Thursday, July 22, 2010

Q&A with Rachel Hills

Recently, I had an idea for a series of profiles on this blog about people who inspire. I want to know what gets them out of bed in the morning, what makes them tick.

Here's the first – the divine Rachel Hills. We met at Sydney University in the early noughties studying Media Communications together.

I remember an outspoken, smart, smiling, friendly feminist type who was always wearing bright lippie. After a few years of sporadic email contact, we caught up at Media140 in Sydney last year.

These days, Rachel's a prolific writer: journo, blogger, editor and intellectually rigorous while being easy to understand. I've enjoyed reading her pieces in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Vogue, The Monthly, The Australian Literary Review, Cleo, Girlfriend and many others.

Rachel is also currently researching her PhD on Gen Y, sex, status and identity at the Journalism and Media Research Centre at the University of New South Wales and - like all good/impatient journalists - simultaneously developing it into a book proposal.

Her blog, Musings of An Inappropriate Woman, was named Australia's 'Best Feminist Blog' by The Australian, and earned her a nomination in Cosmopolitan's 2010 'Fun Fearless Female' awards. She describes it as a mix of philosophy, creativity and the politics of everyday life.

Now living in London, she's one to watch.

Describe yourself in three words.

Enthusiastic. Analytical. Kind.

What are you passionate about?

Ideas that challenge that way I interact with the world and with other people. Writing that articulates something we 'know' on a gut level, but have never found the words to express before. Thinking precisely – it takes time and work to achieve, but it's great when it happens.

Do you do the social media thing?

Yes. (@rachelhills on Twitter – Ed.)

How did you find yourself in the land of Twitter?

I first discovered it at SXSW in 2008, where all the Americans were using it, but wasn't really enchanted.

I finally converted myself a few months later when a friend interrupted a party I was at to tweet a joke someone had just told. Some people might have found it rude, but it was the tipping point that convinced me I had to get involved.

The way I've used it has changed a lot since then, and continues to evolve – some days it's conversation, other days it's a lifecast, others it's a collection of useful links.

Do you have any other social media involvement?

I've been creating blogs and (poorly coded) websites since 1997/1998. I fell in love with MySpace for a while, and am still something of a Facebook fan. And I got my last job through LinkedIn.

What are you currently playing with in the social media sandpit?

I can't say I'm experimenting with new tools at the moment – I feel like I have too many social media commitments as it is.

What I am playing with, on an ongoing basis, is how to better integrate the work I do as a feature writer, public speaker, academic and (hopefully soon-to-be) author with the work I do online. What's the best way to engage my online community with my magazine and book work, and what's the best way to drive readers of my mainstream media work back to my blog? What's the best, most relevant content I can write for my beloved blog readers? (Contrary to the advice of most blogging experts, they seem to prefer the analytical stuff. And the occasional writing advice post.) And what's the best way to integrate my blog and my book?

How did you get where you are today?

I did a degree in media and communications at Sydney University, where I was heavily involved in pretty much everything on campus - student publications, the media society, work experience, student politics, you name it.

As many a journalism graduate has discovered though, this often is not enough to get your foot in the door to the industry. So I decided to show employers that I was capable of doing the kind of work I wanted to do by, well, doing it. This meant both submitting articles and ideas to newspapers and magazines, and doing a lot of work in the online and independent media space – most notably with Vibewire, where I managed a lot of the politics output for two years.

As I said above, I've also been creating websites for myself since I was in high school. The strategy worked, and within a couple of years I had editors coming to me with stories, and was approached to work as an editor with and ninemsn.

I started my first 'public' blog, Musings of an Inappropriate Woman, in 2007, inspired by the way other journalists were using online media to connect with their communities.

What are you doing with your life at the moment that excites you?

My book project, The Sex Myth, which traces the history of Western culture's overinvestment in sex, how this obsession is playing out in contemporary culture, and how it impacts individual young people.

Any dream brands, companies, personalities you would love to work with?

The people and companies I'd like to work with change constantly, as I become aware of new people, projects and possibilities. The stalwarts are pretty standard old media stuff, though. I'd love to work with the big US purveyors of quality feature writing – The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker,, The Daily Beast.

I'd also love to give a TED Talk – although I think the first step on that front is to come up an idea worthy of one.

Blog-wise, I'd love to work with businesses that really 'get' and want to tap into the intelligent, critically engaged ethos that my readers are all about – I've had approaches from cosmetic surgeons before, which is obviously a bit of a mismatch.

When you look back on what you've achieved, what do you hope will be the highlights?

I'd like to write at least one really, really good book – hopefully more. I'd like them to turned into a TV series, or maybe even a film adaptation.

I'd like be a 'public intellectual' (yeah, I cringe just writing the words, but you know what I mean) who makes actually engaging with the public a core part of their work.

Basically, I'd like to be the Simone de Beauvoir of the internet.

Favourite quote?

"I am not interested in money, I just want to be wonderful" by Marilyn Monroe.

Easier to believe when you actually have money, but a good guiding philosophy, I think.

Here's how to find Rachel:
Musings of an Inappropriate Woman 
On Twitter
Via LinkedIn

Who inspires you? Leave a comment and let us know.

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