Viral Wisdom

To Gwyneth, with love

When New York Post contributing editor Mackenzie Dawson penned “A Working Mom’s Open Letter to Gwyneth,” a witty piece addressed to Ms. Paltrow after the star told E! it would be easier to work a 9-to-5 job than be a movie star, she didn’t think it would get much response. But within a day, reactions—mostly from working parents incensed by Paltrow’s words—poured in, and by the following week, the piece had over 600,000 social shares, calculated by MuckRack’s “Who Shared My Link?” app. CJR’s Nicola Pring talked to Dawson in the aftermath of her viral experience.

Did you think your piece would get the traffic it did? I expected to get a few “likes” from my friends on Facebook, but that’s about it. Honestly, I wrote it and kind of crossed it off my list and moved on to the other things that I had to do that day at work. When I saw the hits it started getting, I was shocked.

Why do you think readers reacted so strongly? I think readers reacted the way they did for two reasons: One, I think that Gwyneth Paltrow in particular has been getting under people’s skin for years. Two, and more importantly, I think working parents are kind of at a tipping point right now in America. They feel unsupported by legislation, they feel like they’re working really hard for, often, not great pay, and the cost of childcare is insane and the demands on workers are just through the roof. I think the reaction was in large part due to people just feeling like they were being heard, that I was speaking their language. That’s been my favorite part of this whole experience, honestly; hearing from all the moms and dads out there who are like, “Thank you for speaking up for us.”

What were some of the best comments you got from readers?
The funniest response I got was from someone who said he was a Congolese refugee who wrote a brilliant parody of my open letter; it was the best thing ever. Another response was from a woman who sent me a picture of some shoes she had worn to work the other day. In true working mom fashion, both shoes are beige, but one is open-toed and the other is close-toed. I loved that.

Had you ever had this kind of a reaction to a story you’d written before? I have never had this kind of a reaction to something I’ve written before. Not even close. It’s funny, there will be these pieces that you labor over for days, fine-tuning the words, and you’ll be really pleased with yourself, and it’ll be published, and . . . crickets. No response, except from my parents. Then there are the pieces you aren’t that invested in, that you kind of bang out, and those are always the ones that get the most reaction. It’s like a law of journalism physics. It’s very humbling, but it does teach you never to attach too much importance to the response a piece gets. You can work yourself into a lather wondering why people didn’t care as much as you do, or you can just let it go. Journalism is a very Zen exercise that way.

How do you feel about the experience? Entertained and grateful. I’ll be able to tell the grandkids about the time granny went viral.

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Nicola Pring is a CJR intern