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Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Eleanor Burnard, Digital and Assistant Editor at frankie

23 May, 2024

Today, Medianet is joined by one of its former Researchers, Eleanor Burnard. As Digital and Assistant Editor for one of Australia’s most recognisable publications, Eleanor chats about her role within frankie, as well as the realities of building up a portfolio as a writer.

What can be done so writers can make a living with their work? Do you have any insight on how writing as a career - or any creative pursuit - can be made better?

Oh God! That is a question I wish I could answer. I remember doing the exact same thing, talking to journalists and asking them ‘is it harder now or was it harder then’, and it’s always been hard! 

You can even see, though it’s a different kind of medium and a different genre of writing, with last year’s Writers Guild of America strikes in LA and New York. Even those people who are writing for some of the biggest movies and shows, they’re not getting paid, they can’t even afford rent.

I feel like anything that is creative or anything seen as within the humanities, people don’t see it as worth any money. I remember someone saying, ‘Oh, well I tweet so does that mean I should get paid?’, and I’m just like bro come on, let’s be real now! A tweet shouldn’t even be compared to a 300-word article!

And it’s so frustrating because writing is revered when it comes to books and literature. Just think of All the President’s Men, and how anything that’s a controversy is still suffixed with the word ‘gate’. That was journalism. 

I remember too that I would have my full time job and writing was something I did on the side. It’s just frustrating, that writing is seen as such a nothing, that it is so diminished. I don’t know. I wish I had advice on how it can be better but I think, just pay your writers, honestly. Pay them for what they're worth, especially in this cost of living crisis, because without journalists, without writing, from small short stories to huge blockbusters to groundbreaking journalism, all of it changes the world. 

It’s only the people who own the media companies and the movie studios and the publishing houses who are making money, and they’re making money off writers’ work and off their labour.

This next question has been at the forefront of my mind since Medianet just released its Media Landscape Report but I really want to hear your opinion on AI and how you think it will impact journalism - which is more straight reportage - vs more creative fields of writing, especially as an Editor for frankie. 

AI is something very interesting to me but is something that I’m also very wary of. I think it’s incredibly foolish to completely write off AI because it’s not going away. No matter how much I might dislike how it’s being used, it’s here. It’s kind of like the internet, you know. Once it’s here, it’s here. And it is going to get smarter, it is going to get better.

I think AI can be used in really good ways like, for example, I use Grammarly and that’s all AI, that’s all based on learning what is grammatically correct and in that sense AI can be quite helpful. But then you look at how people use AI to steal creative work, which sounds dramatic to say, but it happens and it still does. 

A lot of people talk about the very scary side of AI but I think it’s also kind of heartbreaking. I don’t want to get too wanky about it but it seems people are wanting to consume stuff that isn’t made by humans. That has no soul. When I think about AI art for instance, it’s literally stealing, a regurgitation. Not to mention hands always look weird, eyes are looking in weird directions. It’s goofy but even that will get better 

It’s just really sad because it goes back to people dismissing writers for their work. Writers aren’t getting paid for writing things people love to read (even if it’s not creative) and now you have AI and this attitude of ‘oh look we can write things for free now we don’t have to pay people’. So it is sad because you clearly want to read and look at things that people have made but you don’t want to give them the time of day for it and it’s just very dismissive’

Then you look at the actual scary side. I’m chronically online as the kids would say, so I am aware and I can tell when it’s AI. It’s easy for me to be like ‘who would believe that Joe Biden’s voice is telling them to do this’, but people do. Even the other day my mum sent me a video that was clearly AI and she was like ‘OMG did you see this’, and it was nothing serious, it was like about a baby deer or something but it starts out that way. I don’t want to get too dystopian about it but you can’t help but think where is this gonna go, this use of fake AI photography and passing it off as something that actually happened? It’s causing more mis and dis information, more hostility. It’s making people create their own reality and it’s really kind of unsettling.

I think AI, when used correctly, can actually be beneficial but people aren’t using AI to make the world a bit easier. It’s a weird form of exploitation because it’s other people’s ideas being regurgitated into something that’s not made by humans. So overall I feel uneasy about AI. 

How do you look for opportunities and how do you juggle it with your full time job then and now?

You basically do a lot of work for little money or no money or exposure which so many people can relate to and which goes back to people not wanting to pay artists and writers. 

For me, there was a lot of stalking on LinkedIn for any writing jobs. I just typed in ‘writing’ and anything that I could think of that I was like, ‘I could do this’. I just sent as many applications as I could. 

Whenever people ask me, ‘How do you get jobs for writing’, it's really awful, and I hate to sound like an Andrew Tate lover, but you’ve really just got to hustle. You really just have to put your name out there because to have something, even if it’s a Buzzfeed-style listicle, that’s something. So you just have to keep doing it. 

I think the thing is - and I can really relate to this, I think everyone can - but no one wants to be bad at something. Everyone wants to start and be like, ‘I’m at a good level right now’, and sadly, that is not how it works. Especially right now when it’s even harder to find work or even exposure. You really just sometimes have to do the difficult work, the low-level jobs, and it's awful and I really wish it wasnt that way but you just gotta start trying and eventually someone might pick you and it might take absolutely forever but someone will. Just keep practising your writing too. You’re not gonna get better at writing if you’re not writing, you’re not gonna get better at painting if you’re not painting. It's something that you have to keep working at. I always think of it like The Sims. When you build skills you can see it gradually getting better. Once you get into that mindset, you’re building something like a Sim! Imagine like a green bar filling up! It’s uh, maybe it’s a weird way of thinking but it does help me a lot. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that. And sorry what was the other half of your question? I just completely derailed that…

No, that's fine! And how did you juggle writing with a full time job and do you have any advice for emerging writers?

Honestly a lot of missing out on social events and a lot of prioritising your time. I don’t know. Looking back, I kind of wish I had a bit more of a social life, especially after COVID where there was no social life, so it is a bit… yeah you kind of have to prioritise your time and I always did it after work or on the weekends when I wasn’t working because I wouldn’t have had enough time otherwise. 

One piece of advice would be, like for me I love movies, so I try to find something where I can write about movies or have something to do with movies that I can get paid for, even if it’s the smallest thing. And you know I just started like ‘Oh there’s an opening for somewhere writing listicles on movies and TV’. Just start! And you know when you actually like the thing you’re writing about, you’ll wanna write more, especially if you know other people might actually read it. And sometimes it can be like, I want to prove that I actually am a fan of this thing and I’m not just … you know… you kind of get a little bit of an ego boost because you’re like, ‘Yes I am a fan and you can see because I said this and only real fans know this. Very that.

But yeah, you’ve gotta hustle. It’s awful but you’ve got to hustle. 

I always ask this question because I keep hoping there's a secret trick, a pinch of salt mixed with cayenne to make writing opportunities appear, to make freelancing less painful. Anyway! I’m also really curious as to what a typical day looks like for you, as the Digital Editor for frankie. 

I’m one of those people who needs to have a schedule, that’s why the transition from high school to uni, and then uni to full time work was really difficult because I like to have a set schedule. Like ‘Today, I need to do this, this and this. And then I know on Tuesday, I gotta do this’.  

So I’d say a normal day for me would be, every morning, I have to have a blog out on the homepage and posted onto socials. Then for the rest of the day, it’s the usual checking of emails, checking all of the different organising apps that everyone uses like Asana, Google, Outlook. All the different ones you know and you have to learn how they’re all different and ugh, that’s a headache! You know, all the admin stuff.

I’m also always on the hunt for new things to talk about. Things to show off. A lot of my job really just includes a lot of scrolling on Instagram, as much as I hate to admit it! It’s a lot of scouring the web and all social media to find cool people who, you know, I think are cool and I’d love to talk about, I’d love to show off their art, or other creative work. 

And then in the afternoon, I have another blog out. So I make sure there’s two blogs out every single day, check if there’s anything branded or a sponsored content that needs to go out, and double check with clients if this is the right heading that they want and a lot of that stuff.

When it comes to the print magazine, we always have an editorial day. We just had one last week, where we stood around - the art director, the editor, the designer, all of us - and we all chat about cool stories, or cool people and it’s always so fun to see what all of us find really interesting because it’s all so different.

I’m always on the hunt for pitches for both the mag and the blog on any cool op-eds, editorials, personal essays, etc. Whenever I get pitched those, I always like to make sure they’re really suitable for the frankie audience. 

And throughout the process of writing for the magazine, it’s a lot of listening to Youtube 24-hour ambient focus music, you know! Low-fi beats to study and relax to. A god-send. Whoever invented them, thank you because they keep me on track. 

I also go through the interviews and then I go through the transcribing process, which I hate because you have to listen to your own voice and then you hear when you make a mistake or you stumble and you’re like ‘Oh my God, why did I do that! Now it’s here forever!’ and I have to listen to it because I need to make sure I got this point right so I have to go through that. A lot of screaming at myself and writing back and forth, and editing.

It’s honestly nice to kind of think ‘On this week I have this to do, and then on this week I have this to do’. I always like having a to-do list. I like being told what I need to do because otherwise I would not get anything done. 

You’ve mentioned how you need to make sure the pitches are suitable to the frankie audience. I was curious as to what you meant by that. What makes a piece or a pitch frankie-material, and what the differences are in curating for the blog vs the print mag. In my interview with Shannon, she mentioned that for print, the pieces need to be, in a way, timeless. Whereas for online, they could be more zeitgeisty. 

I definitely agree with Shannon there. For the magazine we always like things that are down the line, where next year, you can pick it up and read it and still relate to or find some sort of interest in the piece. I love picking up magazines that I read when I was in high school, like frankie. I love reading it and one, getting the nostalgia kick of like ‘Oh my god, they’re talking about the Arctic Monkeys’ new album’ or just reading stuff about people who I still think are cool. It’s a mix between a little time capsule and also something that’s not … too niche, that only so many people knew about. Because it’s print, it’s physical, it’s right in front of you, and it’s gonna stay that way. 

And then with the blog, just recently, we had someone talk about how tumblr core is coming back and the 2010s are going through a revival and it’s like, ‘This is so crazy!’ So yeah we love talking about more relevant topics, ones that appeal to the right now. When it comes to trends, I try to stay on top of them. In the sense that, I’m chronically online! Also if people are talking about this topic, and a lot of people have their own takes on it, I love to have a frankie view on it as well. But I also don't want it to be too - I can’t find the right word for it - but I don’t want it to look like a TikTok for-you-page, or you know, just another Instagram copy and paste. I always like it to be, ‘We have this which is trending, but we also have this person who is not relevant to anything going on in the internet but is really cool.’ Or we have just a nice little recipe that might not have a trending ingredient, if that’s a thing, but it’s always yummy. So I like to kind of sprinkle a little cool thing that’s happening now and is relevant, and then something that your mum would like. 

It’s very like that because the frankie audience is such a mix of people. Our demographic is about 16-40, so that’s like two generations. Obviously that’s so many different life experiences and so many different views on things, but they’re all kind of connected because they like the recipes that we have, or they like that we have cool little craft projects. I like to include everyone. 

What stories/experiences do you want to see more, given this broad audience? What is the frankie perspective to you?

Like I said, we all have so many life experiences, and you know I think I’m always on the hunt, for as much as I love talking about things, I’m one person in a sea of I don’t know how many. So when it comes to stories that I really want to feature I’ll talk about the blog first and then I’ll talk about print. But for the blog, honestly it’s something that’s interesting, like five books you can read on a plane that you won’t get bored of, or an op-ed on growing up in the internet space. I’m always looking for things that are unique but people can still relate to. Like not everyone can relate to, for instance, my internet experience growing up, spending hours and hours on club penguin, and then watching scary videos on Youtube. I know that’s not what everyone did! It’s a good childhood honestly! Not messed up at all. But I know that’s kind of a niche experience. 

But I also know that so many people in my generation were part of the internet generation. Or I know other people who are maybe parents, or had younger siblings, or younger people in their lives watch this happen. And so when it comes to stories, I like it to be quirky but still things you can talk to anyone about. In terms of what I’m looking for specifically, I think the best way to put it is, when you’re talking to a group of friends, what’s the topic that comes up? We all like talking about this so I’m gonna pitch this to you. Because I can talk about Pokemon for absolutely forever, but I know that if I’m with a group of friends, no one’s gonna care that I have all of these Pokemon cards. So I think about, ‘Well my friends and I really like talking about this topic’. It’s something that you know is a conversation starter, it’s something that you know can be niche, in a sense like when it comes to personal essays and things, but still we don’t want it to be so incredibly obscure that, in the nicest way possible, no one else will really care about. I know that’s a bit harsh but sometimes you get pitches and it’s like, it’s interesting to you, and I can see you really have an interest in it but how would you sell this idea to someone else? 

And then when it comes to print, it’s definitely like Shannon said, definitely more evergreen, definitely stories that no matter what, you have to always think, ‘In 5 years will I find this interesting, will I still talk about this?’ And maybe you won’t but it’s still a good story or maybe you will and you’ll be able to pick up a magazine of frankie and still read it. It’s something to look out for. Cause yeah, would you talk about it with your friends? Would this come up in a pub or would this come up at just hanging out at the park? We like things that are conversation starters. 

Individual but not isolating. 

Yes, exactly! 

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