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An Interview with Taylor Lorenz

Taylor Lorenz makes me rethink whether or not I'm really up to date on the trends. I should be a hip and relatable teen, but, truth be told, I had no idea that Instagram memers were unionizing or that Google Docs was the hottest chat app or what @BallerBusters was until I read her articles on these phenomena--- she's always on the cutting edge. She has inspired me to evaluate internet culture with more depth and to look at fads with a critical eye.

Even when I do have prior knowledge of the subjects she covers (like in the case of the famed OK Boomer article), her reporting is always insightful and presents things matter-of-factly, without any how-do-you-do-fellow-kids pandering or, worse yet, heavy-handed sermonic overtones. She's not out-of-touch, she's not above-it-all, but she also won't pretend to be a part of something she's not. It's Taylor's legitimate curiosity and excitement for her beat that makes her articles so compelling to read. After all, she was interested in internet culture before it was cool, as she details in this interview. When I first read her articles in The Atlantic, I was astounded by the respect she gave internet trends and the people that follow them. There was no "kids these days" rhetoric. She was never condescending towards her interview subjects. For the first time, I felt like the stuff I cared about and participated in was actually important and worthy of note.

Who are your inspirations?

I'm mostly inspired by other journalists, especially other female journalists, like Katie Rosman at The New York Times or Julie Jargon at The Wall Street Journal or Ruth La Ferla at The New York Times. Those are three people that I really look up to. Lisa Bannon, she's the Life & Arts Coverage Chief at The Wall Street Journal. There's definitely more that I can't think of off the top of my head. There's a lot of amazing female tech journalists. But those are people that I hope to be like in 20 years.

What work are you most proud of?

I'm most proud of a story I did last year on this influencer marketing platform called Speakr that weren't paying their creators. They were stiffing people thousands of dollars. I did a big piece exposing it. I talked to a lot of the victims, and ended up getting some people paid. In terms of stories that's probably what I'm most proud of.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would say not to stress out so much. Don't worry about being cool. I was very worried about what other people thought of me in high school and middle school. I wasted so much time trying to fit into other people's ideas of what a young woman should be. I really regret that. I think I probably would've found out what I was passionate about earlier in life if I hadn't cared so much about what other people thought.

How did you get to where you are today?

It was very much a fluke. I had a lot of internships. I started interning at age 13, maybe even 12. And I interned relentlessly. I had nine internships in college alone, all in totally different fields. I did political ones. I interned for an artist, that was my first internship. I interned at this video production company. I did a lot in fashion. I did all these crazy internships. I was an intern queen and a job queen. I've always had more than one job. It's really just in the past year that I've had one job, but I'm always doing something on the side. For my first three years in New York, I worked a million different jobs.

Basically I graduated, and I was doing PR for Ferragamo, and I hated it. I realized I didn't want to be in fashion, so I quit. I basically just took a series of temp jobs for three years. I was a receptionist, I was an administrative assistant, I did marketing, I worked at Gap. I was in a call center for a while. I also worked in retail a ton. During my vacations for normal jobs, I would work retail to make extra money. For two years I worked 7 days a week. I didn't take any time off. It was so stupid. There was no reason to do that. But I was so excited to be in the city and I really wanted to work.

One girl at one of my temp jobs, we used to share a cubicle, and we were both administrative assistants. She was obsessed with Tumblr and she was like, "You have to get on Tumblr." I didn't even know what that was. It was 2010! And she was like, "Just get on it." So I got on it, and literally my life changed overnight. I was on it the rest of the workday, and I couldn't wait to get home and be on it even more. I was just like "Oh my god, I just want to spend the rest of my life on this website." I would just make Tumblrs all the time. I followed a lot of people, and I got the impression that if you made a lot of Tumblrs people were interested in, you could gain a lot of followers. So I would work these temp jobs during the day, where I was basically doing these bullshit tasks, and I would just be on Tumblr like 16 hours a day.

Some of my Tumblrs got a lot of attention, and people started to know me from Tumblr basically, so this ad agency reached out and I ended up getting hired to run Tumblrs and social media for brands. Like, run branded Twitter accounts and Facebook pages for companies like Verizon Wireless or Chevron or Bud Light, stuff like that. I got really good at that. I liked that job a lot, but I started to think it would be fun to work in news. I was obsessed with the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail didn't really have a Facebook page or Twitter account in 2011, so I ended up interviewing with a publisher there and sold him on this idea of me doing social media for them. So I got hired there, and I created their whole social media presence. I ended up running a team of eleven. I was one of the youngest women in management at the company. I ended up being the social media director or something.

I did that for a couple years and I really loved it. I ended up working in social strategy for a bunch of other companies, like Refinery29 and Mental Floss. I worked as a social media director for several years, and I was always obsessed with the stuff that I'm obsessed with now, which is like internet culture, social media culture, influencers. But there really wasn't an audience for it, and I didn't think I would be a good reporter. I'm like, really dyslexic. I was never a good writer. My English teacher in high school actually kicked me out of honors English because I was spelling things wrong. I thought you had to be a good writer to be a good reporter. This guy Cooper Fleishman-- he used to work at the daily dot -- encouraged me to write, and report on stuff that I cared about.

But the stuff that I cared about at that time was like Vine stars and YouTube drama that mainstream publications didn't care about. I couldn't get a job writing full time about the stuff that I wanted to because no one would hire me. I tried to get hired everywhere. I interviewed at BuzzFeed. I interviewed at Business Insider. I got Business Insider to hire me, but then they put me on syndication. Basically, I tried so many times to be a reporter and it just wasn't working out. I was making more money as a social media strategist anyway, so I kept doing that. I took a job at The Hill in 2016, doing social stuff for them.

Basically, my job was to cover the 2016 election, the aftermath, and Trump's presidency on social media channels. So I was out in the field shooting video, taking photos, live streaming, like breaking news. I realized that I was a really good reporter. I think it doesn't matter that I'm a bad writer, I'm a good reporter. Enough people were noticing my work on the side that I was getting more editors following me on Twitter.

Noah Shachtman, who's the Editor in Chief of The Daily Beast, was the first to be like "Hey, we want to hire you full time as a writer." I took a pay cut of over 50 percent. I sold all my belongings, and I moved into this really shitty, tiny sublet. I was like, "Whatever, I'm going to be poor for a year. I'm going to be a reporter for a year. And if it doesn't work out, I'll go back to social media strategy." My parents were like, "This is the dumbest thing you have ever done. You're getting older and you need to save money." But I didn't care. So I did it and basically as soon as I started doing it, I realized this is what I wanna do, I don't care how much I get paid, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

I loved it. I not only realized that I was good reporter, but also, my beat was becoming more mainstream, so I definitely started writing about it at the right time. More people care about the stuff that I write about now. People used to not care about YouTubers. I have a couple friends who are pretty big YouTubers and even in 2015, people knew them but they weren't in mainstream culture. And same thing with Instagram. People used to not care about influencers, and now they're a part of our economy. The stakes were higher on the stuff I was writing about, and I was able to capitalize on it quickly.

I think my path isn't replicable, in the sense that I'm older and there are some things you can't replicate, like how every brand has a social media account now. But I just think that there's a lot of stuff you can do, and you have to just look for opportunities and try to follow what you're passionate about. Don't worry if you're like 5 years out of college and don't have an "important" job. Don't worry if you don't have an internship in college. It doesn't matter.

What's the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part is getting people on the phone. The people that I talk to are all Instagrammers or YouTubers that have representation. I talk to a lot of kids, like middle schoolers and high schoolers, so none of them want to talk on the phone, which I totally get. Kids don't want some random person calling them on the phone. So everyone wants to do DM interviews, and I refuse to do DM interviews. I literally have walked out on multiple stories because of that, it's just a policy. You can't tell the tone of a person's voice, you can't interject, you can't ask follow-ups. I spend a lot of my day coaxing people into doing phone interviews.

What's the most rewarding part?

The most rewarding part is when you're able to articulate something that nobody knew before. I've really thought about where I want my career to go and I definitely could see myself in like a research position at a tech company. The thing is I love telling people things too much. I love publishing a story and hearing what other people think of it. I love writing trend pieces and articulating a trend, and being the first person to talk about a trend, and really shaping people's view of it. Or help get justice for people too, helping people get paid, exposing scams. That's really rewarding because you're helping people get fair treatment.

What's been the most transformative experience of your life?

I was covering Charlottesville, the Unite the Right rally, and when the car plowed into crowd, I was right there. That whole weekend I was on the ground reporting, it was me and this other internet culture reporter at The Hill. I was doing on the ground interviews and I covered that event very well I think. That's when I realized all of these other reporters were not getting the story I was getting, or not understanding the event in the way that I did, because I had a lot of context in terms of the internet. The political environment we live in now is so intertwined with internet culture. Anyway, I was actually interviewing victims, interviewing people at the police department who had just been through this traumatic experience, interviewing people who had literally been injured, no one critically injured just to be clear. But just being on the scene of something really tragic and terrible and being a part of that breaking news cycle made me realize I love journalism and I wanted to stay in journalism.


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