Jenni Avins is the lifestyle reporter at Quartz. Most recently, she covered fashion, food, travel, and pop culture as a freelancer for The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Vice, Harper’s Bazaar, Gourmet, Saveur, and Style.com. She is fluent in Portuguese. Obsessions: indigenous dress, baking, and Brazil.
WHAT LED YOU TO START WORKING IN DIGITAL/MEDIA PUBLISHING?
The realities of the industry! No, just kidding. But in all seriousness, I did start out in print media, moonlighting for travel and culture magazines while I worked full-time in the fashion industry. In fashion, I worked in production—working with designers and factories to actually get clothes made, and I thought some of the most interesting stories in fashion weren’t really being told. So I applied to the CUNY Journalism School (which I highly recommend to journalists who want to gain multimedia skills). While there, I won a McCormick Foundation grant, with a lot of support from “new media” types, including Jeff Jarvis, and the late, great David Carr. That helped me produce a little web-video series which led me to jobs with NBC New York and New York Magazine and helped launch my freelance career. My position at Quartz is actually my first full-time staff job in media!
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
It varies, of course, but usually, it’s a mix of reporting, writing, and communicating with the Quartz team in the NYC headquarters via Slack or video meetings, since I’m based in LA. Because of my newsletter, Quartzy, goes out on Friday mornings the very beginning and very end of the week tend to be slightly more relaxed than the middle—although I say that as I type this on a fairly hectic Friday!
WHAT’S YOUR WORK SETUP LOOK LIKE?
As I mentioned, I’m based in LA and Quartz’s headquarters are in New York, so I rely heavily on Slack both for chatting online and via video. When I need to accomplish a task or just make myself write, the tool I most religiously use is a timer. The site e.ggtimer.com is pretty brilliant. You can set a custom length of time, but I most often use the 25-minute “Pomodoro” setting. The deal is, you set that timer and you are not allowed to do ANYTHING other than the task you set out to do. No chatting, no opening browser windows. I don’t even get up to pee. That’s probably not healthy, but I figure it’s only 25 minutes.
WHAT DO YOU DO OR GO TO GET INSPIRED?
I find that doing anything with the aim of getting inspired makes it hard to get inspired, so first I just throw off that yoke. But then I’d say I just get out and go places. I try to challenge myself. I’m about to go on a trip that feels a little out of my comfort zone—semi-camping in a remote part of Mexico with a bunch of surfers who are way better than I am. I imagine that will inspire something beyond just my mild discomfort and excitement at the prospect! But really, I do all the stuff you might expect, check out museums, read, go to concerts and events, but I find really the most effective way to get inspired—this will sound so corny—is to just pay attention to what’s happening around me. Because it might be something someone does in line at the grocery store, you know if you’re not looking at your phone. And talk to people! Mitra Kalita, a former colleague, says you should never have a quiet cab ride. I think that’s good advice.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PIECE OF WRITING OR QUOTE?
Ack! Do writers ever really answer this? It’s hard, but I do love me some Joan Didion. There’s a moment in The White Album when she writes: “I had the keys but not the key.” I think that’s a heartbreaking sentence in its simplicity.
WHAT IS THE PASSIONATE PROBLEM YOU ARE TACKLING AT THE MOMENT?
I’m thinking about how the personal approach of Quartzy, my weekly email newsletter that’s broadly about culture and lifestyle, but draws pretty heavily on personal experience, might reach new audiences.
IS THERE A PRODUCT, SOLUTION OR TOOL THAT MAKES YOU THINK IT IS A GOOD DESIGN FOR YOUR DIGITAL PUBLISHING EFFORTS?
I think that’s a question we’re constantly tackling at Quartz—how to rightly match our stories to the medium…and like I said, I’m curious about finding new ways to do that with Quartzy, which for the moment, lives in an email format. The people who receive it seem to love it (!) but I’m curious about ways to reach those who just don’t open emails.
ANY ADVICE FOR AMBITIOUS DIGITAL PUBLISHING AND MEDIA PROFESSIONALS JUST STARTING OUT?
Keep an open mind and stay curious. And remember that regardless of the platform, medium, or outlet, strong reporting and storytelling is still the name of the game.