You Smug Assholes.

At The New Yorker, we had an inbox where readers could write to us with questions, comments, or concerns, and I made it my mission to check that inbox every weekday. Some days, it took me five minutes to go through and reply to all the emails. Sometimes, it took me an hour. But I always made time to reply.

Why? The New Yorker couldn’t exist without its readers. Revenue from readers — subscription revenue, plus revenue from events like The New Yorker Festival — is what allows that newsroom to keep publishing. So the thought was simple: Readers are what allow us to do our jobs, so we should always be making time for them.

I’ll never forget an email I got in 2019. The subject line read, simply: “You smug assholes.”

I replied to just about every email in that inbox, and many of those conversations were tough ones. Just from the subject line, I knew a little about what I was getting into with this particular email.

The reader had a few issues: They were upset with the magazine’s politics, they were having trouble with their subscription, and they had a few questions about our editorial process.

Over the course of a few emails, I answered their questions one by one, and checked in with certain editors so I could offer an informed reply to certain topics. I helped troubleshoot their subscription issues. And slowly, the tone of the conversation began to change. I tried to do my best to listen and to ask. I tried to do my best to help.

And by the end of our thread, this reader wrote back to tell me: “Thank you so much for your help. I love The New Yorker, and can’t wait to be a subscriber for years to come.”

Over the course of a few emails, we went from “You smug assholes” to “a subscriber for life.”

It’s a reminder for me, especially now: Don’t be afraid to have a difficult conversation. Listen to the people around you, and make sure you’re opening up channels to hear from all sorts of voices. Make time to listen, learn, and ask. You never know where those conversations might lead.


That photo at top, titled “Day 52/366: 2/21/12 – New Yorkers”, by memsphere, is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I Worked for Two Years at The New Yorker. This Is What I Believe.

Every year, around Thanksgiving, I write a blog post that I call The Things I Believe. It’s an inventory of the year that was, as I look back on what I’ve learned and the person I am at that moment.

As as I approach my final day at The New Yorker — in September, I start full-time on Inbox Collective — I wanted to look back at two years in this newsroom. It’s been an incredible place to work, and I feel so lucky to have been a part of this team. So as I look back on my time at The New Yorker, this is what I believe:

Whatever it is you do, be the best at it — Whenever someone asks me how to get a job at The New Yorker, I always tell them: This is a place full of the best people in their field. I truly believe we have the best editors, writers, fact checkers, and artists anywhere. My colleagues are so unbelievably good at what they do — I continue to be amazed at how talented this team is. And if your ambition is to work at The New Yorker one day, keep working to be the best in your field. When you are, this place might be ready for you.

Give yourself time to focus — It’s not just that the people who work at The New Yorker are talented. It’s that they’re given the opportunity to focus on their work. It’s not uncommon to hear that a copy editor or a fact checker is going to be working on a particular piece for a few days — or longer — to make sure that the work is done right. Focus breeds excellence.

Make the extra phone call — Before The New Yorker, I’d never worked at an organization that had a dedicated fact-checking team. Our fact checkers check everything — and I do mean everything — that can be checked. Here’s a glimpse into the process, as explained through the experience of actor Daniel Radcliffe, who was once tasked with fact checking a review of a Mexican restaurant. Their attention to detail is remarkable.

Don’t take yourself too seriously — Here’s another secret of The New Yorker: If we just published lengthy profiles about Polish novelists or reported pieces about the future of modern dance, I’m not sure we’d get that many readers. What sets The New Yorker apart is the humor. This is a place that can be silly, goofy, and subversive, and that makes all the difference.

It’s been a joy being a part of this team. I’ll always be a reader — and a fan.


That New Yorker cover comes via the excellent @NewYorkerArt Instagram.

Here’s One Way to Put Your Customers First.

At the bottom of every New Yorker email, there’s a message to readers: “We’d love your feedback on this newsletter. Please send your thoughts and suggestions to [email protected].”

Readers do write in — sometimes with thoughts about the newsletter, but also with questions, complaints, comments, and pitches. And we try to reply to every single one. (The only exception: If a reader is extraordinarily rude. But we don’t get many of those.)

In fact, replying to our readers is the first thing I do in the morning. I wake up, open the reader mail inbox, and work my way through the messages. By making it my first task of the day, I’m always making sure that the needs of our fans, readers, and customers are met first.

This simple act — putting them first on my to-do list every day — has completely changed the way I think about our readers. I know that if we make a big change in the newsletter, I’m going to hear about it from them. And when I’m thinking about what they might say or how they might react, it means I can include their voice in the conversations we’re having and the decisions we’re making at work.

Does it take a lot of time? Certainly. It’s a task that usually takes at least 20-30 minutes a day, depending on the volume of emails. But it’s also an opportunity to build a personal connection with a reader. My hope is that in the long run, a reader who got a personal note from us will be more likely to have a positive impression of us and renew their subscription. And someone who isn’t a subscriber might be willing to open their wallet and pay for a year of the magazine.

Lately, more members of our team — editors, designers, product folks — are asking if they can be looped in on these conversations with readers. The more of us involved the process, the more likely we are to build a magazine and a website that truly represents the needs of our customers.

We couldn’t make The New Yorker without these readers. So it makes sense that they should come first — quite literally.

How to Get a Job at The New Yorker.

This week's cover, “On The Beach,” by @tomgauld. #TNYcovers

A post shared by The New Yorker (@newyorkermag) on

In the year since I started this job at The New Yorker, I’ve been asked one question more than any other: How do I get a job there?

Here’s what I can tell you: This is unlike any place I’ve ever worked — and probably unlike any place I ever will work. We hire uncommonly smart and talented people.

But it’s not just intelligence and skill that make someone a great New Yorker staffer. The one thing that really stands out about this place is the focus that everyone brings to their work. Editors, reporters, artists, fact checkers, designers — every single person here has that singular focus on their work. The things that my co-workers make are absolutely exceptional, and that’s not by accident: These are people who are driven to be the best in their field, at whatever it is they do.

Whatever you want to do for us one day, you’re first going to have to learn how to be great at it on your own. Be focused enough, and build up the right portfolio of work, and you might get the chance to do it with us one day.

Pay Your Debts.

A few years ago at BuzzFeed, my co-workers on the Product side of the house — the folks that built our website and kept it running — started talking about this idea of “tech debt.”

Here’s a simple way to think about it. (And I’m going to oversimplify things here — my former colleagues were incredibly bright, thoughtful people, and this doesn’t at all reflect the amount of work, effort, thought, etc. they put into building some amazing products.) At BuzzFeed, we’d built our website on systems that were a few years old. Over time, our team hacked together solutions to build new features and tools using these older systems. These weren’t supposed to be long-term fixes — a lot of these solutions were hacked together.

Almost a decade later, we’d ended up with was a website that — from a coder’s perspective — was like a Jenga tower. We stacked these hacks and workarounds one on top of the other, and eventually, we couldn’t go any further. The building blocks of our site could no longer support it.

By making all these short-term compromises, we’d put ourselves in a tricky position. We couldn’t really move forward with new projects until we’d gone in and fixed the basic infrastructure of our website.

We’d accumulated all of these debts, and we finally faced the realization that we had to pay those debts off. In order to move forward, we first had to tear down and build from the ground up.

So our tech team did. It was challenging, and it took an incredibly smart team the better part of a year to do it. But they did it — and moving forward, with the right systems and structures in place, that team at BuzzFeed is going to be able to do amazing things. They’ve got a strong foundation to build off of.

But there’s more than just tech debt out there. In the first few months at my new job, I’ve been spending a lot of time figuring out what debts we need to pay at The New Yorker. I’ll ask co-workers: What are we doing that drives you crazy? What are you spending too much time on? What could we fix that would change the way you work?

Slowly, we’ve started to identify our debts. We’ve been able to streamline old processes that were broken, and build new processes that will allow us to move quickly. We had process debts (teams using inefficient systems to do work), communication debts (teams struggling to work together towards common goals), and quite a bit of tech debt (teams using outdated or ineffective tools and apps).

It’s going to take us a while to pay off these debts. But by identifying them, and putting together the teams to fix them, we’re making the short-term changes to allow for long-term success.


That piggy bank photo was taken by Fabian Blank for Unsplash.

Some News: I’m Leaving BuzzFeed For The New Yorker.

Will work for clicks. A cartoon by Barbara Smaller, from 2014. #TNYcartoons

A post shared by The New Yorker Cartoons (@newyorkercartoons) on

I’ll keep this part brief: I’m starting a new job in August. I’m headed to the New Yorker, where I’ll be overseeing some new digital projects, starting with newsletters. I’m absolutely thrilled about the opportunity — getting the chance to work with their team of reporters, artists, and editors is a dream, and I can’t wait to get started.

But it also means I’ll be leaving BuzzFeed after nearly five years leading the email team. I’m so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had at BuzzFeed — they gave me a chance to be a part of building something great. Doree, Scott, Dao, and Ben let me pitch this job, and I’ll always be thankful for that. A handful of folks got us off to the right start: Jack, Summer, Elaine, Ben R. (both of them, actually), Jon, and Erica. There were people who got our newsletters into the hands of readers around the world — Bibi, Caitlin, Claire, Ellie (literally all the Ellies), Flora, Mariana, and Millie — and writers who believed in Courses — Sally and Augusta, especially. There are so many more editors, writers, designers, developers, strategists, analysts, and marketers who helped us along the way — I simply can’t name them all here, but: Thank you! (And a big thanks to the Campaign Monitor team for all their help over the years.)

And above all, thanks to the team in NYC that built these newsletters and made them great: Adam, Ray, Kaelin, Lincoln, and now Ciera. Thanks for coming on board to do such amazing work.

If that seems like a lot of people to thank — and it is! — it’s because here’s the big secret of BuzzFeed: The company hires exceptional people. I’ve had the chance to work with a truly generous, kind, enthusiastic, and talented team. When you hire exceptional people and give them the tools and the freedom to do their best work, you get a place like BuzzFeed.

So one last time, to everyone who made the last five years at BuzzFeed so incredible: Thanks for an amazing ride.