Ann Friedman, journalist and co-host of the popular podcast Call Your Girlfriend, talks to us about how diversity in her friendship circle has helped her career, figuring out what's really important to you, and why she fell in love with Los Angeles.
Do you remember your first week in LA?
I moved here for an editing job and stayed on a friend’s sofa. I didn’t even know him that well. He was a friend of a friend and he was very kind for letting me stay.
So I was frantically house hunting and starting this new job. It was a weird liminal period that I think a lot of people have when they first move here.
Were you expecting to stay here?
I was. I moved here for a job that was I calling “a five-year project” in my head. It was an executive editor job that required hiring lots of people. When you’re the one hiring people, I think there’s a bit more of a commitment. So I knew I was going to stay. I found a place within a week, which I think is not possible to do in LA anymore.
If it wasn’t for this job I would have never chosen LA. I guess I thought it was going to be full of women who didn’t eat bread and cheese, and people who didn’t read the news. I thought I would be sitting in traffic all day. And I love the sun, but I’m not a “sun-seeker.” So nothing that is stereotypically LA appealed to me, except for maybe the produce. But I was in love from the start.
So you’ve been pleasantly surprised here?
Oh yeah! I think that the friends I have here—and that the vast majority of them are not journalists like I am—have been really healthy for me. That’s among one of my top favorite things about living here. I wouldn’t claim I have the most diverse set of friends in every way. But in regards to professional and creative inclinations, I have a very diverse set of friends.
Has being in LA shaped you in a different way professionally?
I definitely feel like having a group of friends that are not in my industry who are smart, engaged people, who do care about current events and issues that I care about, has been a really helpful reality check.
I can think, “Okay, my friend the film editor knows about a certain issue, and even though I think this certain angle has been overplayed because I’ve read articles about it in six different places, she hasn’t seen those six different articles.” You realize that people in media sort of consume everything. So talking to friends who aren’t plugged into the journalism world makes me realize that there is space to revisit topics. My definition of what is “newsworthy” or a “good story” is shaped by being around people who aren’t writers. It’s very healthy.
When I go to New York sometimes I start to stress that every story has been written, every story has been done, everybody is hustling so hard. Everyone I know here is also hustling, but it’s just different. [Laughs]
I get the vibe that in New York by the time you’ve thought of a story it’s done and gone, onto the next thing.
Yeah! Or someone is like, “Didn’t someone write that already three and a half years ago?” The answer is: maybe. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write it again, and that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be different. Obviously you don’t want to replicate what some other publication has done a week later, but there is a lot more space than I thought there was.
Taking it back a bit. You studied journalism in college—in your mind, did you have a five or ten-year plan?
I don’t know. When I was 21, I was like, “Just give me a job. Any job.” I was also very conflicted at 21. I went to a journalism school that was much more focused on traditional reporting. They hammered home the idea that if you have a political point of view, or any kind of agenda, then that’s separate from the work you do as a journalist.
I had a period from about 21 to 24 when I was questioning whether or not I wanted to be a journalist, because I had interests in social issues and things that did not neatly fit within what journalism school had taught me.
I lived in New York for a year working at a women’s nonprofit and I quickly discovered that no, in fact, I am a journalist. [Laughs] Then I got an internship at Mother Jones magazine, which is based in San Francisco. A paid internship, I should stress, which is increasingly difficult to find. I moved there around the time I was 25 and that’s what I count as the beginning of my career.
If you went back to when I was in journalism school and told me I’d be writing at the places I write now and making a living as a writer, I would have been very, very happy. [Laughs]
Are you very happy?
I am very happy!
Is there a big difference between the content in women’s and men’s magazines?
Even though women’s magazines tend to get a bad rep, men’s magazines are not much more substantive. There was an era where Esquire and GQ were doing more general-interest reporting that wasn’t necessarily about profiling male celebrities or something. But now, when I read them, it’s like there’s this tone: “Hey bro, we’re just writing casually.” It’s not any more elevated than the tone of a celebrity profile in a women’s magazine.
The places that are doing more long-form features are Buzzfeed or New York magazine, and there’s a great trend of longer reported articles also coming out of Racked and Eater. They’re doing more niche articles that are not oriented so much around gender, but more around an industry or interest.
I think women’s magazines try to do stuff like that, but the way that magazines work is that you often have to know what you’re saying before you say it. I could never pitch that I’m going to interview 25 women and see what crops up. You have to say, “There’s a thing happening in LA! Guess what it is!”
I don’t know anymore what people click on or what they don’t click on. But there’s definitely the impression amongst editors that you either need someone famous or some kind of salacious trend. [Laughs]
How did you go about starting your podcast, Call Your Girlfriend?
We just wanted to try it. [Laughs] My co-host, Amina, was like, “All these podcasters are dudes; it can’t be that hard!” I think that was part of it, too. Also the real push was that our producer and editor, who is a friend of mine here in LA, was like, “Here’s the equipment you buy. And I can edit it for you.” She made it very easy. If she hadn’t been involved, we wouldn’t have started it.
At this point, the podcast definitely the largest platform that I have.
How long have you been around?
And what’s your audience like?
It varies from between 50,000 and 100,000 listeners per episode.
That’s amazing! It must be weird having a conversation amongst yourselves with all these people listening.
Sort of. I don’t think we pictured that many people. We were just like, “We’re going to do this.”
The mechanism hasn’t really changed. We’re still just talking to each other. It’s not like we’re more formal now that we have more listeners. We still do it the way we’ve always done it.
Do you have any goals you’re working towards?
I’m going to write a book, which is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. The plan right now is to spend the bulk of the summer working on a proposal. I don’t really have a timeline for that. It’s just something I want to do and I think now is a good time.
We’ve been doing live events for the podcast, so we’ll probably keep doing that. And try to figure out how to do that better. It’s an interesting thing because there’s a financial component, but then there’s also a component of what makes us happy and what feels fulfilling to do.
I don’t really have a five-year plan so much as I ask, “What is the next big thing I’m going to do?”
Do you work towards things you want to achieve, rather than a timeline?
Yeah definitely. I think there has to be a timeline for certain things, like planning an event. Sometimes I think it would be better if I set a goal like doing x number of events by x date, or writing x number of pages of the book by this time next year. But I’m not very good at doing that. I’m more like, “What’s next?”
I turned 31 this year and I’ve found myself starting to panic about “what’s next.” I wonder how much of this is an actual concern of mine and how much is just because I see everyone on Facebook having babies.
I recently was invited to a reunion from my elementary school. I was looking at the invite page where you can scroll through all the profiles of the people invited and I am probably the only profile photo that was not me with a baby or just a baby.
I guess I didn’t feel that pressure because I know I don’t want the life that those people have. That is not meant as a slight; I just mean I want different things. So I don’t feel like I’m off-track.
Going back to that idea of talking to your college self…. If I hadn’t achieved those things, I think that would have mattered so much more than whether I do or don’t have kids. I know that for a fact. So I know my priorities are in the right place.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
I do think it’s good to ask whether you really want something for you, versus being told you should want something. Like professionally: “Should I want to take a certain job because people think it’s prestigious? How do I want to spend my time?”
It’s really hard, I think especially as a woman, to decouple messages about what you should want, or how you should be, and what you should prioritize. You need to figure out, “What’s really important to me?” And make a decision that’s really driven by you.
I think it comes down to experience.
I feel that. I feel very much in a sweet spot where I’m young enough to feel like I can still make a lot of changes and do things on a whim, but old enough where I have experience and, frankly, career security.
I talk to women in their 20s all the time who are like, “I want to be a freelance writer.” Well, too bad! [Laughs] I mean, the only reason it’s possible for me is because I had seven years of professional contacts and I was working as a staff editor or doing jobs I kind of hated. Which is not to say that everybody would need to do that. I just know that, for me, being a freelancer would not have been possible in my 20s. It’s just recognizing that getting what you want sometimes takes time.
People like to think success happens at an early age, but in reality a lot of people don’t hit their stride until their 40s, 50s, or 60s.
I’m thinking of two interviews I did: Jill Soloway for Marie Claire and Ava DuVernay for The Gentlewoman. Both of them are in their 40s and 50s. They had completely different jobs that they were very successful at through their 30s, and then at a certain age they were like, “I want to try to do this other thing.”
Men are kind of handed the opportunity to do that at a much younger age. Ava sold her public relations business, Jill had been working in TV writers’ rooms, and they were very successful. But they both were like, “I’m going to finance a movie and make a movie because I can.”
Those are stories of women in their 40s finally getting to a point where they feel financially and professionally secure enough to take a risk. And you’re right, that’s not a narrative we often tell.
I found out recently that Harrison Ford was a carpenter at 31. That blows my mind. He was so smoking hot back then.
The hottest carpenter around. [Laughs]
How do you like living in Echo Park?
I love Echo Park. I’m biased because it’s the only neighborhood in Los Angeles that I’ve ever lived. I have a very large and beautiful park that’s essentially my backyard. It’s a very walkable place. It’s doesn’t feel like the urban density of New York, but everything I need is right in my neighborhood.
What does LA mean to you?
I don’t know. I think just doing my own thing. [Laughs] I feel like there’s no prescription for how to thrive and survive here.
A while ago, I read this interview with a celebrity who said, “There’s enough space to just get weird here.” I thought that’s kind of true! [Laughs]
Photography by Magdalena Wielopolski ©