster, she is a writer at BuzzFeed. Most importantly for the purpose of this podcast today, she is the author of a new novel, “Startup.” Go buy “Startup” immediately. Stop listening to this podcast, go buy “Startup” and come listen to the rest of the podcast. Have we promoted that adequately?
Oh, that was great. Thank you.
Awesome. We’re done.
Oh, all right. See you.
Doree, do you want to tell us what “Startup” is about?
It’s about startups.
Yes. It takes place in the New York tech world in the present day and it focuses on a 28-year-old startup founder named Mack McAllister who has a mindfulness app called TakeOff and he gets kind of caught up in a little scandal. There is a 24-year-old ambitious young woman reporter named Katya Pasternack who uncovers the scandal and writes about it. And then the third person whose perspective it’s told from is a woman named Sabrina who works for Mack and also happens to be married to Katya’s boss.
It’s a satire about Silicon Valley that’s actually set in New York, so it’s about New York tech media modern day 2017.
There is accidental sex via Snapchat.
It’s great. I read it.
You guys should go and read it. It’s your first book. Right?
Yeah. It’s my first novel.
And you’ve got a day job writing at BuzzFeed.
How long did this thing take to write?
I started it in January 2015 and we sold it on a partial manuscript in November of that year. Then I had until June first to finish it and I turned it in on June first.
While you had a day job?
Yes. I took two months off of BuzzFeed on paid book leave to work on it, but I wrote a lot of it in like mornings and weekends.
You work at a big digital publishing company, you write a story about a big digital publishing company, and when you told people at BuzzFeed, “Hey, I’m going to take time off and write a book that’s kind of a satire about the place I work,” what was the reaction?
Well, it’s not a satire about the place I work.
No, but there is a lot of BuzzFeedy stuff in there.
Yeah. There’s some BuzzFeedy stuff in there. I honestly do see it kind of more broadly as a satire of the whole startup world, although my boss, Ben Smith, was like, “Oh, is this a …”
Is it a roman à clef?
“Is it a roman à clef?” I think he was actually slightly disappointed when I said no.
That you weren’t identifying specific venture capitalists or ...?
Or he wasn’t a thinly veiled character in the book or ...
He should be lucky that he is not a thinly veiled character because every dude in this book is kind of an asshole.
Yeah. Someone posted on Goodreads ... Roxanne Gay wrote a very nice Goodreads review. She said, “All the men in this book are trash.”
Yeah. Yeah. Asshole, trash. There’s a creepy middle-aged fake-supportive editor with two kids in Brooklyn.
That one worried me a bit.
Yeah. Why write a startup Silicon Valley book that’s set in New York?
Well, there is one ... The kind of primary very simple reason is that I live in LA now, but I lived in New York for about nine years and I worked at startups, I work at a place that for a very long time considered itself a startup. I’ve written about startups. I wrote a cover story in New York magazine like seven years ago that was kind of the first, “Hey, New York has this real startup scene post-bubble 1.0” piece. I’ve always been startup adjacent. I felt very familiar with this world.
So this is “write about what you know”?
This is a real write-what-you-know book, and I really don’t have first-hand familiarity with Silicon Valley. The only thing is, there’s been a lot of stuff said in Silicon Valley. “The Circle,” which is a book and now is about to be a movie, the show, “Silicon Valley.” There is a ton of stuff. I felt like Silicon Valley has been kind of pretty well trod.
It’s funny. If you write about Silicon Valley, whether or not you are writing about Silicon Valley and whether or not you are from there, you get a lot of bristly people say, “This is not our culture. You don’t understand it. You are an outsider.”
Here you don’t have that problem because you are very much clear in the book.
This is the kind of book, right, that you could have written 20 years ago and it would have been set in Conde Nast.
I imagine. Some of the characters sort of move around, and different technology, but same ideas. Young people striving in New York.
Yeah. It’s funny you say that because I actually did have this thought as I was writing it that so many of these kind of coming of age in New York professional world stories have been set in the magazine or publishing worlds and that felt a little dated to me.
Yeah. They wouldn’t have jobs.
Right. I don’t think that many 22-year-olds graduating college these days ... I’m sure a few of them have this dream, but ...
They want to go work at Vogue still.
Yeah. Maybe they want to go work at vogue.com, but the dream of working at a print publication I feel it’s felt very dated to me. That was another important thing. Katya works at a tech site. She doesn’t work at Newsweek.
Beyond having lived this, how much research did you do to make sure that you were getting the app correct? or did you just work at BuzzFeed so this just comes through your pores via osmosis?
No. Katya’s stuff was pretty much osmosis because she is a journalist and she is a digital journalist and I felt like I knew that world pretty well. But Mack, a third of the book is told from his perspective and it was really important to me that he feel authentic and also three dimensional.
If you are a hot-shit 26-year-old startup guy whose startup actually hasn’t really taken off, but everyone thinks you’re going to take off, what does life look like for you?
Yeah. That was kind of what I was trying to get at.
And so I did interview about a dozen company founders, men and women, and some women who were kind of startup adjacent on background. They gave me a lot of good stuff that I feel like informed the book in a way that made it a lot better.
Without spoiling too much, one of the big plot points here is that the hot-shit startup guy is sleeping with one of his employees. It’s clearly a stupid idea. When you are reading it you go, “Boy, that’s a really dumb thing to do.” You would think that someone would know that at this point. Did anyone go, “No one would be that dumb. No one that smart and self aware to create a startup in 2017 would be having sex with his marketing person.”
No, because it keeps happening.
Sadly a lot of that stuff has ... It has happened and it keeps happening. I think part of it is like when you start ... In my book, Mack started his company when he was 25. He had worked some before that, but he’d never really been a boss. He certainly was never educated in the right way to be a boss and he is 28. He is horny. He has a hot employee. He’s like, This is convenient.”
Without stopping for a second to think about what the consequences of that might be.
That part of the book I read, I got skeeved out but it was okay because it’s not my life.
The part of the book with the older employee going to work at the startup and she is not really sure what a Snapchat is, but she figures it out because actually it’s not that difficult.
But she’s clearly much older than the people she is working with and there is that whole discussion of what constitutes old. I think she is 36.
She is 36. Yes.
That struck a little close to home.
It gave me some anxiety. You are the second author I’ve had coming in to write a Silicon Valley book not set in Silicon Valley. This was Dan Lyons ...
Oh yeah. Sure.
The whole theme of that is what’s it like as a 50-year-old at a startup?
But it’s something you keep going back to over and over so just to age out of that world.
How much time do you spend thinking about that yourself?
I do think about it a fair amount especially ...
Because BuzzFeed’s a very “Logan’s Run” sort of operation.
Yeah. BuzzFeed, I don’t know what the average age is but it feels very young. There is a lot of people in their 20s. There is a lot of people who have never had full-time jobs before and that really does inform the culture, and as someone in her 30’s that has ... I see that and I see it from a distance. I don’t really participate in a lot of the group activities. There is a part in the book where Sabrina, who is a 36-year-old, gets an email sent out to the entire company inviting them to a pole dancing workshop and everyone immediately responds with, “I’m so psyched for this.” And like animated gifs and inside jokes. She is just like, “What the hell.”
My version of that they had an ’80s themed happy hour recently.
Right. And you’re like ...
At which time was I was like, “That’s fine.” But then there was a whole discussion of “here are some appropriate things you could wear if you want to know” with that. Then they would send out pictures showing what the ’80s looked like. I’m like, “Oh.”
Right. Because they were either like 5 or they weren’t born.
Yeah. That kind of happens a lot especially with pop culture references at BuzzFeed. Someone will say something and you are like, “Yeah. I was in my late 20s when that came out.” They are like, “Oh, I was in middle school.” But no, it is the kind of ... The group activity thing is something that I find kind of amusingly alien and something that was not a part of work life in the past I think. In the same way.
Yeah. I think it was unorganized. Right?
You just went drinking and there wasn’t an email.
You just went drinking.
A lot of the same things happened. Right?
It wasn’t part of a culture.
It wasn’t as ... I feel like we as a generation were not as enthusiastic as this generation, and so they kind of approach everything with this wide-eyed enthusiasm.
It’s all been up and to the right, too. I think about that a lot. Right? No one has gone through a downturn. No one has seen extensive layoffs.
No one’s had shit not work and if it doesn’t work you just do the next thing and it’s great. It’s great to be part of a positive culture like that.
I keep waiting for things to get wobbly.
Yeah. It’s funny because I remember in 2008 I worked at the New York Observer and before ... To be fair, this was before we realized kind of just how bad things were. But we did this big story called “Crash Virgins” about people who had never been through a crash before.
It was the same kind of thing, like all these people, even though the last recession had not been that long ago, the people who had just graduated college and gotten these hot-shot jobs were sort of like, “What is happening?” They felt completely confused and a lot of them had gotten laid off. In my mind that wasn’t that long ago, but for a lot of the people I work with, if they graduated college in 2014 they weren’t even in high school when this happened. Right? No. They were in high school, but they probably didn’t absorb what was going on.
No. Just the way I didn’t pay attention to the stock crash of 1987.
Exactly. Right. Exactly. Yeah, you definitely ... You hear some of the things that they say or just the expectations that they have that this is going to last forever.
Has anyone come back to you and they’ve read “Startup,” which you should be purchasing right now as we speak, and they have said, “Listen. I’m in this world. You’ve got this wrong. This thing would never happen. The VC would never say that to the CEO.”
So far, no. I am sure something like that will happen.
No one’s fact-checked you yet?
No, but the ... Actually Jenny 8. Lee read it. She got her hands on a galley and she ...
Former New York Times person? Former startup person.
Yes, and she tweeted at me and she said I had gotten something ... I forget what the exact detail was but it was something with the term that Mack gets. She said, “You got this wrong.” We started DMing and I was like, “Oh, can you explain to me.” She was very kind and explained the whole thing to me. I was like, “You know what? She is literally the only person who has noticed this.”
Was it a post-money valuation thing?
It was like ... Oh. You have the galley.
Yeah. That mistake is in there, but in the final version I had them take it out.
Because you got crowdsourced fact-checked?
I said, “You know what? Let’s not even correct this exact detail. Let’s just take out this line and I don’t think anyone is going to care or notice but they will notice if I got it wrong.” Fortunately I was able to catch it in time, but yes, Jenny 8. Lee.
Shout out to Jenny 8. Lee.
Yes. Thank you, Jenny 8. Lee. I was like, “Oh, I should have added her to the acknowledgements.”
I have more book questions, but first I want to hear from our fine advertisers. We will be right back.
We are back here with Doree Shafrir who has written a new book called?
Go buy it immediately. Speaking of buying things and books, walk through how you go about marketing a book in 2017. Who does that work?
I reached out to you a long time ago when I saw you wrote this, but you are doing promotions. Who does that in 2017? Do you do that? Does your publisher do it?
For me it’s been a combination. I am fortunate in that I worked in media. I still work in media, but I’ve worked in media for a long time so I do know a lot of people who I have not been shy about hitting up for requests to be covered or interviewed by them.
But is that the expectation, that the author does the work themselves? I know a lot of folks have a publicist or the publishers have publicists. It seems like that person is probably either not good at their job or more charitably overloaded and can’t do a lot?
You know, that has honestly not been my experience. I have two publicists and an assistant at Little Brown, who have been helping me thus far. The expectation is certainly that the author will use every connection that they possibly have and I have done that.
Did you provide a marketing plan when you sold the book? I know some people will do that as part of the pitch. Say, “Here is how I’m going to actually sell this thing that I have yet to write.”
Yeah. I feel like that is often used more in nonfiction but we certainly ... My agent certainly pitched it like, “She works at BuzzFeed, she’s very familiar with this world, this is how you can kind of position it.” I think that resonated for sure. I’ve booked a bunch of stuff on my own, particularly podcasts, that seems to be an area where publishers are not totally ...
They don’t even think of that. Yeah.
Yeah. They are not totally conversant in it yet. They are starting to get it. They are not quite there yet.
It’s funny. I’m assuming that the podcast crowd is going to be some of your best sort of listen-to-purchase ratio because the people are engaged and involved and podcasts are great and you should advertise on it. As opposed to a random hit on a TV show.
Yes. Well, TV supposedly actually sells books.
Because TV is huge. Right?
But sort of per capita ...
I think it’s more like the random hit on like a literary blog is prestigious, but probably doesn’t actually sell them any books. Yeah. My husband and I have a podcast called “Matt and Doree’s Eggcellent Adventure” where we talk about our attempts to make a baby using IVF.
These are all real things. You are actually doing a podcast.
Oh, yes. Yes. I’m actually doing this.
It’s great. You should go listen to it.
Thank you. We started the podcast because we felt like there was a need for it but then it kind of turned into also a book marketing vehicle and we set a goal for our listeners. We said if we get 1,000 preorders we will do a bonus episode. We got 1,000 preorders and then we said if we get 1,500 preorders we’ll do a second bonus episode. As of Monday we had gotten the 1,500.
That’s what I was listening to today, was the second bonus episode, I guess?
No. You were listening to just a regular episode.
Yeah. We did a bonus episode last week. That was kind of fun and you are right. I think podcast listeners are much more loyal. We also got a nice bump ... My husband was on the Nerdist podcast, which has a very large audience, and I was on it last week and that I know also helped us.
You’ve got your own personal newsletter. Did you start that with the notion this would be a book vehicle at some point?
No. I started that much before. I actually started that before the book but I’ve been kind of inconsistent about it. Once I knew the book was coming, I started being more consistent and pushing it and that definitely helped, I think. I actually get a lot of engagement on Instagram. That is where I seem to get the most engagement on social media.
I’m following you on Instagram. You are posting photos of the book?
Every time I’ve posted something about the book I just get a ton of likes and comments.
What does success look like? I asked when you came in, are you checking your Amazon ranking hourly? Is that the main barometer you’re going to look at for the next couple weeks?
Well, for now it is because it’s the most kind of instant gratification. Once I start getting actual numbers ... One thing I learned is that preorder numbers, if someone orders a book from an independent bookstore, that will count in your ultimate sales total but it doesn’t count as a preorder. Presumably some people have ordered it through there. Once we start actually selling I will get real updates. But for now, yes, Amazon is kind of the gauge.
You’ve got a full-time job at BuzzFeed, you work there, is the idea that at some point you’ll be able to become a full-time fiction writer and that will be your real job? If I was doing air quotes, I would do air quotes on “real.” Or is this always going to be something you sort of dip in and out of?
I think there is a romantic fantasy of becoming a full-time fiction writer. I honestly don’t know how realistic that is. I guess we’ll kind of see how this book does. If it does okay I think I will be like, “Okay. That was a cool experience.” Maybe I’ll write another book at some point but I’m not going to kind of give this my all.
Talk about the podcast for a minute.
I hate “talk about” questions. Sorry. But I just did one. “Matt and Doree’s Eggcellent Adventure”?
Yes. That’s E-G-G.
About you trying to get pregnant.
This seems like the kind of thing that you are sitting around, maybe drinks are involved and you go, “This would be an awesome podcast. Sounds like a great idea.” The next day you sober up and say, “I think we should still do it. It will be funny.” Then at some point you go, “Oh, wow. We got to keep doing these weekly.” By the way, this is you literally talking about IVF cycles and insurance and everything in between?
Yeah. We started it in October and we do it weekly. The way it started is, my husband had done ... There was an episode of the Nerdist podcast from ComiCon last year, last July, where ...
Your husband does podcasts for a living. Right? Or one of the things he does?
No. He is a TV writer. He writes for “The Goldbergs” on ABC but he also does a James Bond podcast and a “Star Trek” podcast.
He does podcasts for fun.
He is a nerd, like most podcasters?
He is on the Nerdist. They had talked about ... Matt had talked about doing IVF. I should also say Matt has always been — I think because he is a standup comedian, he has always been very open about talking about the struggles in his life and kind of mines it for comedy.
So you became part of that?
Yes, and I was like ...
Did you sign on for that?
Well, he asked me if it was okay and I said, “You know what? It’s fine.” Then once he started talking about it, all of these people kind of came out of the woodwork and I started seeing men on Twitter tweeting at him being like, “Hey man, thanks for talking about it, my wife and I went through it, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it.” I was like, “Wow. This is crazy.” I said to Matt, “Let’s do a podcast about this.” He was reluctant. He was like, “I don’t need another podcast, much less one with my wife.” I said, “Why don’t you put it out on Twitter? Do a Twitter poll and ask your followers if we should do it.” He did it and it was 80/20 in favor of doing it and so he was like, “Fine.” But it’s actually been great. It’s been very therapeutic.
Yeah. That was my other question. How is working with your spouse for an hour-plus a week? It seems like not great.
Honestly, it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like we get this time to just talk to each other in a way that you don’t really get. We are not on our phones. We are not watching TV. We are not doing anything else. We are just talking to each other about our feelings. Which is kind of a luxury and something that people pay a lot of money for.
Yeah. I’m trying to figure out how you ... Do you charge your listeners or you pay your listeners?
For couple’s therapy?
We probably should. Yeah.
It’s great. Podcasting is intimate and I’m listening to a couple talk about their medical journey together is about as intimate as it gets.
Yeah. What’s been crazy too is the number of people who email us who say, “I’m not going through IVF. I’m a single 23-year-old but it’s just so interesting to hear a married couple talk about this stuff.” That’s been really interesting to me. Also, raising that awareness of IVF or people saying, “You know, my cousin did this and I had no idea what she was going through.”
Is this meant to be a limited-run series? Like at some point you are either going to be pregnant and there will be a kid or you’ll decide, “We are done.”
Right. We kind of naively went into it thinking it would be an extremely limited-run series. Like, “Oh, of course I’ll get pregnant in two months so it will just be like an eight-episode mini season.” And of course now it’s six months later, we are still going. I’m not pregnant. Now we are starting to get people being like, “So you guys are still going to do this when you are pregnant. Right?” I’m sort of the let’s cross that bridge when we get to it mentality. I could see us still doing it, but then it becomes a very different podcast.
Then it becomes a kid podcast.
Yes, and it’s like, “Do I want to go there? I don’t know.”
That’s what Facebook is for. is to post photos of the kids. Get your likes.
Yeah, and there is already some really great parenting podcasts. I don’t listen to them because I’m not a parent, but I know people really like Longest Shortest Time, and there is other podcasts about being a parent.
I cannot imagine listening to one. God bless them.
I can’t speak to them because I don’t listen to them, but yeah. I also don’t know how I will feel about writing about my kids and this is the same kind of thing. I don’t want them to feel like their lives have been dissected in the public eye from the time they were literally born and we’re already talking about them before they were even in my ... I don’t know. It’s weird.
Yeah. All right. Let’s talk about less weird stuff.
Let’s talk about Gawker. I think Gawker editors, have I interviewed three?
A bunch. You are one of them now.
All right. I met you when you were at the Observer. That was post Gawker?
That was post Gawker. Yeah.
You got out of school, you went somewhere in the northeast?
Yeah. I went to Penn and then I kind of farted around in grad school for a few years, quit grad school, worked at Philadelphia Weekly for a couple years.
You are one of those people who thought, “Oh, I’m going to get into magazines and journalism,” when magazines and journalism was still a thing.
Yeah. When working at an alt weekly was a thing that you did before you got your big job at a national publication. I worked at Philadelphia Weekly and then I went to Columbia Journalism School. They were starting their MA program the year that I went and they gave us scholarships and a stipend. I know. I was like, “Oh, that’s a racket.” When people ask me, “You went to journalism school? Should I go to journalism school?” I’m like ...
The answer’s no. Don’t do it.
Yeah. I’m like, “I don’t have $70,000 in debt from journalism school.”
It’s the best advice I ever got from my entire undergraduate journalism career. Career’s the wrong word. But I heard a professor say, “Do not go. Take whatever money you would spend on going to school and move to New York or wherever you want to move. Don’t do it.”
Right. Right. Right. Anyway, I went because it was free. Then after Columbia I started working at Gawker.
Were you No. 2 in the order of Gawker editors?
We were right after Jessica and Jesse. Alex Balk had already been working there and then they decided to bring on Emily Gould and me, and they also brought on Chris Moni to edit.
This is when Gawker was still very much a New York media, sniping at Conde Nast ...
Yes. In fact, I remember there was an infamous — in my mind — episode where I wanted to write a post about Barbara Bush being drunk at like a tailgate party at Yale. There were these pictures that had been circulating and I remember Moni was like, “This isn’t New York.”
It’s not New York. No.
This isn’t media. I just don’t think this is ...
If she get drunk at Freeman’s you could write about that, but not ...
Yeah. I don’t even think Freeman’s was opened at that time, but ... Yeah. He was like, “Mmm, this isn’t for us.”
How do you get that job? Do you volunteer for it? Does Nick Denton pluck you out of obscurity?
The summer after journalism school, I got a paid internship at Slate and I was writing for them and I also knew Kate Lee who used to be an agent at ICM. We went to college together and she knew all of ... She knew Lockhart and ...
Her specialty was sort of like the New York blogging industry.
Yes. Her specialty was the blogging world and she knew Lock. Another guy I had worked with at Radar where I interned at journalism school, Remy Stern, who now runs the Post digital operations, he also was friendly with Lock. Lock had sent around an email saying, “Hey, we are looking for new editors.” Both Remy and Kate sent it to me and were like, “Are you interested in this?” I was like, “Yeah.”
You thought, “This will be a fun thing to do as I continue my ascent up to traditional journalism, and then one day I’m going to go to Conde Nast or wherever and get a real job”? Or did you think, “No. This is an actual career now”?
I think I thought this is an actual career now. I remember getting brunch with Julia Turner, who I had worked with at Slate who is now editor in chief of Slate, and kind of asking her if I should take the job and she was like, “Yes. You should take the job.” Gawker was still considered sort of renegade at the time and sort of uncharted territory, but it seemed really exciting to me.
And everyone in media read it so ...
And everyone in media read it and it seemed ... I was so enamored with New York and New York media at the time and it just seemed like such a fun way to get into it.
Then after that you were the Observer, that’s when I met you.
That’s when the Observer was still the Observer or a version of the Observer.
Yeah. Peter was still editing it.
It was like a sophisticated version of Gawker.
Yeah. Jared had bought it so it was already starting to change.
So you worked for Jared Kushner.
I worked for Jared Kushner. He had bought it in 2006 and I started working there in the fall 2007. But Peter was still in charge. Yeah, it still had the kind of DNA of the original Observer.
Did you get any Jared Kushner time?
It’s funny, two different former Observer colleagues recently have emailed me this picture from our holiday party from 2007 of me and Jared at the Waverly Inn. Waverly Inn? Beatrice Inn. It’s at The Beatrice Inn and yeah, I was like, “Oh, my God. Thanks for this. Please don’t post it on social media.” Yeah.
But you haven’t done ... “I worked for Jared Kushner and he is or is not qualified to ...” brokered Middle East peace and reformed the federal government and stopped the op-ed places.
I seem to be the only former Observer writer who hasn’t done that.
We can change that today. We can turn this internet post about that so you don’t have the shivers when you watch John Oliver talking about Jared Kushner or wherever else. It’s just back of your head.
I’m not a fan.
Not a fan.
I’ll leave it at that.
Deal. Then you bounced around, you went to Rolling Stone. I remember writing about you going into BuzzFeed. There was a period where BuzzFeed wanted, and my mind wanted, to signify that it was a real publication, capital P, and so it would go hire people who had some sort of track record. You were one of those people.
I assumed you and everyone else in that group would cycle out and not stay at BuzzFeed because it turns out they wanted you to make listicles or whatever they wanted to do. But you stuck it out. It’s worked out.
I was just reading something you wrote the other day about becoming a bad manager. You are a writer, you are writing culture stuff and then at some point you became an editor.
Oh you were you brought in as a manager?
Yeah. The piece I wrote was about wanting to be a cool boss and kind of failing at it, and finding myself becoming very insecure about not being able to be friends with my co-workers because I was now their boss.
This was the first time you’d been a manager. Right?
It was the first time being a manager and it really kind of threw me, but, yes, I was hired to be a manager. I was hired to be the executive editor of BuzzFeed by Ben Smith and so I was sort of thrown into that.
How do you prep to become a manager? If you were a writer, in my mind, you kind of work on your own a lot.
You flip that over if you are a manager. Right? You have to deal with lots of people. Were you conscious of that going in, like, “All right. This is a radically different thing. I have to re-think what I’m doing.” Or did you ... Because there’s a path that lots of people take.
Yeah, sure, sure.
Where you are a successful writer and then you become an editor or a manager, and there was no reason to think that you will become a successful editor or manager if you’ve been a successful writer. Those are really different skill sets.
Totally, and no one tells you that. But just prior to being at BuzzFeed, when I was at Rolling Stone I was an editor so I was not really writing that much. I was already used to kind of “managing” freelancers and there was one staffer who I managed, but I wasn’t really a manager in the same way that I became when at BuzzFeed. I kind of naively went into it thinking like, “Well, I’ve had managers.”
So therefore I should ...
How long did it take you to learn, “Oh.”
The first few months were so insane and go, go, go. We were hiring a gajillion people and I did not have a second to kind of stop and take my breath. It wasn’t until probably like a year in when people ... People had been there for a little while and they were starting to be like issues. Of course there were issues. Issues come up all the time at any place. I was like, “Oh, I don’t really know how to deal with this stuff.” That was probably ...
Did you raise your hand and say, “Can I get some help?”
I think I didn’t really know that I didn’t know how to deal with it. Then after ... I forget when, but they got a bunch of us like management coaches and did try to kind of teach us some management stuff. That was actually super helpful, but I think that also kind of crystallized for me that I didn’t want to be a manager.
“This is not for me.”
Yeah. I’ve done that a couple times with varying degrees of mediocrity and it does a couple ... I think it makes you a better employee if you ever go back and do it.
Because you are like, “Oh, this is what I was doing that was driving my boss nuts.”
It’s really easy to fix, actually, and it makes you understand why everyone playing is reading “Who Moved My Cheese?” or whatever the management tome is, because it turns out that it’s really hard and there is no natural way to get better at it.
Yes. It’s funny, I got an email from Peter Stern at Politico the other day and he said, “Hey, I read your piece about bosses on the cut and I just want to let you know that I wrote about when you stopped being an editor, when you became a writer, and I just assumed you had been demoted but now I understand.”
Yeah. I wanted to ask you about that. So you are not an editor now?
You went to become a writer and it seems clear to me why you did that, especially now that you’ve written about it. Managing, you didn’t like it and you raised your hand and said, “I want to write.”
Normal people don’t get off that path on their own.
If they do, they don’t stick around at the place they were managing.
Because it’s always going to be viewed as a demotion.
How did you handle that? By the way, were you the one who raised your hand?
I think that I had kind of built up some social capital there and then I also think ... Ben framed it really honestly and nicely when he sent out an email to the staff and just said ... He was able to point to a couple of pieces that I had written recently that had done really well and people really liked. I wrote this profile of this Instagram star named Brock O’Hurn.
Is it the Fabio Instagram dude?
That’s a great piece.
Thank you. Yeah, so I had just written that and was sort of like, “Doree wants to do this.” Everyone internally was super supportive and enthusiastic. But yeah, externally I’m sure people are sort of like, “Huh, what ...” or thought that there was something to be read between the lines.
Right. Because it’s kind of the equivalent of “wants to spend more time with the family.” Right?
You’re like, “I’m sure.” Maybe even you do want to spend more time with the family, but you also have been fired or whatever.
Totally. Look, I get that. When I responded to Peter I was like, “Thank you for admitting that you were skeptical, I would have been skeptical too.” Because yeah, if you are a media reporter, you’re sort of like, “Hmm, what’s really going on here?” But sometimes that is what’s really going on there.
Do you ever have an itch to go, “All right, I know I’m writing my Instagram star profiles but I do have some insight here. I should go tell Ben Smith, or whoever my boss is, how they could fix this problem, or that problem.” Or are you removed?
I have really tried to remove myself. It took me a few months to get used to the idea that I was not in the loop anymore and then I realized that that was very liberating. I have really tried to not get involved. I sort of like ... My kind of rule for myself is I only get involved when asked. If Ben or someone else asks me, “Do you have thoughts about XYZ?” Which has happened a couple times. Like I will give them honest feedback, but I’m not really raising my hand.
Most of the time do you go into the office? You moved to LA, you’ve done that New York to LA writer thing, found another writer and married.
Are you going into the office or are you sitting at home typing?
I go to the office most days.
But you’re generally writing long-form features, right?
Yeah. I’ve been doing some cultural criticism. Actually, on May 8 I’m switching teams. I’m going to the tech team. I’m going to be writing about the LA startup tech world.
Oh, that’s good. A lot of Snapchat.
Lot of Snapchat, lot of Whisper, lot of Tinder, lot of Grindr.
Oh, you’ve got another good book coming.
Maybe I do.
That seemed like a natural move. I start that when I get back from my book tour.
Well, good for them and for you for figuring out that. That’s a good move.
I’m looking forward to reading that. We did the book, we did the podcast, BuzzFeed.
What are we missing? David Karp profile. You can go read the David Karp profile. It was good. It’s my best achievement in journalism ...
Yeah. Peter told me I should profile David Karp when I was at the Observer.
I have excellent advice for other people to follow.
Not myself so much. We’re missing anything? Go buy the book. You’ll be listening to this on a Thursday. Basically the reason you want people to order the book now is because it will give you a bump in sales that has tangible benefits for you, if I order it this week as opposed to a month from now, right?
Yeah. The book came out Tuesday, April 25th, and it’s good to have a bump in sales the first week. I will just leave it at that.
Leave it at that. You can buy a swimming pool if it does well enough.
Sure. Yeah. I’d love a swimming pool.
That sounds really good. I’d like to have enough space for a swimming pool. Thanks, Doree. Good luck with everything.
Thanks so much, Peter. This was so fun.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.