Speaking to Media | Carley Fortune, Refinery29 Executive Editor
Next on the docket for our Speaking to Media series is a woman with a penchant for bold ideas and a bold lip. If you were as thrilled as we were about Refinery29 launching in Canada, you have Carley Fortune to thank – its current Executive Editor! Carley holds an impressive and eclectic editorial resume under her belt, including editor-in-chief of Chatelaine, prior to R29’s Canadian launch. The last 12 years have seen Carley travel across the media landscape from The Globe and Mail, Toronto Life and The Grid. So, we just had to pick this Toronto gal’s brain for you all.
We chatted with Carley to explore the inner workings of both Refinery29 and the woman working hard to resonate with and empower other women across the country.
How have you worked your way to the position that you’re in now? We’d love to know where you saw yourself 10 years after graduating from Ryerson University.
I graduated from Ryerson’s journalism school in 2006, and, at the time, I didn’t really see myself in the media industry at all. I had no connections and just a handful of published clips. I was turned down for internships at Canadian Business and Maclean’s (my now-husband, then-boyfriend landed the Maclean’s internship over me). Then I managed to snag one at Toronto Life. Near the end of my internship, the digital editor resigned, and I offered to step in. I guess they really needed help, because I was kept on as an interim online editor and ended up staying for almost four years.
There are two things that have really driven me in my career: One is that I get bored easily, and don’t like to stick to the same work for very long. And the second is that I have strived to diversify my skill set and experience in a way that sets me apart from other editors. So I’ve worked for local and national publications; in daily, monthly, and digital production schedules; in print and digital; I’ve worked at start-ups (I was on the launch team for The Grid) and at some of the country’s oldest publications. I’ve also worked as an editor on everything from investigative features on domestic homicide to Toronto Fashion Week coverage. I thrive in an environment that gives me that kind of variety, which is why I love Refinery29 so much.
Refinery29 has a breadth of coverage and sensibility that speaks to me, and my role encompasses a lot more than traditional assigning and editing. It involves all the other aspects of bringing a global media brand to the Canadian market: building a team from scratch, figuring out a smart plan for growth, targeting the white space in this media landscape, and working closely with my partner-in-crime/sales director, Jessey Finizio, to support the business.
How would you describe Refinery29 Canada’s readers? What makes them tick?
There’s so much love for Refinery29 in Canada, and I think that’s because the brand lives its values. We have a mission — to help women see, feel, and claim their power — that comes across in everything we do, and that really resonates with Canadian women. We’re here to help women make choices to improve their lives — no judgment, no rules, no BS. Our readers, who tend to be young women living in Canada’s urban centres, are a diverse group, and their interests are diverse too. Some of our most-read stories in recent memory include a terrific column by staff writer Kathleen Newman-Bremang about the prevalence of mediocre white women in film and TV, a reported piece by Takara Small about the rise of tech-enabled “smart abuse,” and a package called 29 Powerhouses — our salute to badass Canadian women.
What are some of the best ways to cut through the noise to pitch you? What makes a pitch sticky?
A straightforward email with as much specificity as possible is the way to go. And please don’t follow-up the next day. Or the day after that — unless you have some kind of incredible access and need a quick response — my inbox is bonkers. (Whose isn’t?) If you can offer rare access to an experience or individual, I’m more inclined to hear you out. And, of course, pitches that show a keen understanding of what we publish are far more likely to get traction.
Sliding into your DMs: Yay or nay?
Are you coming onto me?! I might be into it… Kidding, kidding. I don’t mind a DM from someone I have a relationship with or if the timing is urgent or if you want to say something nice. I’m here for your compliments.
What writers are you really excited to work with at Refinery29?
Kathleen Newman-Bremang joined our team in December as a staff writer, and I’m THRILLED to have her here. She’s extraordinarily talented. My favourite collaborator of all-time is Courtney Shea, who has written some great pieces for us already, including this one about the tensions within the witchcraft community in Canada. I’ve also had the privilege of working with the novelist Zoe Whittall on this striking essay about OCD.
One of the things I’ve long admired about Refinery29 is its commitment to visual storytelling as well as the written word, and I’ve been fortunate to hire an incredible visual editor, Yaz Butcher, who is both a tremendous graphic designer as well as an illustrator. Yaz really brings our content to life.
Will Refinery29 Canada be executing IRL events, activations or brand partnerships?
We will, and we are! We just announced that we’ll be bringing 29Rooms, Refinery29’s immersive experience of culture and creativity, to Canada for the first time, which is huge news. And we’ve already worked with a number of great brand partners in Canada and will continue to do so in 2019.
What are common misconceptions you hear about female-focused publications?
The way that fashion, beauty and wellness coverage — subjects that tend to appeal to women — are dismissed as fluff drives me nuts. Especially when you look at how sports coverage and restaurant criticism — which tend to focus on men at the top of their game — receive no such derision. And, of course, there’s still a sense of surprise when women’s publications cover current events or weightier issues. Who would have thought someone interested in her footwear would also care about federal politics? Oh right, WOMEN!
Top three fave books to curl up with this winter?
Glad you asked, because I’ve been on a reading kick this January! I loved Michelle Obama’s Becoming, though I usually read before bed to help me fall asleep and this book had the exact opposite effect. I also read Tara Westover’s incredible memoir Educated, with equal parts awe and horror, in two days flat. And I just finished the novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which was a really delicious read, and Jen Agg’s excellent memoir I Hear She’s A Real Bitch (better late than never!). I’m currently reading You Know You Want This, a collection of short stories from “Cat Person” author Kristen Roupenian. It’s terrifying.
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Photo credit to Jenna Marie Wakani.