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Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Alexandra Koster, Culture Editor for Refinery29 Australia

11 April, 2024

This week, Medianet is joined by Refinery29 Australia’s Culture Editor, Alexandra Koster. In this interview, Alex recalls just how her start in insurance landed her a role in one of the most recognisable art, culture and entertainment publications in Australia—and beyond.


eca753c72f0caaa1It’s notoriously difficult to make a living out of your writing so I wanted to ask how your experiences outside of culture journalism helped you in getting to where you are now?

I totally feel that. When I went to university, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I was interested in social justice, gender, and different cultures, and I also had a huge passion for film and music. I loved writing, but I was stressed about forging a career in writing amidst so much talent in the world. After having about twelve existential crises about my career, I finally settled on just doing what I loved, which was a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Film Studies & Culture/Gender Studies. 

There’s always a joke about how arts degrees don’t get you jobs, so I knew I had to be a bit more savvy if I wanted to break into the culture journalism industry. Like many people, I did many unpaid internships where I wrote countless film and music reviews, but that was only part of the puzzle. 

I’m lucky that at quite a young age, I learnt that the journalism industry was changing rapidly, with more focus on tech and digital skills. I ended up taking a job, surprisingly, at a financial comparison site where I led the content strategy for a vertical that makes everyone fall asleep—insurance! While the content absolutely wasn’t my passion, the five-ish years I spent there taught me everything I know when it comes to digital strategy, and I was incredibly fortunate to be mentored by Zahra Campbell-Avenell, who is still my manager over seven years later. I dug my feet into the world of search engine optimisation, which, as we know, is one of the key areas many journalists are now grappling with in a paperless, digital era. 

In 2021, I was lucky enough to join Refinery29 Australia as their Money Diaries Editor—a natural fit for me given my editing skills and my extensive background in finance content. I led this ship for two years, and in my spare time, tacked on whatever freelance gigs would come my way, which were thankfully usually in the culture and entertainment world. By the end of 2023, a fantastic opportunity came up for the role of Culture Editor at Refinery29. 

I’m still extremely grateful for the opportunity to write about movies, TV, books, and music for a living (among other things!), and I firmly believe that if it wasn’t for my unconventional journey, I might not have gained the technical skills to back my passion for culture and entertainment writing. Being passionate about entertainment and culture is one thing, but having the technical chops and strategic mindset to execute content plans is an entirely different beast.


Reading Money Diaries is the most I will ever engage with finance content, probably to my own detriment, but what was it like being its Editor? What was the curation of content like and what have been your biggest takeaways from it?

That’s so lovely to hear! There’s a reason the Money Diaries series is so successful—the voyeuristic, almost pervy nature of it is so addictive. Being its editor was a very interesting journey since there are a lot of moving parts. 

My biggest takeaways from my time as Money Diaries Editor are a mixed bag! The first being that you’re doing better financially than you think you are, and if you’re not, there are so many ways you can take control of your money, even if it means just packing your lunch. Another is that the cost of living crisis is affecting everyone. From people agonising over small $2 purchases to diarists who are still living paycheque-to-paycheque despite having well-paying roles, we’re only seeing people financially struggle more every day. 

There was also a really deeply personal element to money and the way we spend it. In Money Diaries, it’s not just saying that you bought a $23 smoothie. It’s a diary, so it’s about sharing your vulnerabilities and your insecurities. Money Diaries are completely anonymous and a safe space for people to share their stories, and part of my role was to encourage people to dive deeper, if they were comfortable to.

Another takeaway is that if you want to provide a diverse range of stories and experiences, you need to be willing to platform people who aren’t writers and use your skills as an editor to help them. I firmly believe that that needs to be something we integrate into our practices if we want a diverse selection of writers from different backgrounds, occupations, and walks of life.

Lastly, Money Diaries really proves that people love nothing more than getting a voyeuristic peek into each other's lives!

I loved ‘Why Odyssey Years Could Be the Key’, partly because I’m in a similar transitory period and feeling restless and untethered. Besides Odyssey Planning, what are some other ways people can cope with living/dealing with this period?

Thank you! Those are some of my favourite pieces to write as I love having people come out from reading a piece and go, ‘Damn, I thought I was the only one who felt that way’. 

I definitely don’t think I’m an expert by any means when it comes to combating feelings of restlessness or helping people with real-life advice. To me, some of the most comforting things have simply been the knowledge that other people are also feeling similar emotions as I am. 

Personally, writing has always been a cathartic experience. When I write these stories, it’s out of a deep-seated urge to figure out my own feelings or to almost solve my own existential crisis. In a way, it’s a weird form of public journaling. I really believe in fostering a community where vulnerability is something that comes naturally to us, and where we can reap the benefits of sharing our deepest insecurities or struggles with each other. 

Other than that, go for walks, pat dogs, experiment (even if it means briefly doing a science degree, knowing full well that you’re an English girlie), expand your circle, and create art that you don’t show anyone! 


What’s your best advice for emerging art and culture writers?

First, I’m extremely passionate about acknowledging the immense privilege that you need to have to be able to break into the media world. I was extremely lucky that I could do unpaid internships while living at home, but I know that there are so many people who can’t do this for a variety of reasons, who don’t have the same networks, or who naturally have more mountains to climb in this world. 

It’s basic, but if you want to write, just start writing—even if it’s just for yourself, or hell, about insurance. Don’t get too finicky about who you write for; just get your words published somewhere (even if it means starting your own Substack). Experiment with different types of pieces and don’t try to pigeonhole yourself too much. 

Learn the art of digital—whether that’s search, socials, or video—and eventually, you should be able to transfer your skills to the area you’re passionate about. Strategy and technical skills go a long way in the world of digital journalism. 

I’d also say that it’s key to be in tune with the discourse that’s happening online, but not be afraid to challenge it. Some of my favourite pieces, like my spicy take on the Barbie Oscar snub conversations, have been born from exhaustion over the reigning discourse. Don’t be afraid to (respectfully) challenge people, and back your own opinions, insights and experiences.

You’ll get imposter syndrome, but try taking small, bite-sized actions to get yourself a tiny bit closer to your goal. That journalist you admire or that job you really want might not be as out of reach as you think! 

Finally, watch movies! Watch TV shows! Read books! Go to galleries! Play games! 


As the Culture Editor for Refinery29, how has the act/process of editing and curating influenced your own writing?

It’s reinforced my need to separate myself from my work. When it comes to editing, I’ve learnt that I need to disconnect myself from the words on the page and look at it objectively, like someone would for the very first time. My first draft self should be worlds away from my final edit self!

I actually feel like my best writing comes from the editing process. It scratches a special part of my brain. My first edit is always a stream of consciousness, almost zen-like state where I get all my inner thoughts and ideas out on paper (or in this case, Wordpress). 

And to be clear, my first drafts are always bad. Really bad. It’s more about the ideas and roughly mapping around sentences that have been floating around in my brain. 


Are there any upcoming projects of yours that we should be keeping an eye out for?

At the moment, I’m really in future planning mode – how can Refinery29 Australia’s culture vertical continue to resonate with Gen Z and millennial women? 

Ideally, I’d love Refinery29 Australia to be the place that women can go for everything entertainment. Not just offering clever and thought-out reality TV takes, but also being the home of film, TV, books, arts, and culture more broadly, with a distinctly intersectional lens. 

We know that the film criticism game has been dominated by white men for a long time, so I’m keen to break this stereotype by reviewing, critiquing, and platforming stories from female filmmakers and actors. 

Commissioning stories from underrepresented people is also a big part of the Refinery29 puzzle. For example, we recently had a beautiful piece from a contributor about her experience going to the movies as a blind woman and interacting with an artform that is inherently visual. Where else could you read that type of article but on R29?!


And lastly, what do you look for in content pitching?

Specificity, unique ideas, and perspective. I can usually tell when a piece has been pitched to other publications, and while I’m not requesting a personalised love letter every time, it’s nice to know that you know what gives a piece the distinct Refinery29 edge. 

We don’t necessarily want the same conversation that’s been had over and over again either—I want your unique perspective that’s infused with who you are as a person. 

Finally, I don’t mind if you haven’t been published before—ideas are worth more than bylines. 

Also, please don’t call me.

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