Mixed emotions as Jezebel gets new editor

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Emma Carmichael; Dodai Stewart. (Via emmacarmichael.com; Nikola Tamindzic)
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Peter Sterne

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The announcement two weeks ago that Emma Carmichael, editor of The Hairpin, will succeed Jessica Coen as editor-in-chief of Jezebel left some Jezebel staffers feeling conflicted—both happy for Carmichael and disappointed that management passed over deputy editor Dodai Stewart for the top job.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re unhappy with Emma at all, but...we had like a really optimal choice that they passed over,” one staffer, who asked to be quoted anonymously, told Capital.

Stewart is one of the few women of color on Jezebel’s masthead and the longest-serving staffer at the site, having been hired by founding editor Anna Holmes shortly after the site launched in 2007. In the past year, she has also assumed a larger role in running the site, three people familiar with the site's internal workings told Capital.

Coen, the site’s editor-in-chief, has had to split her time between her home in Chicago and Gawker Media’s New York office, and Stewart has frequently stepped in to manage Jezebel’s day-to-day operations.

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According to one staffer, Stewart's experience with the site and familiar presence made her the staff’s choice to replace Coen.

“From the get go, I think the staff was really supportive of Dodai, because she’s wonderful at her job and has been doing it for so long. I know we were all really rooting for her,” the person said.

As Capital first reported in May, Stewart was a leading internal candidate for the position. A source close to her said that she had met with Gawker editorial director Joel Johnson in late April to talk about taking the top job, and Johnson told Capital in May that she would make an excellent candidate.

For the next two months after the April meeting, she didn’t hear much—until June 24, the day Buzzfeed reported that Carmichael would be the site’s next editor. Two people close to Stewart said that she only learned that she was out of the running for the job minutes before the news of Carmichael’s hire was announced to staff and reported by Buzzfeed.

Right now, the plan is for Carmichael to take over as editor-in-chief in September, with Stewart remaining as deputy editor, though one source close to Stewart expressed a concern that she might decide to leave the site. She told Capital that she had not made any decisions yet.

“I like my job, and I’m considering what my options are,” she said.

In an email to Capital, Coen praised Carmichael’s experience.

“Emma has the benefit of Gawker Media experience—she knows exactly what the expectations and demands are around here—but brings a fresh set of eyes to Jezebel in particular. I have no doubt she’ll do a great job,” Coen said.

At the age of 25, Carmichael has already done stints as managing editor for both Gawker and Deadspin, in addition to her year as editor of The Hairpin.

But the decision to hand the site to a young white woman instead of Stewart—a black woman who has been working at the site since Carmichael was still in college—rubs some current and former staffers the wrong way, especially since the site has been criticized in the past for its handling of race issues.

“I would not say that I think it is like a racist action, but it is kind of a missed opportunity,” one staffer said. “The race thing would have been a really wonderful—just like to have a really well-established Black woman who is so good at her job running the site would have been great.”

“But that’s not the crux of what’s disappointing about Dodai not getting the job,” the staffer added. “She deserves it.”

When asked why she had picked Carmichael over Stewart, Coen said the decision was not hers to make. 

“I was involved with narrowing down the list of candidates and gave my input up to a point, but the final decision wasn’t mine to make. At the end of the day, Nick decides who sits at the top of every masthead,” she said.

Gawker owner Nick Denton told Capital in an instant message conversation that Carmichael will bring a slightly different editorial direction for the site, though he declined to go into detail.

“Emma only starts in September. The direction of the site will be determined not by my premature words, but by Emma's actions, and the response of the wider readership. So that's all I can tell you,” he said.

He then forwarded a copy of his conversation with Capital to Carmichael, Stewart, Coen, and Johnson, along with the message, “In case anyone else wants to weigh in…” 

No one responded.

However, Carmichael and Stewart seem to be on good terms. A few days after the announcement, a Capital reporter spotted Carmichael and Stewart having a drink at an East Village bar. Their conversation, according to a source, was friendly and informal.