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The Scarlet & Black

Bitch Media’s Sarah Mirk ’08 delivers bitchin’ workshops

This past Tuesday, April 5, the S&B invited one of its very own, Sarah Mirk ’08, to host two workshops for the Grinnell campus. Mirk discussed her journalistic career as well as advice for meaningful activism and utilizing media to make change. Mirk currently works for Bitch Media as the online editor and is the author of “Sex From Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules.” Before Bitch Media, Mirk wrote for The Stranger and the Portland Mercury. In her Grinnell days, she worked for the S&B as a reporter and features editor. Mirk sat down with the S&B’s Editor-in-Chief, Yishi Liang to reflect on her time at Grinnell as well as her route to Bitch.

The S&B: How did your experience at Grinnell shape your career and what do you think was the most useful takeaway?

Mirk: I feel like I used the skills that I learned at Grinnell every single day in my job because it’s all about critical thinking and learning how to learn. And as a journalist, you wind up having to learn about new things all the time. … You don’t have to have a ton of knowledge about the individual topic at hand but you need to know how to think about what somebody is saying critically and how to ask questions and how to see narratives … I was a history major and that’s basically what you do as a history major. … Also, probably my favorite thing at Grinnell was being involved in the Grinnell-in-Prison program. … The prison program made me think a lot of all the people who are invisible in our society and who don’t wind up in the newspapers.

Why did you opt for the non-traditional route and not go on to study journalism formally?

I wanted to be done with school. I was sick of school by the time I finished here. … I just wanted to be out making stuff in the world and talking to real people. … I think not going to journalism school was really good for me.

How did you come to the conclusion that [working at] Bitch was your ultimately goal?

I really liked reading Bitch — it’s one of my favorite magazines. And I like to work at places that I like to read. I thought everyone that worked there was really smart. Also I like the goals and functioning of the organization — it’s a nonprofit that’s based in feminist ethics and publishes really great articles. And I didn’t want to work for a big corporate paper. … The money that we raise goes to pay emerging writers to publish really awesome critical analysis, and I feel really good working to make that happen.

You mentioned that when you work for this industry you have to keep in mind who creates the pop culture we consume. So now that you’re working within that industry, what have you learned about media and how it’s consumed more broadly?

I find that a lot of people are intimidated to get into journalism and scared to even try, especially women and especially young people of color. … I constantly, especially [for] people who write for Bitch or who pitch stories, try to be encouraging and say, ‘You are just as good of a writer as people who are getting their stuff published. And you have the skills that other people have who often come into this with more confidence.’ Like White dudes, sometimes. … I’m White and I’m privileged to a large extent from coming to Grinnell and having the resources to do that. I try to think about my own biases when I think about what stories to assign and who to hire. … I think it’s important, in journalism, to get rid of the idea of objectivity and instead to be more upfront about our own subjectivities.

How do you keep yourself motivated to do projects unrelated to work and how do you stay creative?

That’s what I do for fun. I sometimes joke that I work for work and then I also work for fun. The stuff that I work on for fun is just stuff I want to make. And that just comes from within. I love to be creative and those are ways I relax. … I try not to use screens when I’m making stuff for fun, like I don’t do stuff on a computer because once I do stuff on the computer it’s really easy to get sucked into work. … I’ve been doing this for almost 10 years now, being a professional journalist, and you just have to come up with ideas all the time. And you get better at it the more you do it.

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