Interview by: Jaclyn Mika (School of Journalism '08).
Carley Fortune, School of Journalism ’06, is Executive Editor at Refinery29 Canada.
This Q&A was conducted when Carley was an executive editor at Refinery29 and is now the NYT bestselling author of Every Summer After.
What did you originally see yourself doing when you first enrolled in journalism school?
I wanted to work in fashion magazines, but I had no idea what that involved. And I thought there was a very good chance I’d go to law school after [university]; working in magazines seemed like an impossible dream.
How did that vision change as the years went by?
Learning about long-form feature-writing was an eye-opener — it was like being introduced to a world I didn’t know existed. I wanted to work somewhere that published incredible stories like the ones we studied in school, but the media industry didn’t feel accessible to me at all. I had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated — I just knew I needed to get a paycheque. My student debt was huge.
What have you done since graduating/how did you arrive at your current position?
After graduating I decided I would move to Victoria, BC, with my boyfriend, and ended up getting a job as EIC at The Martlet, the University of Victoria student paper. After that, I moved back to Toronto and landed an internship at Toronto Life, which turned into a full-time job as an online editor. I left almost four years later to launch The Grid, a now-defunct weekly Toronto publication, where I oversaw the Life content and a bunch of cool packages. I stayed for two years, then went to the Globe and Mail — I worked in the Life and Style sections there. Then I left to take a job at Chatelaine — I became deputy editor, and then, last summer after a big reorganization at Rogers, I became EIC of Chatelaine. I believe I hold the record for the shortest-serving EIC in Chatelaine’s history, because I quit a couple of months later to head up the Canadian edition of Refinery29, which launched in October. I oversee all editorial operations, staffing, audience strategy, and work with our sales director to build the business.
Thinking back to your first-year self, how do you think they would react to where you are now?
Global media and entertainment brands like Refinery29 didn’t exist back in 2002 — and I wouldn’t have known the potential for powerful storytelling beyond print. More personally, I felt like an outsider when I was in first-year, having just moved to Toronto from a town of 1,200 and knowing nothing about journalism or media. I was intimidated by my classmates and it took me a while to feel as confident as I did in high school. It would have been helpful to know in those early days that I needn’t have worried.
What do you enjoy about working in women's media? What is challenging about it?
I’ve worked in women’s media for the last five years, and it’s the best. I’ve never worked at a fashion magazine like I once dreamed, and I’m not sure that would appeal to me anymore. What I love about a brand like Refinery29 is that we cover everything that a general interest publication would, but through our particular lens and mission to support women, in addition to fashion, beauty, etc. It’s also rad to work in an office environment where you can be yourself, dress how you want, and talk openly about periods, pregnancy, and skincare without judgment.
As for the challenges, women’s media continues to be underestimated — I can’t count the number of times we were told to “stick to the recipes” at Chatelaine. But defying expectations is part of the fun.
What's your favourite part of your job?
Idea-generation and packaging have always been two things I love to do. With Refinery29, I’ve had the rare privilege of building a team from scratch, and seeing that group come together has been incredibly rewarding.
How has your journalism degree and what you learned in school prepared you for your current career?
It was fundamental. I graduated as a huge magazine nerd with what was probably an over-inflated sense of confidence, but it served me well.
Can you talk about one of the biggest accomplishments so far?
Landing the Executive Editor job at Refinery29 is one of my proudest moments. I was so confident when I was interviewing for the position — I knew that I was perfect for it, and that there was truly no one who’d do a better job. That’s an incredible feeling.
What do you think the School of Journalism experience offers that you can’t get anywhere else?
For me, it was working on the [Review of Journalism], which was both a total delight and practical in terms of gaining a deeper understanding of magazine publishing.
What's one of your favourite memories from j-school?
I met both my husband and my best friend in j-school. That’s got to be worth the cost of tuition.
Any memorable School of Journalism professors during your time at the university?
Yes! Bill Reynolds, Ivor Shapiro, Stephen Trumper, and Cynthia Brouse. Bill lead the Review and we thought he was the coolest. Ivor was an incredible editing instructor, but he also supported me after I graduated through a very difficult time at my first job. Steve introduced us to the art of magazine packaging and the beauty of headline writing — two of my greatest joys. And Cynthia, who has since passed away, was our fact-checking and copy-editing guru. Also, she hosted a party for our class at her home, which made us all feel very grown-up and important.
What advice would you give to current journalism students?
Figure out what sets you apart, and do it better than everyone else.