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Episode 19: Type A Creatives with Abigail Wise

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

This week on the podcast we interview the brilliant Abigail Wise! Abigail is the online managing editor at Outside Magazine, a freelance writer, and cofounder of Adventures in Wikipedia. Listen to Abigail talk about her work at Outside, what it's like being a type A creative, and how she's working to get female athletes the recognition they deserve. Leave a comment to let us know what you think and be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode! Enjoy the show.

Follow Abigail: @abigailwise


Episode Transcript

Lisa: I'm your host Lisa Slagle and I own an outrageously fun creative agency called Wheelie Creative. Most people just call it Wheelie. And even though we've been in business for almost 10 years, I like to describe it as a new school creative agency for people who thrive outside.

Today I am talking to Abby Wise, she is the online managing editor at Outside Magazine and she is an explosion of positivity and talk about attitude of gratitude - she just has this mindset of gratitude that is so apparent in the words that she speaks. And passion and loving her job and and just like she's so positive and I'm so happy that their voices like this behind our big editorial stories and media. So I really enjoyed talking to Abby. I've never met her in person and she is... yeah, she's cool. I can just tell she's a really passionate, cool, smart person. So I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I enjoyed talking to Abby and getting to know her a little bit.

Lisa: Cool. Well Abby. Thank you so much for being here this morning.

Abigail: Yeah, thank you for having me.

Lisa: I'm stoked. Tell our listeners where you're coming from and what your setting looks like right now.

Abigail: I am in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I think not a lot of people realize that Outside Magazine is actually based out of Santa Fe. It's really lovely here. I love the high desert and my backyard is BLM, like High Desert lands, and it's just really lovely. I don't know. There's nothing like a sunrise in the high desert. So I usually try and get up pretty early so I can catch that.

Lisa: That sounds magical

Abigail: it is. Yeah, you know, I come from Minnesota, which is obviously like lands with 10,000 lakes and in the woods and very humid and Rolling Green Hills and said, this is a very different environment than the one I was raised in. But man, I love the desert.

Lisa: Yeah, so tell us about what you do today and how you got there. Kind of your whole story.

Abigail: Sure. So currently I'm the online managing editor for Outside Magazine, which is a lot of fun. I get to work with such smart, cool people and you know, we get to spend every day focused on telling interesting amazing stories about what all of us really care about, right. Like about our public lands, about cool people in our space, about cool records being broken, the gear you need to go on these awesome adventures and I just... I feel really, really lucky to be at a place in my career where I can really blend my passion right with my professional life. So anyways, I feel really lucky to be here. Before Outside Magazine. I was working for Mountain Project which was acquired by REI. I think a few years ago now. But I was I was working for REI to help start their editorial efforts on all of their Adventure projects. So that was really fun, a lot different. We were really small scrappy team talking about super core activities and sports and it was a blast. I got to work with some really smart people there as well and that was up in Boulder, Colorado.

But I actually, before that, was at Outside helping with our news and social media and that kind of thing. So I went like, Outside and then I moved to Boulder to do Adventure Projects and then I moved back to Outside because I couldn't stay away. I loved it so much.

Lisa: That's hilarious. So were you in New Mexico the first time that you worked for Outside as well?

Abigail: I was and sorry, I'm like moving backward in time, but I had just moved from New York where I was working first for The Huffington Post and then for Real Simple Magazine, which at the time was under Time Inc. And it was just such a culture shock. You know, New York is great. I think that for a lot of us who live out west, especially those of us who work in the outdoors. Sometimes it's hard for us to wrap our heads around New York because it's like such a different environment, but I really did love it there. And there are really cool outdoor activities there too. I mean, the Gunks is some of like the best climbing in the country and it's like two hours away. So I don't know. I have a soft spot in my heart for New York, but man, am I glad to be out west?

Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, no kidding. So as as managing editor of Outside Magazine, what do you feel is your like main responsibilities? Beyond job tasks, but like big ideas and goals and things that you're bringing to the power of media in a good way.

Abigail: Well, I feel really lucky in that... I think my job is to think about those big picture roles and the future of media and how outdoor media is talking about politics and people of color and women participating in the outdoors more. And I feel really lucky to think about bigger picture topics that are very important to me personally and try and find a way. And I work very closely with Axie, our executive editor, to kind of help the website run on a day-to-day basis, but also to think about those bigger picture ideas and I feel really lucky to get to play a role in in our conversation with our readers. It’s just such an exciting time to work and outdoor media. I feel like the outdoor industry is working really hard to shift what it has been historically, which is kind of a white bro area. And I just it's a really fun time to be a part of that conversation and be you know, not only contributing to it but also… also thinking about smart ways to have a larger positive impact.

Lisa: Oh, that's cool. What are some of those smart ways to have a larger impact?

Abigail: Well, one thing that we are focusing on right now at Outside Magazine... you know, obviously we care deeply about our coverage and who we are covering which historically has also been predominantly white men. And so we're trying to shift that, as are many many media publications, media outlets and even, I mean. Even outdoor brands too are trying to shift that right now, but something that we're working on at the same time is shifting it from the back end. So we're thinking about who are we hiring, who's writing for us? We have a goal right now that we actually track very very carefully and we hold meetings around to try and move the needle. But our goal is to have a 50/50 gender breakdown with our by lines. So we want to see more women writing for us because we think that part of the positive change right now comes from not only who were talking about, but who's doing the talking. So that's something we think a lot about right now.

Lisa: That is so true.

Abigail: Yes.

Lisa: Have you heard of the Wheelhouse Workshops that we started putting on this year?

Abigail: No, tell me about them.

Lisa: So it's kind of cool. We started putting on Action Sports Photography workshops for women.

Abigail: Oh sweet.

Lisa: Yeah, just to get more women behind the camera. So we were bringing in professional athletes, professional photographers. And then you know, it was like a 3-day event where women learn more tricks and tips with photos and with cameras and then editing and an art show. So it's definitely something I think about a lot is like just showing different perspectives from behind the lens and behind the pen or the computer and I think it's wonderful that you guys are consciously thinking about who's writing for you.

Abigail: Thank you. That's awesome. I mean those workshops sounds so rad. It's just like I said, I mean, I feel like I sound like a broken record, but I really it is such a positive, exciting time to be a part of that outdoor industry right now. I feel like we're going to look back on this time in 10, 20, 30 years and think like wow, that was a moment where we really saw a positive shift and it's just it's fun to be a part of that.

Lisa: Yeah. So do you do much writing anymore? What do you mostly do as a managing editor?

Abigail: So I'm still working on my elevator pitch. I've been back for like nine months and I'm still trying to get it all down because the role of online managing editor, really anywhere, I think is to help the website... or I guess I'm on the website. So held the website run, whatever that means.

Whatever that takes So a lot of my day to day is actually like, helping troubleshooting, problem solve, and making sure that we're meeting our frequencies, making sure that if there's an important news story that's breaking that we are thinking about a smart way to add to the conversation. And making sure that the stories are coming in on time. So I'm doing a little bit of editing and focusing on processes. I do still write sometimes. I started... way way back in the day I started out by writing and I try and write still when I can.

I do some freelance work on the side... this spring my friend Rachel Walker who's a fantastic freelance writer, she and I ran the Javelina 100K together. We both DNF’d, but it was a really wonderful experience. Neither one of us had ever done anything like ultrarunning before so it was our first attempt at anything like that. And we ended up writing a feature for Runner's World on our experience on DNFing but also how like, at the end of the day, that didn't really matter because training for this like big scary massive thing actually had a really positive impact on both of our lives. So we kind of, we talked to some experts in more of like the science and psychology realms to kind of figure out like, why we both experienced these positive big life changes as we were training for this like crazy thing that we ended up not finishing in the end.

So anyways, that was a really fun story. It took a lot of work and a lot of time and so I do try and write when, you know, with things like that. When something is super important to me I try and make the time and the space to still write a little bit.

Lisa: How much were you running?

Abigail: Um, a lot. I actually, yeah. Last month some of my co-workers at Outside and I ran the Bighorn Ultra up in Wyoming which was super beautiful. So I was training again for another Ultra but that one was a little bit shorter. Javelina was a 100K and Bighorn offers a variety of distances and I did the 32 miler, the 50K. So I've been running a lot again, but now I'm done and I'm back to climbing.

Lisa: Wow. That's that's incredible. That's a lot of work.

Abigail: It's fun though, you know, and I really I have a little bit of a type A personality and so I actually really benefit from that type of structure that running and a training plan provides.

Lisa: Yes. So you’re fun with the type A personality, because you have a fairly creative job and you work probably with a lot of photographers and writers who are stereotypically a little bit type B. Not always but you know the stereotype. So how does that work for you? Do you consider yourself one with the creatives? And do you consider yourself creative?

Abigail: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I think that... I mean you can be both. I think that my type A personality actually brings a lot or at least I like to think it brings a lot of positivity to my day-to-day work and what I do. Because, yeah, a lot of writers that I work with... I mean, I feel very lucky. I work with amazing writers who are not only incredibly talented and smart and great reporters and creative in the way they tell stories but are almost always on time with their deadlines. So I feel very lucky there. But I think that, you know, even when I work with people who are running late or who need a little more guidance or structure, that's where like that personality of mine actually comes in handy. Because I, like, have spreadsheets everywhere and know exactly when every story is supposed to come in. So like I'm there, you know, when something's late emailing someone being like “hey, just checking in on this. It supposed to come in three days ago.” So, you know, I actually think that yes, I work in a creative field, but my actual role within that creative fields is actually quite dependent on my organizational and kind of structure skills.

Lisa: Yeah, because they need that probably.

Abigail: Some of them.

Lisa: Everybody needs a good type A.

Abigail: Thank you.

Lisa: That's awesome. So you you work with a lot of freelancers and in-house staff probably, what's your advice to photographers and writers who want to get their work published in Outside Magazine or any magazine for that matter?

Abigail: You know, I think that... I think that the most helpful advice I can offer is to really do your research before you reach out, especially if you don't already have an established relationship with an editor. It's really hard, as we all know, to get the go-ahead on a cold pitch your first time around. So I would say, do your research first by reading or if you know, you're in the photo world, looking at the images that we use and sort of getting a feel for where your ideas might fit best in our world and in our outlet.

And outside of that, I mean, for every single pitch we are so much more likely to assign a story that comes to us with like thirty percent of the reporting already done. So I think a lot of times people have a tendency to kind of reach out and be like “hi. I'm excited to work for you guys, and here are like two sentences on a story or a photo essay that I want to do” and it's just hard, especially not having worked with someone before, it's hard to imagine what that might look like. So the more research the better.

Lisa: Yes. And with that, let's kick it off to a commercial break.

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Lisa: Cool. So you got a fun job in that you, just like us on the agency side, even though we're on more of the brand side. We work with a lot of things that you can't touch or see like branding and words and photos and it's kind of interesting to talk about how much value these things provide even though they're not necessarily tangible. Does that impact your job as well? And analytics and all the things that you help quantify and your spreadsheets. How do you kind of wrap your head around quantifying things that aren't necessarily real in the physical sense?

Abigail: Oh, wow. That's that's such an interesting question. I think that for us, and not only is it Outside I think everywhere I've worked historically, it's a very tricky but important balance between the numbers - like looking at analytics and how much traffic we're receiving and obviously that plays into how happy our advertisers are and how well we are able to sell things. But it's a balance between that side of the business but also thinking about, do we care about this story? And yeah, that's not like a thing you can hold but that's a thing you can feel you know, you can tell when a story is good. You can tell when a feature is something that is going to resonate with people. You know whether it's because it makes you laugh or it makes you cry or it's something that I go home and I'm thinking about like days later. To me, even though that's not something that you can like hold on to physically, it's still something you can like feel physically.

And so I think that there's just such a tricky balance between making sure that you're delivering on that kind of gut feeling, editorial side of things but also making sure that the numbers are adding up and I mean that's something that everyone in media struggles with every single day of our lives, especially in this landscape. Luckily I'm a little old school probably in my belief, but I really do believe that good journalism and good storytelling shines through and those two worlds can work very well together because at the end of the day, people want to read good stories. People love a great story and they will take the time to read that and advertisers will be happy that they did.

Lisa: Absolutely. Absolutely. I always say that good stories just make people feel feelings.

Abigail: Yeah. Exactly. Absolutely.

Lisa: Yeah, and so, why do you think that this is important to, you know, have magazines and places that we go in the industry to see stories and read stories and see photographs? Like, why do you think that's important to the industry at large and and on the consumer side?

Abigail: I mean, media as a whole, the whole reason I got into it really is because it's an opportunity to answer questions that everyone is asking and wondering about. Or to shed light on something really cool that you wish like all your friends knew about but they don't. It's just, it's an opportunity to kind of be a megaphone for the public, I think. And so, from a consumer side, like there are questions out there that people who shop at outdoor brands are asking about sustainability and how lucky am I that I get to play a role in being part of the entity that answers those questions for curious minds.

I think that you know, yes, the media landscape is changing, not only in the outdoor media industry but as a whole everywhere and we all know that it has been changing for decades at this point. But it's never going to go away because people are always going to be curious. Consumers of media, readers, the public they're always going to have questions and have that hungry brain that desires more information more answers. And it's the media Industry’s role to answer those.

Lisa: Absolutely. What do you think is the future of editorial? Even in your career, how have you seen it change and kind of, what do you anticipate and guess is going to happen in the future?

Abigail: I think that one of the biggest struggles for the media industry as a whole right now is... I mean obviously everything is shifting to online more and more. And we're seeing more of that, but we're also seeing more of a multi media presence. And before, that used to mean things like integrating, you know, video with a story. But now what we're seeing is like, blowing out these more interactive features.

Like we just published at Outside, late this spring, this huge super feature on the Grand Canyon. And it's a collection of stories both short and long with... there are maps in there, there are videos, and you're actually like going down the river as you click story to story or photo to photo you're going down, like mile by mile down the Colorado River. And I think that we're going to see more and more of kind of creativity helping us shape storytelling. So whether that means, like, interactive web features or things like incorporating audio. Like this podcast right now, we partner at Outside with Autumn. Which have you heard about Autumn?

Lisa: No.

Abigail: So there this really cool app that it's basically like an audiobook for long features. So we partner with them and they record hour-long features so that people can listen to them, you know while they're driving or running or whatever that may be. And you know, it's not just us. Autumn also works closely with the New Yorker, with Wired, and big brands like that that tell interesting stories. But anyway, sorry, I'm going down a rabbit hole now, but my point is that I just think we're going to continue to see new ideas and new forms of storytelling. It's no longer just like print versus online. It's more like, how can we get all these mediums to work together as one to tell the best possible story.

Lisa: So how does, you know for Outside as an example, how do you guys integrate the experience between the print magazine and the digital experience?

Abigail: So that's something that we've come such a long way in the past few years. Our online and our print teams work really closely together now, and it's something we're still continuing to shape. But almost every story that we publish in print will make it online and then we publish even more online. But we're no longer... I think there was a time when all media brands were kind of just taking print and plug-in it into online. Now we're trying to think more carefully about, I don't know, does that art really work for online, you know, it looks great in the magazine, but maybe we need to hire an illustrator to change the lead on this on the story. Or you know, a lot of times those big features from the magazine are the ones that we partner with Autumn on and so we have a little recording embedded so you can actually listen to the feature instead of reading it if you prefer.

We also... sometimes we'll look at something and decide that it would be better if it were complemented by a video component. And so then we will have our video team dive into that. Anyways, so we really are trying to think more carefully about how to kind of broaden our storytelling skills, and I don't think print is ever going to go away. Like there's just something magical about holding a magazine or newspaper in your hands, and I don't think that will ever change. But I do think that there's room for us to get even more creative and kind of find more exciting ways to tell those print stories online.

Lisa: Yes, and like, how people consume media in real-time and you know that the power of podcasting when you're literally between someone’s ears. And yeah, I just think there are so many different ways to get information now that it's very cool that you guys are consciously thinking about how to reach everyone or more people.

Abigail: Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, totally. And like the cool part about that kind of real-time consumption is that it becomes not only consumption but also a conversation. So we have this fantastic social media team, there are three really really smart young women spearheading our social tool kit right now. And they you know, we've kind of empowered them to take on a voice that's a little bit sassier and a little bit more opinionated than I think the average publication has. And I think that's really cool because it inspires our readers to react to that real-time consumption. So, you know, maybe they're reading a news story and they're upset that we left something out. They will let us know. I mean, as we all know, they will absolutely let us know. But you know, that's something, then, that the social team will bring to us, the higher up editors. And they'll say, “hey we kind of like left this out. We should think about writing a story about about this component” or you know, social media is a great way to catch breaking news because a tweet is a lot faster to write than an entire article. So it's easy for us to lean on social to kind of help shape our own storytelling and it's like a direct line of communication between us and our readers, which is really cool.

Lisa: Absolutely. It's it seems very apparent that Instagram is shaping how people interact with the outdoors and the things people do to get a shot. And you know, it's a lot of work to hang off a cliff and set up a timer and you know, and edit the photo, post the photo. Like people put a lot of time and effort into getting the shot for Instagram and then you see all these people who actually make their entire living on Instagram and so their life is dependent on this app for their livelihood. Do you see this whole system as sustainable or entertaining or like what are your thoughts on the way that this cultural phenomenon is changing the outdoor industry?

Abigail: you know, I struggle with it a little bit because I know. I think we're all intelligent enough to assume that not everything we see on Instagram is really how it is. You know, #vanlife is probably not that glamorous when you're actually not showering for three weeks at a time and eating canned beans. So I think, you know, there was a time when, especially when those like more photo-heavy platforms like Instagram started taking off, where there was almost a little bit of like jealousy and fomo if you're... you know, I sit behind a screen most days. And if you're sitting there scrolling through someone's beautiful climbing Instagram account, it's easy to feel like you're missing out and feel like dang. Did I leg choose wrong? Like, I really wish I could be doing that. But I think you know, we've all sort of started to realize that Instagram is kind of a way to showcase a personal brand that you've crafted for yourself. And so yes, we get to see those pretty places but a lot of times we kind of leave out the honesty.

Which, I know you had mentioned in one of our emails my honest camping Instagram account that I started with my friend Cassie. She's a freelance writer in the industry that’s fantastic, but that's one we've kind of let it sleep a little bit. We used to live in Boulder together, so we were working on it more actively then. But our idea there was to sort of showcase the less glamorous side of camping or outdoor adventure in general. So we have a picture of when I, you know, I was running this long trail run I was so hot and tired and I totally wiped out and skinned my knee and so there's like a picture of my bloody knee on this Instagram account. And so I don't know, that kind of was our like, kind of fun way to add a little more transparency to that beautiful outdoor Instagram conversation.

But in terms of sustainability, I know there are people who are like sponsored Instagram Stars, Instagram influencers who make their livings off of this. And I mean, honestly, I don't know if that's sustainable. That's not something that that I do. I don't know. It seems like, I mean, it seems like a lot of fun right? Like if you get to like travel around and yeah, I mean, you're right like you said it takes a ton of work to like hang off a cliff and set the timer and get the perfect shot. But that's your entire job. Like there is still a part of me that's like, oh that sounds like a lot of fun, you know. So, I don't know if it's sustainable. I guess... sorry. I got a little rambley there, but I'm not sure if it's sustainable but it seems like a lot of fun. And so I hope that those people who are getting to experience that are just are having a blast doing it.

Lisa: Absolutely. And how does Instagram impact what you guys do at Outside?

Abigail: I mean, I think that... well, there's a lot of talk right now about... Leave No Trace released their new rules recently and they're kind of more conscious about social media and what it means to tag your location and what that means for impact on the environment. And I think that that's the kind of thing, like that's the story that we're interested in telling. Because it's sort of thinking about this huge thing that's happening in our world right now and how it’s impacting the outdoor industry as a whole. So like that's the story that we're looking to tell. In terms of like day-to-day stuff, I mean, Instagram is a great way to find awesome photographers who are maybe a little under the radar still. If we look at an Instagram account that’s like absolutely beautiful. I mean, I don't know, maybe that's a photographer that we want to work with one day. So it's sort of, in a way Instagram has become almost like a real-time portfolio. I think for photographers, and I shouldn't speak for photographers because I certainly am not one myself, but I think that it's just a really cool way to show not only the lifestyle that's exciting and fun and that you're proud of but also the work that you're proud of if you're a photographer.

Lisa: Yes. Yeah.

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Lisa: So last question for you, tell us about your... I believe you called them ,Wiki edit-a-thon's?

Abigail: Yes. Yes. So this is something I feel very passionately about. Yes, so I think it's like almost two years ago now, Cassandra and I started teaching people how to create and edit entries on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is almost totally run by men and it's something that they are working on changing but it's definitely not there yet. So what that means is that when you have a bunch of men who are the ones approving what goes public on this, like, huge encyclopedia that we all look at, you just see a lot more men on there. So we learned about this problem and we started thinking, how can we help? How can we add to this conversation? Because I mean, when you Google someone and you see their Wikipedia page that is a sign that that person is important and is a valuable persona in whatever industry they work within. And so if you Google someone and and that isn't coming up, then I mean, maybe that that flags the opposite and that's not fair. And so we were noticing there were a ton of women who do not have Wikipedia pages from within the outdoor industry. And so we started to host these workshops where we have a handful of people come out and it can be anyone. You don't have to work in media or anything or even in the outdoor industry. You can just be an enthusiast. And you come out and we will teach you how to find valuable resources, how to... I mean unfortunately, Wikipedia as a whole is a little bit clunky to use sometimes, so we'll teach you how to use it, and how to have the best shot at getting your pages approved by those editors. And so then that'll be like the first half of the workshop and then the second half, we'll all just like sit down, have a beer and we have a list of like rad women of the outdoors who we want to get on Wikipedia and we just like start plugging away at those.

So I hope that we can continue to not only add those people to Wikipedia but also teach other members of the public how they can have that kind of positive change on the internet and on this source and tool that we all rely on. We've helped other Women in Tech and women in science host their own versions of our edit-a-thons so that they can also start having an impact within their own Industries getting more women on the encyclopedia. Sorry. I can ramble forever about that one, but it's something I feel very strongly about and it's just a way that you can like make the internet a better place and you can do it like from your bed at 10 at night when you don't want to go to sleep yet and that's really...

Lisa: I love that.

Abigail: Thank you.

Lisa: That is yeah, that is fantastic. That is such a cool positive, important thing to do.

Abigail: Thank you. And yeah, so we used to be, when we were both living in Boulder, Colorado we used to host them primarily up there. But we are now talking about taking our edit-a-thons on the road and we hope to start doing that this fall. So, you know, traveling around. And I mean obviously like, we're not making any money on this so it's not like, you know, we don't have a huge budget or anything to work with. It's just something we feel passionately about and we do for fun. So we'll do it when we can, when we can squeeze them in. But our goal is to start traveling around... probably starting with the west and then maybe branching out to more of the East and Midwest but just teaching people everywhere how they can get more women on Wikipedia.

Lisa: Yes, very cool.

Abigail: Thank you.

Lisa: Wow. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being here today. And where can people follow you on social or any websites?

Abigail: You can find me. Everyone calls me Abby but my online name is Abigail. So @abigailwise like everywhere you go - Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. I don't know, do people still use LinkedIn? LinkedIn always Abigail Wise and thanks so much for having me. This has been so much fun.

Lisa: Sweet. Thank you so much for listening. So you can follow Abby at Abigail Wise. She also has a website that has links to all her social. And we'll see you next time.

So next week on the podcast I talked to Paulina Dao about the transition between going full time at a job to jumping ship and looking at what it means to be a freelance photographer. So it's so exciting. It's just the creative conversations we all have with ourselves in the kind of the struggle of the creative personality in a high-achieving world. So tune in next week. Here's a sneak peek of Paulina.

Lisa: Oh man. Well, is there any advice you can give to our listeners who are mostly marketing managers and people in editorial and things like that?

Paulina: Oh gosh. Hire more photographers and writers and people of color? Yeah. I think if there was anything I had to say it would really be that. Because you know, yes, we have made a good chunk of progress, but we can we can still do more. And I think the more we uplift others’ voices and stories and images, especially people who don't look like us, I think we just have a more well-rounded community.

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