The Jillian Goodman Interview

Taylor Smith interviews the founder and editor in chief of Mary Review.

Jillian Goodman

By Taylor Smith

Name: Jillian Goodman
Occupation: Editor at Bloomberg Businesweek, Founder/Editor in Chief at Mary Review
Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska
Current Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Age: 29

In August 2014, Jillian Goodman had a bold idea. Goodman, currently an editor at Bloomberg Businessweek, always knew that she’d like to create something of her own one day but for a time wasn’t quite sure what form it would take. When the time seemed right two summers ago, she turned to the VIDA statistics on women’s representation in top magazines that she’d followed for years. Though the numbers struck her as “kind of heinous,” the publications were still among those she respected and would want to work for. “I decided that I wanted to create something that would not necessarily emulate those magazines, but be a place for those kinds of stories, that maybe women just weren’t getting into.”

Goodman’s idea became Mary Review, a magazine written, edited, and produced exclusively by women. After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015, Mary’s website launched this summer. The first issue, available in print in September, features an investigative longform on the sexual harassment and assault to which women truckers are often subjected, and the obstacles they face in seeking justice. The piece was made possible by a grant and support from the Investigative Fund.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jillian and pick her brain about her career, Mary, and why a project like this publication is still necessary in 2016. As for that last point, she points to a relative dearth of female mentorship in journalism, recalling seeing male counterparts given more guidance and opportunities for trial and error: “I definitely have seen a lot of dudes I know—and like and respect—finding mentors, it seemed to me, really easily… What primarily sticks out in my mind is being like, ‘I want a wing, I know lots of people who want wings!’ But [for women] it’s harder to find.’”

Amplifying women’s voices is paramount behind the scenes, but she aims to cast a wider net in her readership. Though she says, somewhat jokingly, that Virginia Woolf—whose A Room of One’s Own was part of the inspiration behind Mary—would be the ideal reader, Goodman hopes everyone can find stimulation within Mary’s pages. “I wanted to find stories that had women as their central characters,” she says, “but that were not ‘Woman does X.’ That can’t be the point of the story.” And if some top male editors see Mary’s stories and recall those bylines the next time they need to assign a piece, that wouldn’t hurt either.

What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?

Depending on what you consider a “first job,” it was either an internship at New York magazine or a job as the online producer of New York‘s Vulture blog. Either way, it came about because of a conversation I had in the dining hall of my college dorm. One of the resident grad students asked me what I wanted to do after school, and I told him that working at New York was my dream; he said that one of his friends from undergrad was an editor there and offered to send in my resume. I followed up about a million times and finally got a phone interview, by which point I was already overdue to tell another magazine yes or no on whether I would take an internship with them. We finished up the call, and I said, “So, do you think I can work there?” which is not something I recommend ever doing! Luckily, instead of saying, “I’ll get back to you never,” the very nice person on the other end of the phone said, “Yeah, I think we can have you start in January.” She’s now a good friend of mine! Going to a school like Harvard really opens doors, which is great, but either way, persistence is so important. If you think someone should be listening to you, keep trying until they do.

Can you describe your path to where you are now professionally? What traits and steps have you taken to get there?

Describing a “path” is really hard, and in retrospect it makes everything sound as though it all naturally led to the next thing and the next thing. When you’re struggling to figure out what the next thing is, I find that hearing about someone’s “path” can be very intimidating! I worked hard, talked to people, pursued basically every opportunity that popped up in front of me—the vast majority of which have not worked out, by the way—or that I could create for myself. I tried to learn from my mistakes, and keep doing that over and over. I’ve always been a long-term goal-oriented person, which I think has helped me: once I decided I wanted to work in this world, it kind of stopped being an option for me to do anything else. I also just really care about what I do, and love doing it. It can be really discouraging for a journalist who’s trying to come up and struggling to get people’s attention. If this isn’t something you really care about, putting in that time and effort is going to be basically impossible.

What is the best advice you’ve received in your journalistic career?

One of the first pieces I ever worked on for New York magazine, I turned in a revision where I had taken the editor’s feedback more as a guideline than as a directive. She wrote back to me and said basically, “When an editor tells you to do something, do it.” Which is very true! In retrospect, it’s embarrassing that I had to be told that, but I’m glad that someone told me clearly and directly—and early.

Goodman quote

You’ve written a lot about business and tech—what draws you to those topics in particular?

That’s one of those “path” things that only makes sense in hindsight: I started writing about business and tech because I started working for a place that wrote about business and tech! That I’ve continued to work in business journalism is not an accident, however. What I love about business stories is that there’s a quantifiable reason why we’re paying attention to something—not just that we think it’s cool, but that there are actual dollars on the line. Tech is, of course, a fast-moving field right now, so there’s a lot to cover there.

What is it like working at Bloomberg, a tech-aware company, at a time when tech is becoming more and more important in media?

Bloomberg Media is a huge, sprawling enterprise, of which Bloomberg Businessweek is a small, lovely part. The section of the company I work for is actually very old school in the sense that we get to focus just on putting out a weekly magazine in print, which is beautiful and wonderful. There are people all over the building experimenting with different modes of storytelling and trying to find new ways to make the business of media sustainable, which charges the place with energy.

What is a typical work day like for you?

There are basically three things I’m doing on any given day: assigning stories, editing stories, and producing stories. With the assigning and the producing comes working with our art and photo teams to decide what the stories are going to look like, which of course requires meetings and planning and such. Producing stories also involves working with our copy department to make sure that we’re saying what we want to say in the best way possible. I’m constantly working with my boss on the assigning and editing parts, making sure that we’re finding great stories that are right for Businessweek, and working with writers to make sure we have everything we need to tell that story well. Then I go home and work on Mary Review at night or on the weekends! This comes back to that love thing: if I didn’t love what I do, this would be a nightmare. So thank goodness I do!

What is the most rewarding part of your jobs?

The editing part. I love working with writers and shaping stories.

What do you think is special or worthwhile about working in journalism in New York? What’s challenging?

In New York specifically, what’s special is that there’s such a density of journalists. The community is very tight, and you wind up working with people who become your best friends and drinking buddies, but also the best and most inspiring colleagues you’ve ever known. That’s also what makes it challenging though! It can feel kind of small and airless at times, especially when you’re worried about your “path,” so you have to remind yourself that there’s life in this city outside of the journalism bubble.

A lot of aspiring journalists have a hard time deciding between the writing and editing tracks. How did you go about that decision process? Do you consider yourself more of a writer or an editor at heart?

Definitely an editor. It’s not even a decision I really feel like I made. It was just so clear to me that that’s what my skills make me. I first realized this in an editorial meeting at my first internship in media, at WNYC’s Studio 360. The contributing producers were all going around pitching, and then the senior editor would say “Yeah, let’s do that. When can you have a draft?” And I just thought, “That’s how this happens?” The sense of being able to shape something was so exciting to me. I like writing, but it doesn’t excite me in anywhere close to the same way.

What advice would you give aspiring journalists?

Figure out what makes you unique and don’t worry about anyone else.

And finally, since RoomZoom is a site to find roommates, have you ever had roommates? Any wonderful or terrible experiences stand out in your memory?

Yes of course! My first real apartment in New York I lived with a couple of great guys who would hang out, watch basketball, and always do all of the dishes in the sink. My last roommate situation was a nightmare, though. I met him on Craigslist, and he seemed nice enough, but that charisma was a siren song. He turned out to be extremely inconsiderate and dishonest. Then we got bedbugs. I moved out after six months.

Taylor Smith is a student living in NYC and the summer co-editor for Friends of Friends.