Anna Holmes: Emerging Voices in Digital Journalism

March 10, 2015 — Anna Holmes, editor at Fusion, columnist for the New York Times Sunday Book Review, and founder of Jezebel, discussed her career, diversity in the media business, and the trends she sees in online journalism.

Holmes began her career in print entertainment and women’s magazines, which left her unsatisfied. She felt that women’s magazines “were doing a lot of damage to the women who read them” through their focus on superficial topics.

When Holmes was approached by Gawker Media in 2006 to start a new women’s celebrity and fashion site, it was a welcome change, although she initially balked at the move to digital. When Jezebel launched in 2007, it was “under the radar,” allowing Holmes to inject a dose of feminism and politics into the site.

Jezebel covered the racial and gender politics of the 2008 presidential election extensively, resulting in a surge of traffic. “I felt that was indicative and proof of the fact that young women do want to talk about politics, and that they care about them quite a bit,” said Holmes. But after the election, Gawker owner Nick Denton asked her to shift the site’s focus away from politics. Holmes departed in 2010.

In her current role as editor of digital voices at Fusion, Holmes oversees stories that are less reactive to the news cycle. Rather than producing rapid-fire “hot takes” on the day’s news, the pieces she works on now take “days, weeks, if not months to execute,” such as a recent interactive about street harassment in Mexico City that incorporates documentary video and illustrations.

Fusion aims to reach a young, diverse audience, although Holmes insisted that there is no “magic way to attract millennials…I assume that the way to reach them is to do good content and not talk down to them…and to do things that they’re interested in…treat them like human beings and have a sense of curiosity and a feeling of fun with how you present information,” she said.

Holmes discussed how the spread of digital media has led to a more diverse pool of media producers, since online outlets tend to look for fresh perspectives. At Jezebel, she made an effort to hire people that “didn’t have fancy resumes, who weren’t the usual suspects,” to bring in the kinds of voices that had been marginalized at the print publications where she worked.

Regarding media with an advocacy bent, Holmes said “there is a hunger for media…that has a point of view,” although she sees the marketplace for commentary as being crowded, and finds “the amount of pontification that goes on” to be exhausting.

“There are some young journalists who have never known what it is to try and adopt a neutral stance on something in terms of their writing or reporting, and I think that’s where legacy media could really come in and be of help,” said Holmes. “I understand that opinion journalism and media that has a point of view is very attractive to people – I started a site that was opinionated and unapologetically so…but when it gets in the way of facts and truth is when it becomes disturbing to me, and I do see a bit of that.”

Article and photo by Nilagia McCoy of the Shorenstein Center.