Breaking bread over the table or passing the salt may seem like a miniscule facet of your day, but often it’s the most intimate interaction we have with friends or family. Cooking dinner can be a covert way to swallow your pride and say sorry, to celebrate loudly, or to bring people together – food to mouth, literally has the power to unite. That’s why, says Amanda Kludt, there’s “incredible depth” in the type of stories we can tell through the medium of food, and of course, part of the reason why she’s stayed at Eater for the last nine years.
Now editor-in-chief, overseeing all the editorial content the brand puts out into the world, Amanda has helped grow Eater from a blog with a handful of employees to one of the most relevant and powerful food publications out there. Her path to progression wasn’t pre-determined or guaranteed however, it could have turned out very differently. A situation we’re sure you can all relate to, she started to become disillusioned with her position at Eater, and so pitched the role of Editorial Director to her boss. The pitch was initially rejected, and while figuring out a new approach, Amanda looked for other roles elsewhere. “I had just hit a wall and was itching to do something new,” she says. “No job is going to be a joy every day, but work takes up a lot of hours. If it stops being exciting or interesting, it’s time to find something else.”
She knew there was still so much to do at Eater, so she grew her pitch, got the promotion and negotiated her terms – something she says women need to do more of. It’s too easy to label her as a go-getter or to say that she exemplifies the act of leaning in, because what Amanda does is neither of those things, it just is. She just a woman, taking ownership of both her career and life.
HER PROFESSIONAL JOURNEY BEFORE JOINING EATER: My first job out of school was as an office manager and receptionist at Metro, where I had interned on the news desk. I freelanced for the editors there and elsewhere and took a food writing class in between answering phones, dealing with office budgets, and making sure the office (mostly the bathrooms) functioned. I got to wear a headset. From there I got a job as the Associate Editor of Gridskipper, Gawker’s travel blog. From there I went to Eater. One of my projects in school was to launch a blog – which seems so obvious now but was pretty novel and exciting in 2004 – and mine was about waitressing and the restaurant industry. I also read Eater throughout school and was always fascinated by its tone and coverage. It was always a casual interest and eventually grew into a true obsession. More often than not, classes like the one I took (a Mediabistro food writing class) are better for networking than for actual skill development. Same goes for journalism grad school. Journalism, writing, editing – these are skills you can learn on the job. But making the connections, getting someone who will give you a chance, who will intro you to the right person, who can get you that next crucial step, that’s what extracurriculars like these are good for.
THE OPPORTUNITIES & CHALLENGES THAT COME WITH HER ROLE: I oversee all content for Eater. So that includes the daily coverage in our two dozen sites around America, all of our national content, our investigations and long-form features, our guides and packages, reviews, content on our social channels, videos on all platforms, marketing opportunities, partnerships, and liaising with our business side. Luckily, I have an incredibly strong team doing all the hard work in those various departments so I focus on whichever area needs my attention at any given time. Challenges: there are a lot of moving parts, and I can’t let anything slip through the cracks. And there is always something I should be doing that I’m not. Opportunities: Today we aren’t just writing for an online audience, and we aren’t just trying to get on platform traffic. We have social channels with their own native content (Instagram, snapchat, etc.), videos created specifically for YouTube and Facebook, newsletters, podcasts, events. I feel privileged that I get to operate in an era of media when the focus isn’t just words on a page. It means I get to experiment with new media, with new formats for storytelling, and with new ways of reaching our audience.
BALANCING THE NEED FOR TRAFFIC WITH RUNNING CONVERSATION-STARTING STORIES: Luckily for us it’s not just about the traffic. We absolutely do need traffic, we do need readers. We do need video views. But what’s more essential in the marketplace we’re in is brand relevance. Advertisers in our space want to align with strong brands with great reputations. So it means that building a loyal audience that comes back to us for the service we provide, for the stories we tell, for the delight we bring to them on a consistent basis is more of a priority than getting a pickup from a traffic firehose like Yahoo. I think we’ve proven, as have our peers at places like Lucky Peach, the New Yorker, Roads and Kingdoms, and so many others, that there is incredible depth in the food space. There’s really no cap on the kinds of stories one can tell through the lens of food.
COMMERCIAL VERSUS EDITORIAL: We’re lucky in that we are still church and state about edit and sales here. We communicate with the business side all the time, but they don’t dictate the content we make. What we try to get better at every day is making sure they have the tools they need to sell our content. We make sure we have packages, videos, and special sections that would be both great for our audience and tempting to a major advertiser. And we try to share our best practices with the branded content team here so they can create native advertising that people actually like.
THE REAL REASON SHE’S STAYED AT EATER SO LONG: I’ve been here nine years, which seems like eons in the digital world but makes more sense if you realize my job has changed and evolved so dramatically and so often. For the first four years, I ran our New York site. Then I oversaw all of our two dozen city sites. Then when we were acquired by Vox Media in 2013 I became editor in chief, in charge of everything we do. Even within this role, my responsibilities morph as the priorities of the company and the opportunities available to us change. But to put it more simply I stay because I love the subject matter, the freedom with which we get to cover it, and the people I work for and with. Because we have so much autonomy, we’re only limited by our ambition. [To write online] I think you just have to love being a reporter. You have to love the idea of waking up to a clean slate every morning and finding out what the news is that day. And you need to find a balance so you have time to pursue longer lead stories and projects while still breaking fast turnaround news. The bonus of staying at a place as long as I have is that I’ve worked for the same boss for a decade. I’m very comfortable telling him where I’m at and where I’d like to be.
THE BIGGEST CHANGES AT EATER SINCE SHE STARTED: When I started we were a scrappy hobbyist blog with a handful of employees. Now we’ve grown into what I think of as the most relevant and powerful food publication out there. The rise in the cultural relevance of food has helped that, as has the growing advertiser interest in our space. We slowly added more and more cities over the years as budgets allowed, and when Vox Media acquired us, we were able to build on the local news service that we had provided for years with professional restaurant reviews, long-form features, video, and social channels. Over the last couple of years, we’ve focused more on creating content for specific platforms and reaching our audience where they are. So the focus is not only on convincing someone to click over to eater.com but instead to watch one of our videos on YouTube, like a post on Instagram, read a newsletter, or listen to our podcast.
THERE’S NO ‘RIGHT’ AMOUNT OF TIME TO STAY IN A ROLE: I had just hit a wall and was itching to do something new [when I pitched the editorial director role]. But it’s highly personal. Someone might have burned out on my job after a year, others could do it for 10 years. No job is going to be a joy every day, but work takes up a lot of hours. If it stops being exciting or interesting, it’s time to find something new. That said there’s isn’t a set time to stay somewhere. To many people staying nine years at Eater was the safe thing to do, and I missed out on so many other positions and experiences in that time. To me, I think I would have missed so much had I left. There’s no right answer.
WHY YOU SHOULD CREATE A DEFINITION OF SUCCESS ON YOUR OWN TERMS: You should always know what your options are, what you’re worth, and where you’d like to be. Don’t just try to get another job because it seems like the next step up a ladder. The next ideal step for you might be over and around, not up. For example, some reporters get promoted to be editors when really their passion is writing and reporting. It looks like a step up but it’s actually removing them from what they love. A better move would be to find better and more interesting writing opportunities. When you do know what you want to do, don’t ever try to get a job offer just so your current employer will give you a counter offer. They might call your bluff.
GET COMFORTABLE NEGOTIATING: You just have to bite the bullet and do it. To many women (myself included) it can feel weird or crass or uncomfortable or greedy or a combination of the above to negotiate either a starting salary or a raise, and in my experience it doesn’t really get easier as time goes on. Just remember that your starting salary is incredibly important, as larger companies will often look at raises in terms of percentages of what you make. So if they cap raises at 4 percent for example, you’re limiting yourself for years if you come in at a lower salary than you deserve. And remember the worst thing they can do is say ‘no’. They won’t rescind the offer or think you’re going to be “difficult” just because you come in strong.
THE THING SHE’S STILL WORKING ON: I think of myself as quietly killing it, and oftentimes I think I should be loudly killing it. Not for my ego or my career but for my team, so they can feel secure and proud and inspired.