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Monday, July 25, 2005
An Interview with Elizabeth Spiers

Elizabeth SpiersWe recently spoke with Mediabistro’s Elizabeth Spiers about blogging, “new media” and online journalism.

Before Mediabistro, Elizabeth was the founding editor of legendary New York-centric blog Gawker and a contributing writer and editor at New York magazine.

On Tuesday, July 26 (that’s tomorrow), Elizabeth will be speaking at Makor along with Bill Grueskin of The Wall Street Journal, Bryan Keefer of CJR Daily and Anthony Perry of the blog ad network Blogads about the explosive growth of online media. Tickets are still available at the time of this posting.

In the meantime, here’s Ms. Spiers on the news-gathering process, blogs for career advancement and how Brian Williams reads FishbowlNY.

Our first real interview after the jump. 

As editor-in-chief of Mediabistro, you oversee a variety of media blogs—FishbowlNY, FishbowlLA, FishbowlDC, Unbeige and MBToolbox, to name a few. At Gawker, a large amount of your posts obsessively baited Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter and Vogue’s Anna Wintour. What is it about reporting on the media that makes it so well suited for the blog medium?

There’s an endless supply of media-related bits of gossip and minutiae and none of it’s really substantive or dense enough for a feature story or even a front-of-the-book piece in a magazine. Blogs are inherently short form so those sorts of items work well on blogs regardless of topic. As for the media and blogs, the media likes to read about itself, so media gossip works well in any medium and many publications have media columns for precisely that reason. (WWD‘s Memo Pad, for example. What the does media have to do with the fashion business? Nothing.)

Having worked in both print and online media, what do you think is the biggest difference between the two?

There are no space constraints in online and instant publishing speeds up the news cycle. Other than that, not much, at least for us. The reportage process is exactly the same.

Your first blog, Capital Influx, led to your positions at Gawker, New York and Mediabistro. Lately, there’s a lot of talk about personal blogs actually hurting careers, as in the case of Nadine Haobsh and JolieinNYC, or the Random House staffer on Myspace. What advice do you have for those who want to use their blogs for better uses than the dubious joys of the breadline?

The only time I’ve ever seen a blog hurt a career is when people are writing extensively about their personal lives or slamming their employers online. Having never done either of those things on any of my blogs, I can’t speak to temptation of doing that. Generally, if you want to use it to get a professional writing gig, I’d say develop a distinct voice and write about specific topics instead of doing a broad whatever-catches-my-interest blog. As an editor, I’m more inclined to use freelancers if they have some sort of niche expertise/knowledge or they have a voice that’s memorable.

What aspect of the changes you implemented at Mediabistro are you most proud of?

I think the redesign and launch of our new blogs has raised the profile of the site so that senior level media people are reading it in a way that they weren’t a year ago. A media reporter told me a couple of months ago that he had begun to think of it as a “necessary” site, and that was what I was aiming for. We see evidence of that all the time: when Brian Williams links to FishbowlNY; our FishbowlDC blogger becomes the first blogger to get a White House press credential and when people accost my boss on the way out of Michael’s to tell her they were having lunch with another editor-in-chief so she can post it on the website. And quantitatively, the traffic has tripled since I joined in November, so I’m pretty happy with what we’ve been able to accomplish.

The title of your Makor appearance is ”The Revenge of Online Media.” What is the revenge of online media, exactly?

I’m not sure there is a revenge. (I didn’t come up with the title.) I think there’s a sort of revolutionary feel to a lot of the stuff that’s going on right now, but it’s more an attitude than anything inherent in the medium. The web allows for more outlets for contrarian and dissenting opinions, experimentation and different modes of journalism, different modes of creative expression. I don’t buy the old media/new media dichotomy, though. I think we’re past that.

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