This month’s ‘Woman of Influence’ is freelance writer and Editor of Noon Magazine, Maisie Skidmore. At 18, Skidmore spent a year in Paris as an au pair, where she took up writing for a number of fashion blogs. Studying English Literature at King’s College London, Skidmore spent her summer holidays working part-time jobs in order to save and intern at well known magazines such as AnOther and Dazed. An internship at It’s Nice That turned into a full-time role and next, AnOther, where Maisie spent 3 years leading the team that creates anothermag.com; a website for stories about fashion, art, design and culture.
Having joined the Noon team only two months ago as Editor, Maisie also contributes to a number of publications including Riposte and The British Journal of Photography whilst also working with brands, galleries and design studios as an editorial consultant, helping them to shape their own voice. After chairing Marguerite’s recent panel discussion How to: Think about Design and Branding which took place on 9 April at Benk + Bo, Maisie shares tips on overcoming her fears around public speaking, the challenges she faces as a freelance journalist as well as advice on pitching a perfect feature.
How did you get into journalism?
I tend to refer to myself as a writer rather than a journalist, as what I do – usually writing features about art, fashion and culture – is so far from traditional reporting, or what I think of as ‘proper journalism’. I always wanted to write. I spent a year in Paris as an au pair when I was 18, where I wrote a (deeply embarrassing) blog, and then started writing for other fashion blogs. It was the age of blogging! Everybody could have their say – all you needed was a WiFi connection and a Wordpress account. Then, once I was at university – I studied English Literature at King’s in London – I worked all the part-time jobs and saved my loan all year to intern at magazines like Dazed and AnOther in my summer holidays. When I finished my degree, I started interning at It’s Nice That, and there I stayed.
What do you enjoy most about your role as Editor at Noon magazine?
I joined the team at Noon just under two months ago, so it’s fresh! But it’s a really special publication. Jasmine, who founded the magazine five years and ten issues ago, has a very unique viewpoint on art and fashion, and Noon is a vehicle through which to explore that; it’s very much focused on the contemporary condition, on looking at the world through a digital lens. Every issue is themed, and we invite people whose work we believe in – from artists and photographers to writers and poets – to respond to that theme. What emerges on the other side of each issue feels like a timestamp for what’s going on. Right now, we’re working on the Truth issue, my first, which will come out in June.
I really enjoy commissioning writers, and my favourite thing about Noon is the strange kind of alchemy that occurs when you put those different, brilliant people’s different, brilliant ideas side by side. They all seem to speak to one another, and that conversation is what the whole issue is shaped by.
Alongside my role at Noon, I write for other titles – Apartamento, Riposte, The British Journal of Photography, and some others – and I work with brands, galleries and design studios in the capacity of an editorial consultant, helping them to shape their own voice. The balance right now between my editorial and my commercial work is about half and half, which feels about right to me. The two sides are very different, but they feed each other. That balance is how I make my work sustainable, for the long-term.
Prior to your role at Noon you were digital editor at AnOther Magazine. How do the two roles compare when it comes to the type of content you are working on?
At AnOther I led the team that creates anothermag.com, a website for stories about fashion, art, design and culture. I’ve always been quite passionate about writing for online, which is so often overlooked out of preference for print. But there’s an honesty to being able to see what your audience is engaging with, and responding to that – or in choosing to balance that with stories that might not perform so well numbers-wise, but which you feel are just as important to the platform nonetheless. What’s more, digital culture evolves rapidly. You can never truly keep up with it – you’re always tripping over your feet. That pressure can breed really exciting things.
When you edit a print publication like Noon, you have to have a lot more trust in your own ideas and what you have to say. There’s no way to measure how a reader responds to a feature you commissioned, or who saw and enjoyed a beautiful photo story. That’s a huge challenge, but it’s also incredibly freeing. I’m still settling in to it.
As a journalist you specialise in fashion and art, and their intersection in contemporary culture – what is it about these areas that you enjoy most?
I love talking to people who make brilliant work, and helping them to tell the stories behind it. Fashion and art have always been the two areas that I’m most interested in, and so am most adept at talking about. They’re interwoven on every level – no artist or designer creates in isolation from what’s going on around them – so separating them out to focus on either one or the other never made much sense to me.
What would you say is most challenging about being a freelance journalist?
Unless you have supernatural discipline – which I don’t, at all – being freelance often means throwing your schedule to the wind, so you have to be quite in touch with how you feel, how your body feels, all the time. If you end up working all weekend (again: no discipline) then you shouldn’t be surprised if, halfway through the following week, you totally run out of ideas. You need a rest! There are upsides to this, of course. For example, I’ve totally given up Monday mornings to running errands, doing life admin, working out what I have on for the week ahead, until magically, by midday, I’m ready to start actually doing some proper work. But it can be hard to remember to be kind to yourself.
Do you have a specific process when it comes to pitching features publications?
I’d advise making your pitch as clear, concise and considered as possible – share imagery, proposed run-date, format, suggest a headline and standfirst, outline any interviews you’d need to do. But personally I’ve always found that meeting editors – or as an editor, meeting writers – was far more valuable to me, in both roles. The better your commissioning editor knows you and what your weird, niche interests are (Modernist furniture? French new-wave films? Manga? Niches are cool!) the more likely it is that you’ll get to do the kind of work you love.
You have interviewed a number of significant individuals including Margaret Howell and Martin Parr. Can you name any that stood out most for you and why?
I had the opportunity to interview Sophie Calle last year, after harbouring a huge obsession with her since I first saw her hotels series at the Tate, I think, on a school trip as a teenager. But then my flights to France to meet her were cancelled due to strikes, and she didn’t want to do a phone interview, so our conversation was reduced to a Q&A over email. I got about 40 words from her. Rather than trying to polish it up into something shiny, we decided to run it as it was. And it was a good lesson for me! That you get back what you give, I guess. In hindsight, I don’t think I was ready for her yet.
What would your one piece of advice be to a young female journalist starting out in her career?
Remember that it’s a long game. If you hope to still be writing when you’re 50, 60, 70, you don’t need to prioritise those cover stories in the first few years of your career; that time could be better spent learning your craft, reading everything, writing as much as you can and absorbing all of the feedback, good and bad (but especially bad!) that you’re lucky enough to get along the way. Your priorities will probably evolve as quickly as the landscape does, and that’s a good thing. You have to find a way to make it work for you.
You recently chaired the Marguerite panel discussion: How to: Think about Design and Branding on April 9 at Benk + Bo. Do you enjoy public speaking?
It’s definitely one of the most nerve-wracking things I do, but it’s often the most rewarding too. I try to think of it as interviewing with an audience. It’s like that duck meme: above the water you’re calm and placid, floating along, and beneath it you’re paddling furiously to stay afloat. Chris, Amy and Amélie made our panel an absolute pleasure, I could have chatted with them all night.
If you could invite four artists to dinner, dead or alive, who would they be?
Frida Kahlo, Fran Lebowitz, Louise Bourgeois, Tracey Emin. I’m a cliché, okay?