Though she hadn't originally considered a writing career, Elizabeth Spiers, editor-in-chief of mediabistro.com, lures readers and wins critical acclaim by staying true to her voice and interests.
Upon first meeting Elizabeth Spiers, it's difficult to believe that she was once the editor behind the biting wit of Gawker, which arguably set the standard for media and celebrity-gossip blogs. She appears shy and soft-spoken, so much so that it is often hard to hear her.
But only a few minutes into a conversation, the 28-year-old Alabama native comes out with a quip or two, and then it all makes sense.
"It's not like we sat down and decided that Gawker was going to be snarky. I didn't know anything about media, and I wasn't interested in half the stuff we were supposed to cover, so I just brought my own attitude toward [people like] Paris Hilton," she says with a smirk and just a trace of a Southern accent. "How would you ever write it straight? I don't know. It was just my natural voice."
Spiers says that while she has always enjoyed writing, she had never really considered it as a career option. "I never thought I could make money doing it," she says. But then again, she's never tried to plan her life or career.
"I've always been an opportunist. When interesting things come up, I generally will think about them," she says with a sense of nonchalance about her. "Things never work out the way you think they will."
Indeed, Spiers was as far away from the world of media as one could be when Nick Denton approached her to start Gawker. At the time, she was working as an independent equity analyst, but had started a blog called Capital Influx.
The media firestorm that ensued after Gawker's launch did not affect Spiers in the way that it could have. She worked 40 hours a week maintaining the gossip blog that dissected every facet of New York media life, and then worked an additional 30 hours a week freelancing just to pay the bills. "I was on deadline all the time," she says.
At one point, The New York Times ran an article about Gawker, but Spiers did not see it until 24 hours after it was published, much to the chagrin of her publisher, Denton. "It didn't faze me at the time," she says. It was only after she took a job at New York magazine co-writing the Intelligencer section that she actually had the time to sit back and reflect on the situation.
A little more than two years after leaving the finance world to take a leap into the realm of blogging and freelancing, Spiers has taken on the role of editor-in-chief at mediabistro.com, one of the media industry's most popular online communities. Having total creative control over the site, she says, is one of the things that attracted her to the job.
"It was just parts of a million different things that I've done," she says. "Any one of them would not have been interesting to me because I didn't want to do the web again, I didn't want to do media reporting, and I'm sick of blogging. But when you put them together, it's all of my areas of experience smashed together. It was a great opportunity."
Laurel Touby, founder of mediabistro.com, says Spiers' intelligence and obsession with the media are what make her a good fit for the job. Another plus is that she has a Wall Street background, she adds, so she understands that mediabistro is not just a community website, but also a business.
In fact, Spiers' first moves at the helm included a complete redesign of the site and the introduction of additional blogs, including one that she co-writes called FishbowlNY, centered on the New York media scene.
Although she is working at a different outlet, the Gawker name is something that has proven difficult to shake. "Gawker [was] an alter ego, but it's my voice," she says, adding that some bloggers recently accused her of ripping off the voice of Gawker for FishbowlNY.
"I can't even argue back because the logic baffles me."
Touby says that she agrees with Spiers' vision for the redesigned site. "She wants to make it buzzy, smarter, funnier, and a must-read," she says. "What's not to like?" And it helps that Spiers understands that to attract readers that will pay for premium content, the site will have to offer more how-to items. "She's the perfect marriage of editorial prowess and business practicality," Touby adds.
That business sense proved to be handy when it came time to redesign and relaunch the well-known site on practically no editorial budget, a task Spiers refers to as "daunting." It is an experience that could prove useful, she says, should she ever decide to go into media property. For now, her day-to-day activities run the gamut from the business side (running profit and loss statements) to the editorial side (writing for FishbowlNY) to communicating to the site's readers via message posts on the bulletin board.
Spiers acknowledges that it's sometimes surreal to be considered a media expert by such outlets as The New York Times, but maintains that the New York media world is so closely connected that she doesn't appreciate the scope of it.
"It feels a little bit provincial," she says. "I guess if I had any sense of what it looked like from the outside it would creep me out."
While the past few years of her life have certainly been chaotic, Spiers says she's gotten more laid-back since Gawker. "Having to go through all this stuff has made me chill out," she adds.
Though she is still working crazy hours, for the first time she is able to have detachment from that work, even writing a novel in her spare time. Still, if her past has taught her anything, it is that the next surprise could be just around the corner. And it's something for which she's prepared.
"I'm having a great time," she says matter-of-factly, "but if it falls apart tomorrow and I had to go back to work on Wall Street, I wouldn't kill myself."
September 2003-November 2004
New York magazine, contributing writer
December 2002-September 2003
October 2001-December 2002
Independent equity analyst
June 2000-October 2001
Galt Consulting, strategy consultant/business analyst
September 1999-May 2000
TheSquare.com, marketing director