Q&A | #HerStory
#HerStory Q&A with Puck
#HerStory is Twitter’s original interview series spotlighting and celebrating women journalists. For this edition, we’ve swapped the video format for a Twitter Spaces conversation, where we were joined by Julia Ioffe, Tina Nguyen, and Tara Palmeri from Puck. Read on to get the highlights, then tap the Tweet to listen to the full conversation.
Welcome, Julia, Tina, and Tara! Tell us a little about yourselves, what you cover at Puck, and maybe one of the favorite stories you’ve produced so far.
Julia Ioffe: What I cover up very broadly is Washington, foreign policy, and national security.
Probably my favorite story that I've done at Puck so far came out of a conversation with my editor, Ben Landy, and [Puck] co-founder Jon Kelly. It's about Putin's childhood in post-war Leningrad and the role of the dvor, which is basically the courtyards between the buildings in the cities and where these latchkey kids of the Soviet baby boom grew up, and the social code that was developed in these courtyards that Putin brought to the Kremlin with him. That story came about because of the kinds of conversations we have at Puck, which is this very collegial brainstorming where Jon often encourages us; what seems obvious to you is often not obvious to our readers — let's get that out of there and onto the page.
Tara Palmeri: I cover politics. My newsletter is called the Washington Mall, because it touches on all things Washington, which is a lot of power plays, people trying to predict the tea leaves of politics, and each party trying to use [for example] the economy or the Supreme Court ruling on abortion to their advantage. My first job was as a news assistant for CNN when I was 22 and it was the green room that I really worked. I felt like the talk in the green room was actually more fascinating than anything else that you would listen to, so, here I am, trying to give you a flavor of that. You can read the talking points, you could watch TV, but I'm giving you the low-key information that's happening, before it really happens.
Tina Nguyen: My beat’s a really weird one but it can only really exist in this type of political environment. I cover the Right, and everything involving the Republican Party — anything right of center from Liz Cheney all the way up through QAnon. It’s its own entire universe with its own set of rules and its own type of partisan way of viewing the world, and I find that it's been so bizarrely covered by the majority of the media and that's what I enjoy; just looking at the party, where their heads are, hearing what their conversations are, hearing what their priorities are, and then translating that and giving it to a larger audience.
So let's see … one of the stories I really love doing [would be] every attempt I've made to say that Ron DeSantis is not ready yet to challenge Donald Trump, and anyone who thinks he is right now is deluding themselves. Stuff like that.
What got you on the path to journalism? When did you first start thinking Hey, this is something that I might want to do as my job?
TP: I think I decided I wanted to be a journalist when I was, like, five years old, when I first started pretending I was covering the war from underneath my bed. I remember when I said, I really want to be a journalist. My mom was like, That's crazy. That's nuts. That's a glamorous job. You'll never have that. My mom was a paralegal, which is a great job, but her generation, I think a lot of them believe they were supposed to be there to support the men, you know what I mean? [Now] we're able to be the partners in this company, the principals, it's an amazing thing.
TN: For me, it was probably around senior year of high school. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with my life, and then I took a nonfiction writing class — Thanks, Miss Baker — and discovered that I really enjoyed diving into a situation and [asking] what's happening here? and then capturing that and bringing it back to other people.
I fell in love with the world of magazine writers, people who got to be witty and punchy for a living, so I always wanted to write for a magazine like Vanity Fair. Unfortunately, I ended up graduating into a fairly lean period for journalism, which is why I ended up blogging a lot. But if you stick around with something long enough and you manage to stay financially afloat during it, then good things will happen.
JI: As a good immigrant kid, I was going to be a doctor and then I realized I hated science. I literally was like, what am I really good at? I'm really good at writing papers. Can I do that for a living? I think about that every time I'm struggling with a blank page and I'm like, I'm a fucking idiot. What did I do? [laughs]
I graduated college in 2005, and I would say from 2007 on, it was like this great bloodletting in print journalism when it was starting to dawn on people that you couldn't start as a copy desk editor or a mail boy or an intern and work your way up to foreign editor or editor in chief anymore and have this 40-year career at The Times or The Post or The New Yorker. It was the beginning of this massive cataclysm and change in media, and it was a really weird time to start a career in this industry and probably pretty stupid to stick with it. But I did and I'm glad I did and that I waited around for Puck to come along.
Were there particular people who inspired you to get into journalism? What are your thoughts on what makes a good mentor or what doesn't make a good mentor?
TP: There were a lot of women throughout my career, who believed in me and really pushed me when I found it to be difficult. One of them is Julie Mason, who worked with me at the Washington Examiner, one of my first jobs. When I was at the New York Post, Michelle Gotthelf was the editor of the Metropolitan desk. She absolutely always looked out for me and rescued me at one point and just really reminded me that those feelings [of doubt] that you have are a totally normal thing. Same with Carrie Budoff Brown when I moved to Brussels, she really helped keep me in a state of realizing that there's always going to be another story, just keep going, this is what you're supposed to do.
It's a long game — it's a marathon — and I think I needed to know that when I was in my 20s. I'm super thankful and all I can do is give that back to other journalists.
JI: I want to call out the best female mentor I've had throughout my career who, as I grew up, became a friend, even as she continues being a mentor, and that's Susan Glasser, who is now a staff writer at The New Yorker. I think in the same way that men hire other men that they see themselves in, Susan was once a young Moscow correspondent herself, and so she took a chance on me. She gave me a lot of freedom and put a lot of trust in me, which is just extraordinary now that I think back on it — I was 27, I didn't have a lot of reporting experience, I didn't have many clips to my name.
Every time I talked to her, she was just like, What's next? What else are you thinking about? She encouraged me and gave me my own column in foreign policy, and again, in retrospect, it’s wild to me, she just gave me such a long leash. She created such a nurturing environment for me.
TN: I definitely had a very different experience to both Tara and Julia. I didn't really come from the fanciest background when it came to my entry into journalism. I came from what would be best described as, like, blog farms. When I got to Vanity Fair, I wasn't quite sure what my role was going to be. I wanted to take a bigger step into journalism, but since I came from a background that prioritized volume over journalistic quality, it wasn't necessarily promised that I would have this type of career.
Jon [Kelly] opened the door for me to enter actual serious journalism but there was this guy named John Homans, who used to be the executive editor at New York Magazine, absolute legend, probably one of the best magazine editors to ever walk the planet. Jon Kelly managed to hire Homans, and from there, he just had this wonderful way with his writers where he could just sit you down and just be like, All right, why is it that I should care about this? He was this crusty old New England guy with a big booming Boston Brahmin accent. I think a reason he was a good mentor, not just for guys but also for a lot of women, was because he just knew how to listen to people and to draw a story out of them.
What do you think are some of the best ways to help your [female] peers? What do you think is really effective and has helped you or that you try to do to help others?
JI: Not necessarily at Puck, but when I've mentored other, younger women, my advice to them has been to behave more like men behave in these kinds of situations. You know, men ask for raises, so ask for raises. Men aren't shy about self promotion, so self promote — be less self-effacing, be more proactive, be more confident. They get away with a lot and you could too, if you tried. I've definitely gotten my nose broken a few times for that in my career, but I've also benefited from doing that.
TP: You shouldn't be so apologetic for everything. And I think when a woman does something, it's always perceived in a more threatening way, in some ways. It’s hard to understate how new we are as creatures to the workforce, and especially in this space. I mean, I know there have been working women for decades before us, but I still think that there's a bit of catch-up still going on. Like, we're not just in support roles anymore, we’re ascending.
TN: Yeah, I 100% agree with everything that Julia and Tara have said. For me, as someone who's pretty much been in environments that have mostly been male-dominated, it's been wonderful working in an environment with all women journalists. We are able to build this environment where we can be completely collaborative and open and support each other as we push our way up through, as we build this company.
Check out more from #HerStory, Twitter’s original video series, highlighting the work and personal stories of female journalists from around the world.