A Q&A with Buzzfeed’s Lindsey Adler on women in media, finding stories and San Fran vs. NY

Every so often, I’ve decided to drop in a Q&A with a reporter of my choosing to talk about what’s right and wrong with journalism, their interests and random other stuff. Some are friends. Some are just people who’s work I really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s Lindsey Adler of Buzzfeed. Lindsey covers sports for the site, does really good work over there and has one of the most interesting Twitter accounts in sports media. You can follow her here. We talked about how she finds stories, her outspokenness, and San Francisco vs. New York.

You can check out the first Q&A, with the Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond, here.

The questions are in bold. The answers are not.

1. How did you get into journalism and get to the job you’re at now?

A couple years ago BuzzFeed opened an internship for someone to cover women’s issues in sports. I figured that was the perfect intersection of my interests, and an entry level position in an industry that makes it tough to get them without a good bit of experience. I got that internship, went to VICE Sports for a bit after the internship ended, then our news director at BuzzFeed reached out after they’d decided to create a full-time sports position on the breaking news desk. And they’ve just let me be really flexible and grow from there!

2. When you first started working at Buzzfeed, how would people and sources respond to interview requests and your reporting? Did you experience any resistance or were people like, oh great, Buzzfeed is expanding its news-gathering now? There’s very good work being done there but there’s usually a lag in acceptance of new media organizations.

I think this is really interesting, and something I do have to think about quite a bit. I think overall, at least outside of the industry, BuzzFeed is still thought of as kind of a one-dimensional, non-news outlet. Mostly, I think people are kind of like, “Oh, I didn’t know BuzzFeed did news,” which, ok, it’s been like, four and a half years, but I understand not everyone is plugged into every shift in strategy from new media companies. A lot of people reach out to me, though, because they know we have a massive audience. But we are not a destination outlet for sports, mostly because it’s just me, and I’ve seen a few stories that should/could have been my exclusive, based on prior reporting and sourcing, go to the Times or other legacy publications. I understand that, though it sucks. If you’re an attorney and want your impending lawsuit to make a huge statement, legacy media is a pretty safe bet. But we have proven impact from reporting, too. And I think despite a skewed public perception, the reporting that comes out of our newsroom speaks for itself.
I think I experience that push-back more from other reporters than from story subjects. I am also a young person new to the industry, so it’s hard to know how much of it is an institutional perception or just that I might not have “proven” myself yet, which I think is fine. However, the worst instance of this I can remember is from the Aaron Hernandez trial, when a NY tabloid reporter asked me if I was going to, “like, write a listicle about this?” and I said, “uh, dude, this is a murder trial.”

3. You have the luxury of covering every league and every sport. And the burden of not having a beat that can produce stories for you. How do you approach getting stories?

Not having a single sport/team beat is more of a blessing than a curse, but there are some downsides I see. For instance, as you mention, I don’t have a beat that just brings a daily news cycle to me. It is also harder to get like, deeply sourced in one area when I jump around. But the freedom and flexibility I’ve been allowed in my original reporting in the two years I’ve been at BuzzFeed has been so helpful and revealing to me about my interests, strengths, and weaknesses. I’ve really been allowed to kind of try my hand at a lot of different types of reporting, which is something I think is invaluable as a young reporter and something I will credit BuzzFeed with for the rest of my career, probably. I approach getting stories often by keeping an eye on off-hand mentions of some athlete’s weird interest or a cool initiative a team or league is doing. Because a lot of my friends also know I’m inclined to chase the stories about outsiders with unique backstories (Hi, I report what I am, I guess), they sometimes give me heads-ups about cool stories to check out as well.

4. How in the world do you find a college football prospect on a native American reservation? And then report it out?

This is funny, because my story about Bona Nez is actually a story that came to me as a suggestion from a friend/BuzzFeed colleague, Joel Anderson. Nez was on the leaderboard for I think a couple different categories of defensive stats last year on MaxPreps, and Joel is a huge high school football fan. (Hello, Texas.) He wasn’t able to get to the story at the time, so he was gracious enough to allow me to pitch it to my editor, who told me to hop on a plane and go for it.

Reporting for that story was interesting and fun. That Arizona-border corner of New Mexico is unfathomably beautiful, and a part of the country I definitely wouldn’t have seen without this story. But when I spoke with my editor, I asked for permission to spend at least a week down there with his family and in the area, because it is a community and culture that is so different from what I know. I felt a real imperative to get this story right, and I was just fortunate that the Nez family was so open and accommodating to me.

5. You’ve been very vocal and informative on women’s issues and representation in sports and media. Was there ever apprehension for you to be outspoken, especially as a young journalist still trying to find your standing? I’m sometimes more conservative in putting out my opinion on things just out of caution. Maybe it’s living in the (old?) theory of just wanting to focus on reporting but that seems to be a relic now on Twitter and for good reason.

I think I need to be less vocal, honestly. It’s something I’ve really worked on scaling back over the last few months, but I am outspoken by nature, and it often feels like a difficult process to keep my thoughts to myself. But I also think of all the people with experiences different than my own whose perspective I might not understand if they were not vocal, so I hope my outspokenness can be productive in that way for people who might care deeply about gender equality, but don’t have first-hand perspective. I think my outspokenness about gender issues actually *built* some of my standing in my industry as it kind of carved out a niche role for me, but I am careful now to pigeon-hole myself in that role, and I recognize that being openly combative in this industry is a disastrous career strategy.

6. This tweet really struck me, for obvious reasons. How much shit do you and other women reporters still have to put up with that men and people who don’t deal with this are just blind or ignorant to?

Look, male reporters get shitty emails too. But from what I have seen, heard, and inferred, most of the hate-mail men receive focuses on a perceived lack of expertise, bias in their work, or other things related to their actual reporting/writing. Women are more prone to personal attacks.
I don’t receive emails like this all the time, but things like this happen intermittently. I think women are generally more inclined to share those particular experiences, but the thing that I really wanted to focus on in sharing this most recent email was the *response* I get from otherwise well-meaning people. “Brush it off,” is okay in theory, and I understand good-natured people want to remind you that you are not what one anonymous commenter says. But this shit still hurts, it sucks. It makes you weep, doubt yourself, wonder why you’re doing it. And for outsiders, people who don’t experience it, to act like you should be “strong enough” to brush it off feels like a dismissal of my right to reaction. More than a couple women reached out to me to tell me that when they receive emails like this, they feel it’s “weak” to feel upset about them, and that they were thankful to see that imbalance addressed. That meant more to me than the many very nice tweets about my character and work.

7. What do you think is over-reported and over-covered in sports and what needs more attention?

I think agent agendas and the minutia of personnel transaction is frustratingly over-reported. I mean, but how do you *not* report on the Dodgers “showing interesting” in Player To Be Named Later, or whatever? But I see so many transaction and scoops reporters who seem to have their platforms used by agents, players, teams, and leagues with agendas. I don’t have those connections, so it’s easy for me to say, though.
I think what happens after a career ends is a subject that can never be covered enough. When it comes to football, the health issue is a big part of that, of course. But in general, I see the transition out of sport as something that’s very difficult for athletes to grapple with, and it leads to a lot of cool decision-making as well as a lot of sad decision-making.

8. As a young journalist (I’m shaming myself just for using that term) and someone who also might need to spend oh god how many years until retirement, how much do you think about the unsteady nature of the field, its changing structure and what it means long-term for you?

Uh, I can’t believe journalism is the wagon to which I’ve hitched myself. I recognize that I’ve got a pretty damn good deal going at BuzzFeed News, but I look out at the sports media/media landscape at large and think, “Oh god, there are so few attractive options.” Right now, I just hope that I can continue to do work I find fulfilling.

9. Who is the best writer you read and who people should read who you think isn’t getting enough due? (And doesn’t work at Buzzfeed — because that’s not fair)

The best writer I read is Rebecca Solnit, who is probably not the best technical writer, but is the one who simultaneously makes me want to give up, try harder, be smarter, recognize my limits.
Seth Wickersham at ESPN the Magazine is someone I think doesn’t get enough attention, at least from what I see. I think he’s a very versatile reporter whose work I’d probably like to emulate.

10. So you’re from San Francisco and moved to New York. How do the two food scenes compare? Dare I ask you to pick between them?

I’m not going to make any friends with this answer, but here goes:
I’m a vegetarian who can’t eat dairy (so, functionally vegan as it seems like “slathered in cheese” is the default vegetarian option at restaurants), so this is an easy choice for me: San Francisco is superior in every way.
The produce in New York is absolute garbage and I will not stand for these bullshit avocados. Everyone in this city just wants to eat pastrami and carbs and I can’t deal with it. San Francisco restaurants accommodate a wide range of dietary structures, and a vegan meal is more than just “warm noodles with olive oil on them.” There are some vegetarian/vegan friendly places in NYC, of course, but they are establishments to be sought out; in San Francisco a vegan option on a menu is essentially a right. I know this answer will make literally everyone hate me — I SAW every NFL reporter making fun of the Vegan Dogs concession at the Super Bowl in Santa Clara — but I don’t care. I love healthy food and I don’t care who knows it!!!