At first glance, Kristin Iversen is your normal girl next door–a petite blonde with blue eyes and a charming aura. But that impression fades a bit as she describes her “somewhat circuitous” career path. The 34-year-old has spent past few years as the executive editor of the monthly publication, Brooklyn Magazine. In 2013, she wrote a moving piece remembering Nelson Mandela’s 1990 visit to New York City, but she is probably best known for her witty commentary on how New York has changed for the worst.
Recently, Iversen and her team at Brooklyn Magazine released their second bi-annual list of “The 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture.”
The list is made up of creatively minded and culturally significant Brooklyn residents–including artists, entrepreneurs, and activists, as well as many editors, producers, and writers for media outlets like The New York Times, The Fader, Eater, BuzzFeed, Tech Crunch, and Vice, to name a few. Iverson recently spoke to CJR about this media-heavy list and her career in journalism. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get your start in journalism, and how has the industry changed since you started?
I had a somewhat circuitous path toward my current career–definitely not one that would be particularly easy to follow, in that it involved dropping out of college at 17, spending time alternately bartending and driving across the country as a passenger in an 18-wheeler, getting married and having two kids by the age of 24, launching a trucking company from a Brooklyn apartment, and then sort of waking up one day at 26, wondering what it was that I really wanted to do.
It gets a little bit more traditional after that: I went back to school and got my undergrad, but in history, not journalism. I knew I wanted to write, but I didn’t really know how to get started and didn’t have any real connections. So I started asking around and found some friends of friends who were willing to grab a drink with me and talk to me about how to pitch stories, which I started doing. I voraciously read every website, magazine, and newspaper I thought I would like to write for, and also forced myself to admit that some outlets I liked to read might not be where I’d want to write, and I went on Mediabistro and pored over job postings. This is where I got lucky, I think, because the first job I applied for—an assistant editor position at the company where I still work, four years later—called me in for an interview, and I wound up landing the job, and I have steadily risen up the masthead since.
There were a lot of people in journalism also creating a different type of cultural sphere and leading cultural conversations.”
In terms of how the industry’s changed, well, the place where I work, Brooklyn Magazine, was (until last year when we were bought by a larger company) part of a small, independent, print-based media outlet. Budgets were always tight, there’s never not been a sort of start-up mentality. There’s an all-hands-on-deck approach, which is stimulating and occasionally exhausting. But I’ve also found it to be a nourishing company, and industry on the whole. People are really willing to promote and support you if they believe in your work. And reciprocity is key, in the sense that it’s just as important to advocate for other people’s work you believe in as it is to do for your own.
Whether journalists are working at full-time salaried jobs or as freelancers, it’s vital to stay active and aware of what’s going on in your profession on the whole: Follow the careers of people you admire; think about where you would like your career to go; write a lot and read even more. All of this might sound kind of obvious, but media is an industry that moves fast, and staying aware of what’s going on is the best way to seize any available opportunity. I mentioned luck before as a reason why I think I am where I am, but the truth is definitely that I wouldn’t have gotten the job I have now if I hadn’t been willing to put myself out there, send pitches to people I’d never met, and look out for employment possibilities.
Does the tremendous amount of alternative media affect the number of professionals chosen for the Top 100 list?
More and more people are working at media outlets that challenge the idea of traditional journalism, which is really exciting in terms of how they’re able to start and direct cultural conversations. So there’s a lot of people on the list who are journalists but whose impact is felt in fields like fine art, film, and music, making them difficult to classify as having any one specific sphere of influence.
Do you think the list affects the industry?
I don’t know! I think lists like this, when done well and with real intention, can serve as a nice and needed reminder of all the amazing work being done within our industry. It’s an opportunity to find out about people and work with which you weren’t already familiar. And that can never be a bad thing.
What was considered when choosing journalists for the list?
We considered people of culture, art, film, music, literature, and that included some media people and journalists who are really identified with one particular medium. A.O. Scott is the film critic for The New York Times, so he’s definitely media, and he wrote a book about criticism but he’s also involved with the film world, obviously. One thing we felt is that there were a lot of people in journalism also creating a different type of cultural sphere and leading cultural conversations via their work, and we found what they’re doing goes beyond commentary and can affect change on its own.
How did you find each person? Was the selection process based off the editor’s contact list, or was it deeper than that?
Very few of the people were personally known to anyone. All of the editors collaborated on who they thought were culturally affecting change in Brooklyn and influencing the way things are moving forward. Based on that, we edited down the list in order to make sure we were representing a lot of elements of Brooklyn life and culture.
What does “influential” mean to the industry?
A lot of what we took into consideration is how these people have a ripple effect, and how these people are helping others get into the industry and get inspired to do different types of work. A lot of it is about being individual producers but also enabling other people to do their best work. Being influential is about starting conversation.
Why 100 people?
At the risk of sounding stupid about this, 100 is just a nice, big, round number. With 100, it allowed us to pick some figures who are totally influential but might not exist on the margins of a smaller, more discrete list. We also took into account people who are working to preserve Brooklyn’s specific culture, to make sure housing remains affordable in the time of high rents. So we have some people who are politically active on the list, because I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many places throughout the world or throughout history where really great art is coming from ultra-exclusive, super-expensive areas.