The economy has been tough for every industry, but journalism has been pretty hard hit. Factor a down economy with slashed jobs in with the switch to online journalism and decreased attention spans, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Or, do you? When seasoned writer/editor Sara Clemence learned she was about to be laid-off, she and two girlfriends started a site about the economic downturn. The site, Recessionwire, gave Clemence a crash course in another side of the business. Aside from the site’s success, Clemence herself ultimately came out on top, too. She is currently a travel editor for the
Wall Street Journal. Here, she shares tips on saving money, the economy and entrepreneurship.
The Wall Street Journal
New York, NY
You were one of the “founding mothers” of Recessionwire. Can you explain how you came up with the idea ?
It was a pretty fast, organic and gut-driven process. In late 2008, my friend Laura Rich and I found out that we were going to be laid-off from our jobs at Conde Nast Portfolio. That week, we ran into a writer we knew, Lynn Parramore, whose freelance work was drying up, and the three of us started talking about what we wanted to do next. Within a couple of weeks, we were mapping out editorial schedules, hunting down design help and researching blog platforms.
You know how you have these conversations at parties and say, “Yeah, we should do that!” And then you never do. We did, because we had a perfect storm of factors driving us forward: It had become incredibly cheap to launch a website, nobody was documenting all the changes that were taking place, we had major journalism skills and we all wanted to create something new. Plus, with the economy imploding, what else were we going to do?
Though you’ve since moved on, how do you think starting your own company has affected you?
Taking a business from concept to completion gives you such a sense of confidence and accomplishment. I know I can do it again if I want to—in fact, when I have an idea the question is no longer, “Can I do this?” It’s: “How would I do this? Do I want to do this?” That’s aside from everything I learned about technology, marketing, strategy, design, online advertising, legal issues…as one of my friends put it, I got the equivalent of an MBA in nine months.
You’re currently a travel editor for the Wall Street Journal. What are the perks?
I get to fly around the world in first class for free, stay in beachfront villas and have my feet exfoliated with crushed diamonds. Just kidding—but that’s what people imagine!
I do write the occasional travel article, but someone has to make sure the travel pages come out every weekend. (And we don’t take freebies at the Journal—you’re getting the real story, not PR spin.) The big perks for me are being involved with a smart, stylish new project—the Journal’s Off Duty section only launched last year—and working with people who are talented and cool. I love creating stories that are intriguing and inspiring. Plus, I get to edit the occasional celebrity. Like John Waters—the nicest guy and a total professional.
You’ve had a string of super-successful writing jobs. Do you think it’s tough to be a woman in the writing field?
I believe the media industry is a relative meritocracy, so I don’t think it’s tougher for women than other fields. But I did work at one company (sadly) that was an old-boy throwback, where I was paid less than a man who reported to me. I still regret not having done anything about that.
Now if I’m ever reluctant to speak my mind, mix it up, negotiate for higher pay, I remind myself that I’m not just doing it for me, but for the women around me and the ones who will come after—to raise salary standards and expectations for all of us. I found Gloria Feldt’s book No Excuses really inspiring on that front.
Do you have any key financial advice during this tough economic time, particularly for women?
Hell, yes. It’s really important to take control of your financial life and make thoughtful choices about your money. You don’t have to become an investing whiz; start by doing some basic (and honest) math. What do you earn? What do you have? What do you owe? Are you living within your means? How can you save more, so you have more choices in life? I’m all for splurging on a new bag—but only after making sure I have a cash cushion. And don’t worry about feeling dumb at first—better dumb than broke.
GIRL TALK TIME: What do you think of Sara’s job? How are you thriving in the down economy? What job would you like to see here next?