Very Fine Day #22: Maya Kosoff
"The thing I want to return to hasn't existed for a long time."
Very Fine Day features weekly interviews with writers, creators, reporters, and internet explorers. Learn more about the people who keep the internet humming – and check out previous editions here. Subscribe now and never miss an edition.
“None of it was built to last. There was never a good business model for any of these places that either ended up folding entirely or laying everybody off and pivoting a million times, or selling themselves for parts to private equity firms. So I feel very disillusioned by media and I think a lot of people probably do.”
Maya Kosoff is a reporter, writer, and editor who has worked at Business Insider and Vanity Fair, while also freelancing across NYC media for publications like The New York Times, New York Magazine, Allure, and Medium. She has a Substack, a podcast, and a cat called Carmichael (who we talk about to lead the interview). Maya was also part of the small team originally tasked with re-launching Gawker before it, uh… imploded. (Gawker 3.0 is currently in the works).
We talked for 45 minutes about what happened at Gawker, how she found herself learning to freelance in the middle of a pandemic, moving away from journalism, and Syracuse, New York. There’s other stuff in there, too. Enjoy.
If you enjoy this interview and want to read more just like it, subscribe for free today.
VFD: OK, I have to record – I'm going to press record now. But why did you get a cat?
Maya Kosoff: I got a cat because, well…
I lived with my old roommate – who was a friend of mine from college – for like four years. And I took care of Blue, her cat. Whenever she would go out of town, Blue was not a friendly cat – like: Blue did Blue and didn't want to hang out with people. So there was no possibility of me adopting a second cat while we lived together, but I was also fine with that. And then our lease ended a couple of months ago, we both went our separate ways, and it seemed like a good opportunity to adopt a cat. And then this Instagram account that I follow for this Cat Rescue Agency posted a picture of this gorgeous orange and white cat with a little beauty mark by his nose. He was so cute. So I immediately put in an application to adopt him and it happened really fast. A week later, I brought him home. So that's how Carmichael the cat ended up living in my apartment with me.
VFD: Did you grow up with cats?
Maya Kosoff: I did. Our main cat, Grissom. He's a big Maine Coon. He was 17 when he died a couple years ago. So he lived a very long life with with us. But we had adopted him when I was a kid and everyone loved him. He was a big orange fluffy boy. And I really wanted to get back to taking care of something besides myself after the past year and a half.
I guess it's counterintuitive: a lot of people adopted pets during the pandemic because they were home all the time. But I still work from home. So I'm still here with him almost everyday.
VFD: Yeah, it's a weird transition, right? My girlfriend and I, we adopted a dog – a greyhound – almost a year ago now. Definitely in the middle of the pandemic.
I mean, I always feel kind of weird talking about the pandemic from Australia, because I feel like it's a completely different experience than what you went through in the US.
But over here, people are going back to work and we’re going back to work. And it's like: OK, we have this life… this four legged life that we've given an amazing few months, and now it has to be without us for chunks of the day.
Maya Kosoff: Yeah, be alone for more of the day by itself for the first time.
VFD: Yeah, yeah. So that's cool. And definitely not worth reading into emotionally.
Maya Kosoff: Yeah nothing to unpack there.
KFD: So you work from home? What do you do?
Maya Kosoff: I do work from home. I work at a digital agency called Codeword. We do all sorts of editorial stuff. Everything from marketing and advertising, to speech writing, to thought leadership or ghost writing, to more internal comms for companies. All of our clients are tech companies. I’ve worked there for, like, 14 months. I started during the pandemic last year. I had been freelancing before that and writing for places like “The New York Times” and “New York Magazine” and all of the Medium pubs that have since folded. I have a Substack and I still have a Substack.
Bu it was February/March of last year, when the pandemic really started happening here, and I was kind of like: OK, the freelancing stuff won't cut it.
I was doing pretty well freelancing. I felt like I had a really stable roster of clients and I was certainly making enough money, but the instability of the global pandemic and the economy cratering kind of triggered something in me where I was like: I think it's fine to explore something else.
My career has always been in journalism and it felt kind of weird doing something besides that. But my bosses at our agency are former tech reporters and they understood. It felt like a good place to go learn something new and also to divest my identity from my work, which I feel like is one of the hard things about being a journalist or working in media.
It's so easy to get tangled up in your work and make who you are your work. And I was certainly guilty of doing that, too. So it felt like a good opportunity to step away from that.
VFD: Do you think you realised that because of that opportunity, or had you realised it in the past – That you were attaching part of your personality and your selfhood to your job?
Maya Kosoff: I definitely had realised it before. But I think it became very clear when the work I was doing began to be stuff that I wasn't publishing and tweeting out and having people read with and engage with publicly. That was kind of when I was like: OK, this is not the worst thing in the world to not have your entire self worth defined by things that you write for a public facing audience. That's very cruel.
VFD: Yeah. So then what was that transition like? I mean, full disclosure, I've done a very similar thing – and probably less politely. I left media and was like: fuck this, this sucks. Everyone's poor and angry and full of ego, myself included. I'm gonna jump the bridge, I'm gonna go to the other side.
But there was definitely a killing of romanticism in doing that, right? Did you feel that way at all?
Maya Kosoff: Yeah, I think so. I think the time had come for me to go. I don't think I politely left, either. I don't know how much you know about my career trajectory, but I was at Vanity Fair for a number of years and I left to go start “new” Gawker, which is now “new new” Gawker on its third iteration, somehow. And that famously imploded.
So in the wake of my attempt to go work there and start a new publication I was freelancing for the first time. It was pretty scary. I got an offer on contract to go in-house at “The Times” very briefly. So I did that for eight months and it was really fun. It was a contract gig, though, so it ended and I was freelancing again.
This is public, I don't really care if people talk about this: I got sued last year as a result of the Gawker relaunch, for defamation. Which I think is fairly ironic, given the history of the first iteration of the website and how it ended. But that was obviously a big factor in me deciding to do something different. Like, being sued as a freelancer is incredibly terrifying.
VFD: Yeah, especially in the United States.
Maya Kosoff: Yeah. I mean, no one tells you what to do when a guy shows up at your apartment to serve you a lawsuit.
VFD: Was that a Sunday morning or something? How did that happen?
Maya Kosoff: OK, so what happened was: a week before everything shut down in New York last year I was waiting for a package for my mom who – being my mom – was sending me and my sister a box of cold medicine and hand sanitizer from our town in Pennsylvania, where you can still get those things in the pharmacy.
And the doorbell rang and I assumed it was the UPS guy coming to drop off that box. And instead it was a guy who was a process server delivering me my complaint.
VFD: I'm sure that emotionally, as well, that’s jarring. I can imagine when you were offered the new Gawker role – and when you got that role – how you must have been feeling. It would have been the opposite end of the spectrum. You had this opportunity to take this lionised New York City Media Cool Kid Club thing – and tell me if I'm wrong – but this is my perspective from sitting over here on the other side of the planet. And getting to do it again.
And then that would have lasted… a week? Or maybe two?
Maya Kosoff: Yeah, a couple weeks.
VFD: Right? How did that feel?
Maya Kosoff: Um, really… disappointing. I felt like we had been set up to fail. It felt like people had been rooting against it for a while and that's, I think, part of why seeing the new relaunch happening now and seeing people excited about it, it also makes me feel crazy. Because I'm like: what's different? Like, I'm not a loser? I don't think it was me? I think it was just that the timing was probably bad. I don't know.
People are very fickle – media people in particular. So I have to assume that's why. But all of this just cemented my decision to not work in journalism anymore and to distance myself from parts of the internet, I guess.
VFD: Yeah. So that sounds pretty definitive.
Maya Kosoff: I'm not opposed to one day, maybe, returning to a newsroom. But when I look at the economic realities of what's there for me right now… I don't know.
Everyone I know in journalism is super burned out and they make no money and you're just getting yelled at by idiots online all the time. I used to do that! Like, it doesn't seem fun to go back to that. The thing I want to return to hasn't existed for a long time. And maybe I was never even afraid of it when it did exist.
VFD: Tell me more about that. Like, what is that thing?
Maya Kosoff: I mean, just the idealised version of online. I want to go back to a utopian, digital media newsroom that maybe existed for a second when everything was being funded by VC money in the mid 2010s. And there was a fleeting concern in everybody's mind that none of this was sustainable, and that all of these companies were never going to IPO or sell for a billion dollars or whatever.
But like, when I started working in journalism it was in 2014 and it felt like a real frothy time in media. There was lots of money going around, there were plenty of new jobs, you could go work for any number of websites if you wanted to. And none of it was built to last. There was never a good business model for any of these places that either ended up folding entirely or laying everybody off and pivoting a million times, or selling themselves for parts to private equity firms. So I feel very disillusioned by media and I think a lot of people probably do.
I don't think anything I’m saying is unique to me, but I feel like the thing I want to do just doesn't exist and can't exist. There's no economic reality propping up the thing that I'm thinking about. I don't know how that could exist in the current state of journalism.
VFD: I feel pretty similar. I started in 2014 as well. I think living through and working through that period of time where it wasn't just about: there's money and everyone's getting hired and maybe there's a fire at the door but just keep the door closed for a few years and you'll be okay. But it was also that everything you did got attention. Every platform, every social internet thing, was like: eyeballs on you. And then, y’know, two years in they were like: Nah, we're gonna change that.
Maya Kosoff: Also, and I don't know if you can relate to this, but feeling the screws turn on you where metrics became very, very important in newsrooms. Where page counts were very important. And I worked at Business Insider in 2014 / 2015 into 2016, and if you were one of the top traffic earners for the website that month you got a little bonus. Like, you would get 50 bucks from the newsroom’s managing editor.
And I think that is the perfect distillation of that era where it's like: tiny financial incentive to get 5 billion unique views this month and be on the top of the leaderboard that's in the newsroom that has all of our faces and names on it with our traffic numbers.
So maybe I'm looking at this with rose coloured glasses, where I'm like: there's a lot of money and there were lots of jobs. But at the same time, it was incredibly stressful. And I just remember being nervous all the time that I wasn't going to meet my numbers or something like that.
I feel like in the first couple years I worked in journalism, particularly because I was covering VCs and startups where it was an equally frothy time for any startup in the tech sector raising money, it just had a very roaring ‘20s vibe, I would say, that felt very, very, decadent with very stupid spending.
When I was at Business Insider in 2015 they sold to Axel Springer for… I want to say close to half a billion dollars. And looking back that was the peak of media startups because no other media startup, as far as I know, sold for anything close to that. And it instantly made some of my co-workers very wealthy overnight. And the idea that that could happen to you, as an evergreen in a newsroom, now feels laughable.
VFD: Yeah, unfortunately.
My story about that Roaring ‘20s thing is when I went to the BuzzFeed New York office and on my first day there I rocked up at 10am. Which, by the way, is what people do in New York media? Apparently?
Maya Kosoff: It’s not what I've never done that, but people do that.
VFD: My understanding is a lot of people do that, I guess. Anyway. So it’s 10AM and I rock up and everyone's kind of chill. And then someone comes up to me like I’m in a movie: We walk through the door, they come up to me, and they're like: Hey, hey, take this pamphlet and then they just kept walking. And I look at the pamphlet and there's a circus on the roof or something. Like, it's “circus day” and there's cotton candy and I'm just like: Where am I?
Maya Kosoff: That is a perfect example of that time, I feel like, and that was the end of that time. I feel like all the good times stopped happening in late 2018. It stopped happening with the pivot to video and as soon as people stopped being able to raise massive rounds of funding from VCs to continue subsidising these media companies, and started to have to raise from private equity firms or consider selling themselves to private equity firms. I feel like that’s when the good times stopped happening.
VFD: Yeah, well there's always dreams and there's always idealism, and then there's always people behind those dreams saying: Well, how is this working? And it felt like they all creeped up at the exact same time. Across very single company. And every single company was like: um, it's fucking… not?
Maya Kosoff: Yeah, it's funny because I just remember reading all of these stories that, in retrospect, and even at the time, it was obvious that it was the CEOs or whoever leaking the story themselves. It’s like: Vice wants to go public. “Vice is planning an IPO”.
And it's like: No. Vice isn't going public. And I remember reading one about BuzzFeed at the time, too. But it’s like: how? They're not making money.
VFD: Now it’s all about SPACs, baby. I don't understand that. But I need it to happen.
[Editors note: Since this interview BuzzFeed has announced its decision to go public. Which is… good? I think? Or not good! Please god email me and it explain it.]
VFD: How did you get into Business Insider, then? Did you go to college and do journalism?
Maya Kosoff: I did. I went to journalism school at Syracuse. My whole family is from upstate New York and my mom went to Syracuse and my dad dropped out of Syracuse.
VFD: What is Syracuse? Like, as an entity…
Maya Kosoff: Oh, yes, sorry. It's like a miserable, midsize city in the middle of New York State. Like, if you threw a dart at a dartboard, and the dartboard was in the shape of New York State, and you hit a bull's eye, it would be Syracuse.
It has terrible weather. It's sunny for less than 100 days of the year. It snows seven months of the year. Normally, commencement weekend is Mother's Day weekend every May. And it normally snows at some point during that weekend.
I remember taking a history class, an American history class my freshman year, and the professor telling us that people settled there by accident. Like… they didn't mean to go there. Because why would anybody intentionally be there? But I have a strong affinity for it in spite of all of this.
My family's from there. I was born there. I was raised there for the first five or six years of my life before we moved to Pennsylvania and had a normal length Winter where it didn't snow in September. And I returned there for journalism school and I just remember my mom dropping me off and being like: this is the last place that we thought we would be sending you.
But I went there and I studied journalism. I remember that the J School at Syracuse is very well regarded, historically. I was in the magazine journalism programme there and the real emphasis was like: you need to go do an unpaid internship in New York City or you'll never get a job in this industry. And I remember thinking, even at the time in 2010 when I was enrolled there, that that was a really antiquated way of thinking about things. It really didn't account for the internet, or for people who can't afford to hang out in New York City for a whole Summer for free. So I never did an unpaid internship, I never moved to the city. There was just no money to do that with.
In senior year we took a magazine department trip to New York City for a few days over Winter break to meet alums who work at publications, and I remember going to Business Insider and it was back when they were on Park Avenue, so several offices ago, and just walking into the newsroom and feeling electric.
I remember Joe Weisenthal standing up and yelling about stocks or something. And it was just like: Oh, this is so fun. I could totally work here.
So we visited all of these traditional places – I think we went to Cosmo and Esquire and Forbes. But after that trip, I was like: Oh, well a lot of Syracuse grads work at Business Insider, that seems like a fun place get my foot in the door. So I applied for a tech internship there completely on a whim and got it.
I moved down to the City after I graduated in 2014 and lived with my mom's family out in the Rockaways, which is like, for geographical context purposes, an hour and 20 minute commute via train to the city out on the beach.
It's a cool, gentrifying neighbourhood now, but at the time it was post-Hurricane Sandy so it had been kind of destroyed a couple years prior. There was no boardwalk. It wasn't a cool place to go. It was incredibly inconvenient. But it was where I was and I was an intern for around a six months.
VFD: What did you do for your application? Was it just a cover letter?
Maya Kosoff: Yeah, I don't remember doing anything fancy. I just remember following up with everybody and writing thank you notes, which in retrospect is so insane. And I wouldn't want anyone to write me a thank you note because it would arrive to me after I had already sent them their acceptance letter or rejection email or whatever. So that was a thing that we were taught by the dinosaurs, no offence to any of my professors at Newhouse, but the methodology is questionable. To be like: yeah, you need to write a handwritten thank you note to everybody who interacted with you during this interview process.
It’s like: to what end? I'm sure that they've upgraded the curriculum by now but teaching people that their path forward in this industry is accepting a $30,000 a year editorial assistant job, living in a closet somewhere in Bushwick, and doing that for five years until you can find some sort of internal mobility at the company, isn't feasible. It's just irresponsible.
VFD: Yeah, yeah.
I mean, it's not feasible, but somehow, all these New York City kids…
How did you feel being part of the NYC world during that mid-2010s. Was it really just everyone going out for drinks? I feel like in maybe another 10 years HBO or someone will make a TV show about it and Gen Z and younger are gonna flip out.
Maya Kosoff: I think I missed the boat on the cool times by a decade.
VFD: Hahah, alright.
Maya Kosoff: The cool times were like… probably in the 2000s.
VFD: uh, yeah.
Maya Kosoff: The first year I lived there I was not really going out. I would go out to VC events to source up or meet people. I was covering startups and venture capital and my boss had basically been like: yeah, you just have to go to a lot of parties and you'll meet people. So I did that a lot. But I wasn’t hobnobbing with other reporters at a dive bar the first couple years I lived there. Maybe I have a different experience than other people.
I think that once I went to Vanity Fair and I stopped being on the beat so much and attending every single event that was thrown at me out of a desperate need to find attainable employment, which was a really big driving factor of doing that at Business Insider.
I was an intern that needed a full time job, so I'm going to do the work of a full time employee until they just decide I'm good enough and give me a job. And that involves attending all of these events every night.
Maya Kosoff: And once I went to Vanity Fair, in 2016, and was helping to build The Hive and doing tech reporting there, I would say that there was what you're describing, to some extent. Lots of drinks, lots of hanging out with other reporters.
Like, there was a time in my life when all of my friends were also other media people. And I'm really glad that's not the case now and hasn't been for a couple years.
VFD: Yeah, that can get pretty bad.
Maya Kosoff: Yeah, it's pretty insular and not fun. And you're not learning anything new about the world by hanging out with people like that.
VFD: Especially those people that are like – and I'm trying to put this in a way that doesn't make me sound like I don't want to be friends with my current friends – but you also have relationship touchpoints that are completely reliant on the internet. And on these jokes that you have on Twitter, and these things that happened online. And then you meet in real life every day and you manifest the physical world version of those things.
Maya Kosoff: Yeah.
VFD: And it's just really odd. I realised probably two or three years ago that the happiest moments of my life – that’s not what I mean – not the happiest moment in my life. But I'm very happy when I’m playing football with my football team. And I used to think that was because I liked football, which I do, but it's actually because none of them are online. None of them have any fucking clue about any of this shit. And I love it. Everyone just wants to talk and be happy and live normal lives and you get so detached from that by being inside it for even a year.
Maya Kosoff: Oh, totally.
VFD: What’s The Hive?
Maya Kosoff: The Hive… I referred to it as the non-celebrity news component of Vanity Fair's website and magazine. So it reports on the intersections of power: Wall Street, Silicon Valley, DC, things like that. And I was one of the first hires for The Hive in 2016.
John Kelly, who was my boss at Vanity Fair, approached me when I was still at Business Insider and was very mysteriously talking about this new thing he was doing at Vanity Fair. And I was like: that sounds interesting. And then I was like: will a magazine hire me? I'm just like a blogger. And then they did hire me. I just kind of fell into it. I don't know, I did work hard for it. But it just kind of felt like it happened to me.
I was there for a couple of months before we announced the launch, and we launched in Summer 2016. We had a good little team inside of Vanity Fair. Conde Nast is so interesting, because all the brands are kind of different. And at Vanity Fair, it certainly felt like when I was there that print and web were completely segregated.
We sat in a totally different part of the office from the people who built the magazine. We didn't really contribute to the magazine at first. It was like: OK, you guys do the blogs, and we'll like get some freelancers to do stories in the magazine. And y’know, who knows whose decision that was? I'm sure it was just one of those things that happens at a legacy magazine like that.
I loved working there. And I’m still friends with so many of my old coworkers from there. But like, there's a lot of frustrations that are not unique to Vanity Fair but are specific to – I think – legacy places that even in the 2010s and probably even today are still slow to adapt to the realities of the internet.
VFD: Did you realise that immediately? Coming from Business Insider which is obviously very online.
Maya Kosoff: Yeah, basically instantly.
Our offices were in One World Trade, downtown, and walking into that building I was like: they're gonna know I'm not a good fit here. It was very funny.
So Vanity Fair is on a couple floors in One World Trade and I remember getting a tour of the building from Chris Garrett, who was managing editor of Vanity Fair at the time, walking around the floor, and on one wall there was this big decal on the wall that said: “Think like a start-up!” And I was always like: What? Why? What is that? Who put this here? Why is this here?
But it really felt like we were a start-up operating inside of a big organisation there as The Hive, because we kind of did our own thing on a totally different schedule from the magazine. And I think, probably, people in other publications at Conde Nast feel the same way.
Steps have probably been taken to integrate everything into this one seamless product instead of having this print product and then the website. But at the time that's certainly what it felt like.
VFD: Yeah. So what did you mostly find yourself writing about? I know, you said broadly, it was like intersections of power and VCs and tech…
Maya Kosoff: Yeah, so I covered only tech when I was there. I had a series where I interviewed venture capitalists and CEOs.
VFD: How did that feel? Did you ever, like, sit across the table from venture capitalists or some CEO just like: Oh, my God.
Maya Kosoff: Oh, all the time. Every conversation. And often it was via phone because they were in San Francisco and it didn't seem worth it to fly me out there for one interview. But yeah, all the time.
And it’s also – I feel like this is probably broadly relatable for people in journalism – but you're covering all of these wealthy people and you’re barely making enough money to pay your rent and your student loans at the same time. And it's a very weird position to be in when you're like: Everyone here, who I'm talking to, has unlimited wealth. And that's not my reality right now. Like, I’m wondering if I can take an Uber home or if I need to take the subway instead to save some money after this VC party.
I feel like Anna Wiener, in her book “Uncanny Valley,” talks about these same topics, because she was working in tech at the same time that I was covering it, but I remember reading her book and feeling like she was feeling the same way I was when she was introduced to all of this wealth in Silicon Valley.
VFD: So then what came after for Vanity Fair?
Maya Kosoff: I left Vanity Fair at the end of 2018 to go start Gawker 2, or “New Gawker”. Whatever you want to call it.
VFD: Yeah. Yeah.
Maya Kosoff: And that famously imploded so left at the end of January 2019 and went freelance.
VFD: Wait, 2019? So that was…
Maya Kosoff: A month. Like a month. Yeah. And I went freelance and I kind of did everything. I'd never freelanced before, I'd always had the privilege of being on staff somewhere and not having to worry about it, but getting thrown into it is certainly a good test case for learning if you can do it.
VFD: Yeah, well when did you decide: I’m gonna do freelance?
I feel like my immediate response to what happened with Gawker, or New Gawker – We really need to figure out what to call it – But I would have been like: I need to find another job. Like, now.
Maya Kosoff: I mean, that was the long term goal. But immediately it was like: What do I do tomorrow? Because I’ve got to pay my rent at the end of the month.
And also, at that point, I'd only ever worked in journalism. All I knew was journalism. And the unfortunate thing is that this happened right after those big rounds of layoffs at BuzzFeed and Huffington Post and Vice.
VFD: That was me!
Maya Kosoff: Oh really?
VFD: Yeah. They got to us over here! I remember finding out and just being like: I thought we were safe. No one ever notices us but now they do.
Maya Kosoff: Yeah, all of these things happened in the same week. I left Gawker, you got laid off, hundreds of other people also got laid off, and so I was like: it's not an amazing time for me to be looking for a full time job. I think that was part of my thought process.
I was also like: I don't know anything about anything else. So it doesn't seem wise for me to put myself in a position, in a new job, outside of this industry that I don't think I can succeed in. Just because I need something stable.
So I freelanced for New York New York Magazine, did some editing for Conde publications like Allure and Teen Vogue. I wrote the newsletter briefly for Columbia Journalism Review. Kind of all over the place.
Maya Kosoff: I got an offer from The Times – they approached me because they were testing out this new news product desk, which seemed very interesting to me. So I went there for six months and worked adjacent to the product team and also to the newsroom, working with editors from across the newsroom on beta testing a new news app for the New York Times. And it was so fucking fun. And I've also never worked in a newsroom that had a lot of resources before.
Nowhere else I'd worked, or could ever work in media, would throw resources at an app and be like: OK, go do this. So it was incredible. It was euphoric to be doing that for six months and so fun.
It was a lot of UX writing, lots of curation from stories that The New York Times was publishing, trying to put it in an app format for our readers. Readers responded really well to it, and we wound down the project in December 2019. And I know that they had planned to start hiring for the news product desk in a permanent capacity a few months later, and then also the thing that happened a few months later was the entire world shutdown.
So that sadly never came to fruition, but it was a lot of fun. And I learned a lot and it was really cool.
I have nothing but fondness for my time there. And I went freelance again for a couple months and then everything with COVID happened. I had been applying to jobs like crazy and had applied for a bunch of things in newsrooms and just kept running into this problem where I'd have six interviews, or I would interview with everybody there and do an edit test, and then get ghosted or told “no”. And it was incredibly demoralising.
VFD: How did you deal with that at the time?
Maya Kosoff: Uh, not well. Not amazingly. Mostly crying, I would say! Intrinsically, I knew it wasn't a personal reflection on me… but it's hard to feel that when it's happening to you all the time.
VFD: Did you feel like it was the Gawker stuff?
Maya Kosoff: No, no, not at all. I don't think so.
VFD: I’m just trying to read into the impact that might’ve had.
Maya Kosoff: Yeah, totally. But I don’t think it was. I think it was just a shitty time to be looking for a job, in retrospect, and there were a lot of people applying for one.
So yeah, after feeling really bad about myself for a couple months I was like: I don't need to feel bad about myself. I can just get a job somewhere else and probably make more money and not worry about layoffs all the time.
So I did that and it's pretty good! It took me a while but I've kind of divorced all feelings of my identity from my work, because nothing I do is public facing and nothing has my name on it and it’s kind of freeing in that way. I can still freelance, I have a contract with Medium, I have a Substack… So I still freelance for outlets, but it's very different because I get to do it when I want to, versus doing it because: Oh my god, I need this money right now.
And it has brought me a lot of autonomy to add to the work I do, in a way that feels very satisfying because I only do freelance work. I only write when I want to write.
VFD: You don’t ever feel drawn to Twitter, and your followers, and that immediate, delicious response of appreciation and love? And positivity?
Maya Kosoff: Mmmmm not really. I'm trying to not feel that little serotonin boost anymore because it's a really addicting feeling. And not in a good way.
I think that feeling that way, or feeling indebted to, or somehow emotionally tied to, the people who follow you online is not an ideal state. And once you're the subject of a bad, targeted harassment campaign on the internet you realise how fickle everybody is online. And you're like: Oh, I don't need these people in my corner. It's more important for me to do me. And if they happen to like what I do, that's nice, but I'm not taking any cues from them.
VFD: Yeah, OK. Well, I mean, that's good.
What would you say if a young high school student came up to you and was like: I can't wait to get into journalism! It's gonna be so fun!
Maya Kosoff: Yeah, I would be honest with them and just say: here's the state of the industry, right? Here's where you can start out, here's where you'll go. Here's all the other things you can do with your skill set, if you don't want to do that.
Also, it feels like, to me at least – and maybe this isn't for the betterment of society – but it feels to me that if you ever left journalism, and you went to go do marketing or anything that was not journalism, you couldn't come back. That was kind of what I learned in high school. That was what I was taught. Now, it feels more porous. It feels like if you want to, people are more understanding of the economic realities of media and they understand that not everybody can have a role in journalism all of the time. And that that's their career path forever.
There's other things that need to happen. And there are reasons why people leave the industry. So I think that I would just say: you don't need to go into journalism now. If you ever want to later on you can always dip your toe into freelancing. But yeah: This is not your life. It doesn't have to be your whole life.
VFD: Do you have anything coming out lately? Anything you’ve been working on?
Maya Kosoff: Nothing particularly exciting right now. I've kind of been taking a break. I'm feeling pretty burned out in general. And I feel like everybody sort of is.
VFD: What? Why! What could that be from??
Maya Kosoff: But yeah, I write weekly on Medium. I write my Substack whenever I feel like writing my Substack.
VFD: Like we all do.
Maya Kosoff: But I've kind of been enjoying doing that and not having to worry about assignments from people or anything like that. Just taking it easy. If things come to me, they come to me, and I’ll pitch them. But i’m enjoying being a spectator of people's work and a cheerleader for people's work who I like, rather than being the one doing the writing right now. And I'm learning that it’s OK to take that sidecar instead of being the one driving.
VFD: Yeah, I don't even think it's a sidecar, right? It's just a different line. And that's fine. That's what I tell myself as well.
Well, I'm conscious of time, and I don't want to keep you for your whole morning. But thank you so much for talking to me.
As someone who has kind of felt like an interloper around you for seven or eight years, It has been great to talk to you.
Maya Kosoff: Likewise, I love your newsletter. I was reading your interview with Terry Nguyễn before our call.
VFD: Yeah, yeah she's great. And I've never felt older talking to someone who's, like, four or five years younger than me. Like: Oh my God.
You can go from marketing back into media, but talking to younger people does make me feel like maybe I can't. Maybe I'd have to change my expertise. Like I need to go into “historic media reporting” or something.
Maya Kosoff: No, I do wonder: if I were to pivot back… I feel like I'm rusty like an athlete that needs to get back in shape and get limber again before I can go back into a newsroom.
VFD: Yeah, I'm just an old boat. But somehow it's still all together. The waves keep coming, but I'm just chugging along.
Maya Kosoff: Yeah.
VFD: Alright. Thanks again.