How She Made It
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Originally posted in 2018 for a class.
A New York native fresh out of college, current Her Campus national news editor Katherine Speller sat opposite hiring personnel at Forbes. She was interviewing for a position in the e-books department, trying to get a foot in the door to jumpstart her career in journalism.
“We started having this conversation about what I wanted to write about and I said I wanted to write about social issues, about feminism and about politics. He said, ‘What do you do when all of those social issues are fixed?’” Speller said.
As a journalist, Speller was confused.
“I had this moment where I was like, ‘What do you mean? They’re never going to be fixed. You’re not paying attention.’ So I said that and did not get the job at Forbes, because when you say stuff like that, you do not get hired,” Speller said.
It’s easy for Speller to laugh about the incident now. She is an editor and mentor to a national team of student journalists who produce content aimed at young college women, but the journey hasn’t always been easy. Following her rejection at Forbes, Speller was hired as an issues writer for MTV News, a job she described as a dream and was devastated to lose due to restructuring.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do with anything. I’m terrible. I must be terrible because that’s why they didn’t keep me'," Speller said. "I was spiraling at that and took off on a cross country road trip to just try to figure out my life at that point.”
The trip gave Speller time to realign herself and find faith in her ability to write again. Her former colleagues and mentors reached out to encourage her to return to the world of journalism, but with her newly acquired freedom she didn’t want to give up her autonomy. She ended up at Bustle, working as a political columnist during the presidential race in 2016.
“Everyone likes to tell you when your life gets blown that you’re young, that you’re going to bounce back and that you’re bouncy, but it’s the last thing you want to hear," Speller said. "You don’t feel at all bouncy when that happens. But surprisingly, I bounced, so I guess they were right.”
Being a columnist was a new venture for Speller who had never expressed her opinions in a print before. It was tedious, draining work that began to affect Speller’s mental health. She decided to take a step back and begin a year of work at a nonprofit organization called Lady Parts Justice, which uses comedy and pop culture to rally for women’s reproductive rights. Speller loved the staff, but knew it wasn’t the right fit for her. She was eager to get back into news.
“I really wanted to be part of an organization and company that would let me work with cool people who were smart and wanted to create good things. [I wanted to] ideally do something for young women, because that’s always been the demographic that matters the most to me,” Speller said. “I had caught wind of [the Her Campus] job listing and reached out, then went through their process. I’m so glad they chased me and wanted me.”
Her Campus is an international web publication founded in 2009 by three former Harvard students aiming to create a company focused on empowering young women who are still trying to figure it all out in college. According to the Her Campus website, the company works with more than 11,000 contributors and 360 college campus chapters worldwide. Their headquarters is located in downtown Boston, but Speller, works remotely from her home in New York.
“They were looking for the best candidate, which is a new thing in new media jobs," Speller said. “You can kind of work from anywhere with how well connected we are. Also, I’m in New York so I’m closer to better sources and events.”
On a day-to-day basis, Speller deals with everything from pitches to publication. Her team communicates with her frequently via Gmail, Gchat, spreadsheets, documents, Slack, Twitter and text. She has a team of aggregate bloggers who churn out quick-hit content but also manages reporters working on more in-depth reporting.
The most difficult issue to conquer, according to Speller, is a healthy work-life balance. A national news editor working remotely has to always be on alert.
“At the end of the day I’ll get the last few blog posts up, always keeping an eye on the news because typically in this day, info-dumps and news tends to break at the changing of the guard time and it’s not entirely un-purposeful. With the Trump administration, they tend to drop news around 6 or 5 on coastal times when newsroom times are changing,” Speller said. “We have nights and weekends editors who I also manage, so I’ll try to direct them in the right direction for what I want them to cover at night. They also do our breaking, morning posts, so I keep tabs on that.”
A career that demanding sounds stressful, but Speller enjoys pursuing a job in a field she’s inspired by. Working from home also allows her the space to take breaks when needed, whether to walk her dog or meet up with her colleagues in the city. Speller also recognizes that Her Campus is a publication that doesn’t demand news coverage in the same way other outlets do.
“We’re a little niche. We run based on issues that matter to college women. College women care about politics, but they also care about cute dog stories. They care about social issues, but they also love stories about sex and lifestyle stuff,” Speller said. “News is happening all the time, but no one’s coming to Her Campus to see us regurgitate CNN. We are not CNN. [Understanding] what Her Campus can offer our readers particularly helps narrow down the chaos.”
Speller is only 25, but she feels content working in the capacity she’s in now. Her passion for social justice, politics, female empowerment and good reporting is a perfect fit for the organization she’s in.
“I love editing. I love working with young people and I love helping them love and navigate this monster industry the way I have. For equal parts it’s frustrating but also really great, so I want to help young people see that," Speller said. Any platform that prioritizes any women’s voices is the dream, so I’m pretty happy where I am right now with Her Campus.”