I haven’t updated this site in ages, so here’s a quick rundown of updates: 

1) Medium sent me to San Francisco to profile Shanley Kane, the proprietor of the feminist tech culture site, Model View Culture, and things went a little sideways. I figured it’d be a straightforward profile and it turned into an ersatz Journalist and the Murderer sort of situation. Which made it very complicated to write about. But here’s my best effort. Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, but there were a few Shanley Kane haters who also, not surprisingly, appear to hate women in general and were happy to tell me the profile would have been done correctly if it were written by a man. (Anonymously, of course. They’re all cowards.) To which I say: if you’re a misogynistic creep and you’re unhappy with it, I know I did my job. 

2) What I’m working on these days: I’m acting as Editorial Director at Flavorpill Media and we’re doing a reboot of their events platform to launch this fall. I’m also working on the launch of a new media property for a creative agency. Between the two, that’s most of my work week, but I also have some smaller clients and am on the advisory boards of a handful of startups. And I write and take journalism assignments here and there if I’m interested in the story. And there are some TBA writing projects.

3) Just a minute to recommend some great books I’ve read recently:

Leslie Jamison’s essay collection, The Empathy Exams, is probably one of the most exciting things I’ve read in recent months. It’s meditative and smart and multilayered in that way where you can read a passage two or three times and unearth something new with each reading. It’s so well done and I keep thinking about it.  

I read Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State while on honeymoon. In two sittings. It’s beautiful and provocative and it reads like a great thriller, though I wouldn’t call it one. 

I’ve been a John Gray fan after first reading Straw Dogs and his latest, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths, is a sort of extension of it. Gray combines political theory, literature and philosophy to assemble an indictment of the modern notion of progress. Which I realize makes it sound academic and dull, but it’s not. (There’s a reason why Straw Dogs is a cult classic.) It’s an idea-packed book, best read slowly. 

Here are some recent columns I wrote for Medium, all fairly self-explanatory:

How Not to Be an Entrepreneur (Professionalism & Maturity: Not Optional)

What You Do Is Not (Necessarily) Who You Are

On Keeping a Notebook in the Digital Age

And Contently did an interview with me on launching new media brands, journalistic pet peeves, fiction writing and more.

I have a feature in the May issue of Fast Company on Groupon. It’s a look at where the business is now, and because I started reporting it months ago, I spent time with both the current CEO, Eric Lefkofsky and the former CEO Andrew Mason, who was fired in late February. From the story:

The Groupon that everyone knows is the one that sends its customers emails offering deals in their area. The daily-deal business is Groupon’s original foundation and, for better or worse, the core of its brand. A typical Groupon deal email is distinguished by its absurdist wit. On one for 47% off Versace Man Eau Fraiche Eau de Toilette Spray, the email says, “Perfumer Olivier Cresp conjured this masculine scent in 2006, the year Americans, as one, all realized they had peanuts up their noses.” There are occasional novelty deals in keeping with the company’s spirit and aesthetic, such as editorial employee Ben Kobold’s offer for a $100 bedtime tuck-in. Or the company’s bid to name your baby for $1,000. (Read the fine print: All babies will be named “Clembough.”)

“I think in the first phase of our company, we were a glorified mailing list,” Mason told me over breakfast. “We had a completely unintelligent email that we sent out once a day and we had a human sales force that was going around and procuring the deals.” The distinguishing feature of Groupon’s headquarters, after all, is not the reception area’s giant sculpture of a cat in a spaceship. Nor is it the Astroturf carpeting and giant fake trees that would not look out of place in a child’s playroom. It is the office’s long rows of packed-in desks manned primarily by the company’s army of salespeople, approximately 5,000 strong.

How to Deal [Fast Company]

I recently started writing a regular column for Medium, Obvious Corp’s new CMS/Blogging Platform/Content Site. It’s nominally about personal development but geared mostly toward entrepreneurs and people who work in creative industries. 

Here are a few recent posts: 

On Dilettantism and the Virtues of Pursuing Multiple Interests

The Art of George W. Bush and The Importance of Play

Why Developing Serious Relationships in Your 20s Matters

I mentioned in my last newsletter that I wanted to create an affordable consulting option for companies (particularly super-early stage startups) that don’t have the budget for a full engagement but want some specific advice around traffic strategies, launch, business plans and so on. I titled it the Working Lunch Program and described it thusly:

My consulting rates are at market, but steep for small startups, so I’m trying to figure out a way to sustainably work with very early stage companies (which is always fun for me) without creating a prohibitive opportunity cost for myself. One idea–shamelessly stolen from Soft Skull founder Richard Nash, who did a variation of this a few years ago–is a sort mini-engagement built around a working lunch. A lot of people approach me about giving them a bit of one-off editorial feedback, want me to look at a business plan, or want general advice about launching, growing or funding their product. They’re not looking for hands-on down-and-dirty involvement; they just want a gut check or have a problem to be solved. So I’m thinking of creating a program where the client gets three hours of my time (including lunch, which the client pays for, but I don’t care if that’s Chipotle or the Four Seasons) and I charge a flat fee.

Two hours for prep on my part (send me your business plan, product, etc. ahead of time) and one hour for discussion and recommendations. I’d charge a flat fee of $400, which is a slight discount of my lowest hourly rate for three hours. This only makes sense for a certain type of client, but for companies under a certain size, it’s the sort of thing I get approached about the most. So if you’re interested, email me at espiers AT gmail, subject line “Working Lunch.”

It’s worked out pretty well so far, so I’m calling it out here. One thing I’ve learned so far: plan on sending me materials at least 24 hours before the scheduled lunch or I won’t have as much time to review sufficiently. (And it goes without saying that all materials are considered confidential.)

 

(This is from my once-a-month-or-so newsletter, which you can sign up for under the “newsletter” tab.)

Welcome to the resurrected SpiersList, a digest of Things I’m Working On, Things I’m Thinking of Working On, Miscellaneous Recommendations and Job Positions That Need to Be Filled. (If you subscribed three years ago and are no longer interested in receiving once-a-month-ish emails from me, you can unsubscribe below.)

If you’re only interested in job listings, you can skip to the bottom and read up to the all-caps JOBS! heading. And if you have a job posting you’d like to see in the next edition of SpiersList, send your listing to espiers AT elizabethspiers.com

WHAT I’M WORKING ON:

Anyone who knows me personally will tell you I have a bewildering array of personal interests, most of which have nothing to do with each other. (Here’s something I wrote on Medium to attempt to justify myself: On Dilettantism and the Virtues of Pursuing Multiple Interests. Perhaps as a result, I enjoy working on disparate projects and am currently doing just that. Here’s a rundown:

1) My own project: content and commerce in the personal development space. I had toyed with the idea of doing another startup when Jared Kushner approached me about the Observer job and once the paper was stabilized it didn’t make much sense to stay in the absence of a recapitalization that would allow it to really grow. The idea was a high-end personal development site (topics: wellness, productivity, autodidactism, etc.) that leads with content and has a commerce function. My original plan was to book half of my time doing consulting work to fund prototypes and then go raise a small round of financing (~$1.5MM). That’s been modified a bit. I’m working part time on a monster of a project for a large retailer and am committed to that through June. I also want to see how much of it I can bootstrap before I go out and raise. So in January I’m launching a weekly personal development digest to experiment with editorial concepts and develop a beta list for the larger project. If you’re interested in the topic, keep an eye out. But in the meantime:

2) I’m consulting to a handful of companies. I’m on the advisory board of Flavorpill and helping them with a new product launch and some edit stuff and happy to be working with them again after launching Flavorwire a few years back. The other projects are mostly confidential, but range from A-to-Z product launches, web marketing, to business plan development and hiring. You can see a full array of options here: http://elizabethspiers.com/consulting/

3) Some journalism and writing. I really missed writing at the Observer but didn’t want to assign myself features or columns. It seemed too self-indulgent and let’s face it, no one wants to tell the boss her column sucks. So now I want to go back to regular writing but trying to figure out where I should do that. I just took a long-lead feature assignment that’ll scratch that itch a bit but am looking for a regular platform. I’m particularly interested in writing about the intersection of healthcare and technology, emerging businesses generally and, not surprisingly, personal development.

THING I’M THINKING OF WORKING ON:

Mini-consulting: My consulting rates are at market, but steep for small startups, so I’m trying to figure out a way to sustainably work with very early stage companies (which is always fun for me) without creating a prohibitive opportunity cost for myself. One idea–shamelessly stolen from Soft Skull founder Richard Nash, who did a variation of this a few years ago–is a sort mini-engagement built around a working lunch. A lot of people approach me about giving them a bit of one-off editorial feedback, want me to look at a business plan, or want general advice about launching, growing or funding their product. They’re not looking for hands-on down-and-dirty involvement; they just want a gut check or have a problem to be solved. So I’m thinking of creating a program where the client gets three hours of my time (including lunch, which the client pays for, but I don’t care if that’s Chipotle or the Four Seasons) and I charge a flat fee. Two hours for prep on my part (send me your business plan, product, etc. ahead of time) and one hour for discussion and recommendations. I’d charge a flat fee of $400, which is a slight discount of my lowest hourly rate for three hours. This only makes sense for a certain type of client, but for companies under a certain size, it’s the sort of thing I get approached about the most. So if you’re interested, email me at espiers AT gmail, subject line “Working Lunch.”

MISCELLANEOUS RECOMMENDATIONS:

I just finished Andrew Solomon’s book, FAR FROM THE TREE, and I think it should be required reading for anyone who has kids, is thinking of having kids or, really, has any exposure to kids at all. Solomon explores relationships between parents and their children in cases where the children have different “horizontal identities” than those of their parents and how those identities disrupt and transform those relationships. (Solomon refers to elements of identity that get passed down through generations as “vertical identities”.) Far from the Tree is an ambitious and epic work of journalism and Solomon spent eleven years interviewing countless numbers of families whose children were deaf or schizophrenic or prodigies or transgendered or profoundly disabled to produce something comprehensive and rigorously thorough but also moving and incredibly compassionate. It is heartbreaking in places and beautiful throughout. (I can’t remember the last time I teared up reading a non-fiction book.) And even if you can’t relate to any of the specific situations–though I can, so it probably had particular meaning for me–what it reveals about parental love in general and what we expect of our children is thought-provoking and incredibly important. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Now on to …

JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!

I’m hiring:

POP CULTURE & COMEDY WRITERS
Primarily comedy writers, really, but you should have a good working knowledge of pop culture and know what’s happening in the entertainment world. You’ll be writing scripted content for video and it’ll be mostly sketch-based. (Think Funny or Die.) I’m looking to hire in New York. Send me some samples of your work. (I need to see the funny.)

SERVICE JOURNALISTS INTERESTED IN CRAFTS, DIY, LIFESTYLE
If you’re a Pinterest fanatic who can write a great advice column about how to make a piece of Ikea furniture look like a Le Corbusier original and can think of 40 ways to decorate with twine, this might be the job for you. If you can do that and make it funny and entertaining in the process, this is absolutely the job for you. Also hiring in New York.

Other people are hiring:

FLAVORPILL: SOCIAL MEDIA DIRECTOR:
The Flavorpill Social Media Director sets the editorial direction for all Flavorpill social media content and leads the Social Media team in syndicating Flavorpill viral content, discovering content on the web to share with our readers, identifying and maintaining creative collaborative content and social media partnership opportunities.

Additionally, the Social Media Director will identify and secure Flavorpill presence in relevant conferences, events, etc., and act as representative of the Flavorpill social media presence.
The Social Media Director will also:
– Identify and syndicate viral content from Flavorwire to appropriate social media channels i.e., social bookmarking sites, Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, various forums and partners as necessitated by each individual post
– Coordinate with referral partners and keep up with relationships with 3 to 20 referral partners per day, via tweet/link/Facebook/etc swaps/Flavorwire posts, etc.
– Monitor incoming and outgoing traffic to Flavorwire and partners using Chartbeat. Assess immediate traffic ROI for each post via analytic accounts. If anticipated traffic is falling short, reach out to partners to close the gaps.
– Entertain current, successful partners (and new partners as identified) to ensure satisfaction.
– Act as the editorial director for tumblr account, with 12 to 20 posts per day.
– Work with sales team to identify, create, and execute social campaigns for premium advertisers designed to generate traffic, clicks, likes as necessary. Provide direction and guidance to sales on facets of social advertising.
– Identify social contacts interested in partnering on large scale events to earn a high volume of new subscribers. Limit Flavorpill’s involvement to curatorial guidance and social media promotion. (i.e., SXSW, Post Secret).
– Monitor current social media trends, cultural trends, trending tops, new/unique activities trending in the social sphere, and promote/discuss via Flavorpill accounts as warranted.
– Interact with and respond to Flavorpill user-based comments/posts via main social media accounts (twitter, Facebok, tumblr).
– Provide guidance and direction of overall social media strategy.
– Represent Flavorpill at relevant social media conferences, events, functions, etc. as relevant to social media and marketing interests.
Send resumes to me (espiers AT gmail).

HOPPER: EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & CONTRIBUTING EDITORS
Hopper, an innovative travel start up, is building a world class content editorial team. We are looking for savvy, ambitious and razor sharp people to help build our brand andcreate a refreshing, new dialogue on travel. The Editor-in-Chief will report to the CMO, and build a content editorial team from the ground up.

Editor-in-Chief
This is a unique opportunity to work with big data and leverage unique travel information to create original data-driven content and build a consumer audience in innovative ways.
Responsibilities:
● Setting the voice, tone and direction of all content created by the editorial team,in the spirit of Hopper’s brand values.
● Contributing 2-4 posts per day. These posts should consist of at least 1-2 originalreported stories or essays. All posts should contain an opinion and/or original content
● Hiring and managing a team of freelance and full-time writers, who will capture the voice of the site in original and commentary content pieces with minimal supervision and editing.
● Setting and executing the editorial calendar in 6-month increments, from idea generation and vetting to editing for voice, tone and clarity. The editorial calendar should reflect seasonal themes and be shared with the rest of the marketing and product experience team for maximum impact and brand exposure.
● Marketing content through initiating new relationships and leveraging existing connections to drive inbound traffic. It’s especially important to engage editors at other sites directly to secure content placement and syndication.
● Utilizing social media to market articles, pitch placement, and grown reach through relationship building.
● Encouraging and collaborating with the editorial staff on original idea generation. These ideas will be presented to the CMO on a weekly basis. The site should plan for at least one featured post a day. Each writer should be contributing ideas for feature stories during the weekly meeting.
● Ensuring that the editorial content part of the site is staffed at all times. Vacation requests are subject to the availability of the team. The CMO and editor-in-chief should not be on vacation at the same time.
Requirements & Experience
● 2+ years experience managing writers and workflow at an online publication

About Hopper
There’s more to travel than price, hotel ratings, and user reviews. Hopper solves the challenge of trip planning by empowering you with a full range of information, from practical to aspirational. Hopper is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the heart of Kendall Square, the technology and startup mecca of the eastern seaboard. Our ambitious team is backed by BrightSpark Ventures, Atlas Venture and OMERS Ventures. Our company was founded in Montreal by former Expedia executives who wanted to apply innovative technology to take the frustration out of travel planning. The editorial team will be based in New York.
Please send resume to Dena AT hopper dot com.

Contributing Editors
Responsibilities:
● Contributing 4-6 posts per day. These posts should consist of at least 2-3 original reported stories or essays. All posts should contain opinion and/or original content and speak to consumer trends in travel and intersecting interest categories.
● Capturing and executing on the Hopper voice, tone and style in each piece of content, with minimal supervision and editing.
● Marketing content through initiating new relationships and leveraging existing connections to drive inbound traffic. It’s especially important to engage editors at other sites directly to secure content placement and syndication.
● Utilizing social media to market articles, pitch placement, and grown reach through relationship building.
● Collaborating with other content editorial team members on original idea generation. The site should plan for at least one featured post a day. The contributing editor will pitch ideas for feature stories each week that have significant potential to drive inbound traffic through partnerships and relationships.
Please send resume to Dena AT hopper dot com.

NEWSTRANSPARENCY.COM: EDITOR/ENTREPRENEUR
Newstransparency.com seeks editor/entrepreneur to raise the site’s profile and traffic levels. An extroverted/promotional sort of person who can attract some attention might work well. The ideal candidate is entrepreneurial, self-directed, passionate about press accountability and journalistic quality, web savvy, fearless, has some investigative skills and patience for details, and is excited about the opportunity to build NewsTransparency.com into a high-profile and comprehensive database. To apply please send a resume and a letter explaining why you’d be a good fit for the job to Ira Stoll: ira AT futureofcapitalism.com.

DEEP FOCUS: PROJECT MANAGERS, COPYWRITERS, PRODUCERS, ETC.
Digital agency Deep Focus is hiring for a variety of positions. If you work in digital media in New York, you’re probably already aware of their work and know they’ve done some really cool things. You can see their open positions here: http://www.deepfocus.net/careers/

That’s it for now. If you have listings for the next edition of SpiersList (probably coming out in mid-January), send them in.

Thanks to Columbia Journalism Review for putting me on their “20 Women to Watch” list for 2012–and in such good company.

I started at the New York Observer a year ago this week as editor in chief and editorial director of Observer Media Group, and it’s been a fantastic year. We introduced a lot of changes, launched several new properties and gained some nice momentum in expanding the Observer editorially and on the business side. Here’s a rundown of what’s happened in the last twelve months:

WE HIT SOME SIGNIFICANT MILESTONES:

PROFITABILITY: The Observer is profitable by a thin margin for the first time in its 24-year history. This is a big, big deal. Credit to Christopher Barnes, who runs the business side, and his sales team.

TRAFFIC INCREASED: When I got to the Observer, the Observer digital properties were getting about 890K uniques a month in total. Now they’re at 2.1M. I think our traffic should be a lot higher than that, and sooner rather than later, but more than doubling traffic with no additional budget resources isn’t anything to sneeze at.

BIG DIGITAL BUYS: The Observer is just in the beginning stages of building its digital sales team (led by Jamie Forrest) and they scored several big campaigns in Q3 & Q4, most notably large sponsorship and display buys from Jaguar and FedEx. Being able to move from small local buys to large national brands is important for us and sales is doing a great job of positioning us for real growth.

And we just did some great stories. Which is what gets us out of bed in the morning. You can see some of my favorites here.

WE MADE SOME NEW THINGS:

On the web side, we launched
BETABEAT, our New York tech site helmed by Adrianne Jeffries and Nitasha Tiku (and we’re hiring!) with contributions from Foster Kamer.

GALLERISTny, our visual arts site; helmed by Andrew Russeth, Dan Duray, and Michael H. Miller, and overseen by Observer culture editor Sarah Douglas.

and we spun off POLITICKER, our politics vertical, run by David Freedlander, Hunter Walker and Colin Campbell.

The Observer also now has iPad apps for Betabeat and Observer.com.

We also launched several new print publications in areas that have been very promising for us. Among them:

YUE, a dual-language Mandarin/English luxury magazine for Asian visitors to New York, edited by Chiu-Ti Jansen. On the biz side, it gave us a better foothold in the luxury fashion category and it’s a growing market. The first two issues performed so well, we’re considering an LA edition, and I’d like to do a location-based app to accompany it.

SCOOTER, a reworked version of the Observer’s Playground magazine, helmed by former web editor of Cookie (among other things), Peter Feld. Scooter targets New York City parents and the next issue comes out in March. It will feature a guide to NYC schools.

WE REDESIGNED AND RECONFIGURED SOME THINGS:

THE BULLPEN: This may seem like a minor thing, but it’s not. When I got to the NYO, everybody was sitting at desks with high cubicle walls–the sort of thing you’d see at a monthly magazine. We got rid of them, and it opened up the space, allowed people to more easily talk about stories and frankly, gave us more seating, which is important because we’re in expansion mode.

THE WEBSITE: We relaunched Observer.com in a cleaner, more readable format. Credit here goes to Hard Candy Shell (Kevin Kearney, Courtney Lewis and Dan Maccarone.)

THE PAPER. TWICE. We did the first redesign to make it more aesthetically consistent and closer to what we believe is the Observer’s original brand.  We modernized fonts and layout a bit and went back to justified columns. We also restored the cover illustrations that are a key part of the Observer’s identity. The paper had been doing a lot of photo illustrations in heavy saturated colors, which doesn’t look great on salmon newsprint, and in my opinion, made the whole thing look like a downtown alt-weekly. (Heavy saturated colors work well for alt weeklies because they’re sitting in boxes with scratched up windows and it’s going to be difficult to make out the covers if they don’t look like that. But the Observer sits on the news-stand next to the Post and the Daily News and in tabloid format with photo illustrations, we don’t look a whole lot different. And we should–it’s a different kind of paper with a different audience. So we commissioned a bunch of retro-illustrations for the columns (all a play on the Observer man you see on the nameplate) and killed a lot of the magazine-y whitespace that works on glossy paper and is completely wasted on newsprint. We liked it a lot better–and so did advertisers.

Which is why when we had to change printers (our printer in Brooklyn was going out of business) we decided to go back to the broadsheet format. (Mini-broadsheet technically–halfway between a full-sized broadsheet and a Berliner). Again, my opinion, but it feels more upscale and premium to me.

THE PAPER’S TAGLINE: In this case, we didn’t re-do it; we just put back the original. When I got here, the tagline had been changed to “Money, Power and The City” which struck me as cheesy and a little too nose-pressed-against-the-glass. So we put back “Nothing Sacred But the Truth” which was the Observer’s original tagline and frankly, also the reason why we all get out of bed in the morning. And, as one of my staffers put it, “It sounds kind of badass.”

All of this meant absorbing a lot of change in the bullpen and that’s difficult to do. We tried to communicate everything that was happening before it happened and I think that helped, but executive editor Aaron Gell, deputy editor Brian Gallagher and culture editor Sarah Douglas deserve credit for keeping everyone sane during the process. Including me.

WE LEFT SOME THINGS ALONE, BECAUSE THEY AIN’T BROKE:

The Observer’s real estate trade publication COMMERCIAL OBSERVER, has been successful since day one. We’ve tightened it up significantly (credit to CO editor in chief, Jotham Sederstrom) and it looks better than it ever has. And it’s one of the most profitable things that we do. Print is definitely alive and well in certain categories.
 
We also have several ancillary publications that chug along and do their thing: the twice annual HOME OBSERVER, the annual COLLECTOR mag (for watch collectors), various education and real estate supplements and our annual US Open special issue TENNIS mag (this year put together by managing editor Michael Woodsmall.)

AND NOW WE’RE GETTING READY TO DO SOME NEW STUFF:

New launches in the next few months include the Peter Davis-edited Scene magazine, which is being prototyped now, a new site that covers events, nightlife and the social scene in New York, and a couple of other web properties we’ll announce later. We’re also revamping Very Short List, creating a companion to Commercial Observer that’s a commercial mortgage magazine, launching some new newsletters and apps and looking to build in-house capabilities to do original video and re-designing Observer.com so that it works as a national property with an eye toward major expansions in the (likely near) future.

So 2012 will be exciting. And I think we’ll have a lot to show for it this time next year.

Elizabeth Spiers is the editor in chief of The New York Observer.

Previously, she was the founder of Breaking Media, where she launched Dealbreaker.com, AboveTheLaw.com, and Fashionista.com. She has launched new media properties for other companies as well, including Flavorwire.com, Crushable.com, TheGloss.com, BlissTree.com, a number of blogs for mediabistro.com, and was the acting editor in chief of GourmetLive for CondeNast. She was also the founding editor of Gawker.com, Gawker Media’s flagship property and is currently the editorial director of b5media. She is an advisor to several early-stage companies including Halogen Networks, WallStreetCheatSheet, Counsyl, Topsicle, Cursor, OfAKind, Flavorpill Productions and LearnVest. She was named one of Fast Company’s “Most Influential Women in Technology” in 2010.

As a writer, she is the author of an upcoming novel, And They All Die in the End, to be published by Riverhead. She was a columnist at Fast Company and Fortune and has also written for New York, Slate, The New Republic Online, Salon.com, The New York Times, The New York Sun, New York Observer, The New York Post, CBS Moneywatch, and Forbes. She has spoken at various media and technology conferences and been a guest commentator on CNN, Fox News, CBS Marketwatch, MSNBC, VH1 and NPR. She also teaches a new media seminar in SVA’s pioneering Design Criticism MFA program, and has guest lectured at NYU, Columbia and Duke.

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