Very, very few sites can make a name for themselves in the “funny fake news” format. There’s basically the Onion, and Reductress. Today we’re talking to the one with the tagline “Women’s News. Feminized.” Recent headlines include “How To Stay Calm Even Though Everyone Missed What You Just Said and It Was Really Good” and “Wow! This Beautiful Woman Won’t Shut Up and Take the Fucking Compliment”.
Photo: Levi Mandel
Sarah Pappalardo and Beth Newell began Reductress in 2013 as a parody of women’s media, then expanded it into a more general women’s humour site, which now reaches up to a million readers a month. They told Lifehacker about running a small business, and how they choose what stories to write.
Location: New York, NY
Current Gig: Editors at Reductress
One word that best describes how you work: Efficiently
Current mobile device: iPhone 8 (both of us)
Current computer: Macbook Air (2015 model)
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
Sarah: I went to university and did sketch and improv in Chicago, landed in New York around 10 years ago. I was working in digital media/production and doing comedy at night, and that’s where I met Beth.
Beth: I went to school for illustration in NY and started doing improv at the UCB Theatre. I later began doing sketch at the Magnet theatre, where I started teaching sketch and running workshops for women, to get more of them involved in the sketch program. The idea for Reductress was somewhat inspired by that.
The Reductress office. Photo: Reductress
Take us through a recent workday.
Sarah: OK so Monday we are shooting staff photos for our new podcast, the Reductress Minute. So the tables in our windowless co-working space are moved around a bit so we can do the shoot. Everything will be Photoshopped to make it look like we are big and rich. Then, we’re gonna record the pod, talk about the news a bit, and edit some contributor pieces that came though. Then Beth and I are going to look through contributor pitches for the week.
Beth: We usually eat lunch at our desk while editing pieces or going through pitches. Then we’ll comment on the smell or appeal of what each other is eating.
What’s the most surprising thing about running a humour site?
Sarah: That it involves just as much administrative work as any other job. We definitely spend a lot of time creating content, but honestly half my day is spent staring at various Excel sheets and making sure everyone else knows what to do.
Beth: I also never thought writing comedy would involve so much concern for getting sued.
What apps, gadgets or tools can’t you live without?
Sarah: Ugh, sorry – but my iPhone. I used to be an Android user but I went to the dark side. Sorry, everyone. App-wise, we live and die by Dropbox, Google Drive and Tweetdeck. I’m also a fan of Trello for producer-y/project manage-y stuff.
Beth: And for our podcasts we use a couple of mics and a Zoom H6 recorder. Sound quality is one of those things you don’t really notice unless it’s bad, and it’s really easy to screw up unfortunately.
What’s your workspace setup like?
Sarah: We’re in a fishbowl-type room in a co-working space. It has a leaky ceiling and weird lighting, but it still feels very “us”. We all work on a Macbook Air because we simply cannot be confined to one space.
Beth: Yep we all face the walls and talk to each other without realising the other person can’t hear us because they have headphones in. Then when we have meetings we swivel our chairs towards the centre of the room.
A typical work session, artfully staged. Screenshot: Reductress
What’s your best shortcut or life hack?
Sarah: Canned response emails. It’s still a Google Labs add-on and has a clunky UI, but we send out so many canned emails here it’s a godsend.
Beth: We also tag files with the coloured dots in our shared Dropbox folder. That lets us quickly see who’s finished editing a piece.
Take us through an interesting, unusual or finicky process you have in place at work.
Beth: When we go through pitches we each shout out our faves and debate the merits of the joke. We’ll try to get a feel for the room to see if it’s something that only resonates with us personally or whether it’s a common shared experience. Sometimes there’s a long debate. We’ll also re-word headlines to make that joke as clear and specific as possible. So sometimes we’ll be coming up with alternate phrasings for a while before we’re all satisfied.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
Beth: In addition to ourselves, we have three in-house editors, Rachel Wenitsky, Eva Victor and Taylor Garron, who help write and edit pieces for the site. They also help host and put together the Reductress Minute, and brainstorm for side projects like the merch we sell on our site. Rachel is the primary host of the podcast and starts the outline for each episode. Taylor casts the variety shows we host at The Upright Citizens Brigade in both New York and LA. The shows in New York are hosted by Taylor and Eva. Our LA shows are hosted by Rekha Shankar and Janie Stolar. Our interns help compile the pitches for the week and setup our newsletter.
Editor and New York live show co-host Taylor Garron. Photo: Reductress
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
Sarah: I keep an old-fashioned to-do list in a tab on my browser. Nothing fancy, just tasks organised by priority. We have like 17 shared Google calendars in addition to that.
Beth: This is probably not ideal, but I keep a to-do list in my email drafts so I can access and edit it from anywhere.
How do you recharge or take a break?
Sarah: When we’re together, we just talk about dumb news, or sing the entirety of Rent together. When I’m solo, I take a “seltzer walk”, which is what I call it when I walk to the bodega to buy sparkling water.
Beth: I work from home towards the end of the week because of my commute and daycare pickup schedules. I use those out-of-office days to try to step back and look at the big picture stuff and work on our side projects that require too much focus to do when I’m sitting in a room with a few other people.
What’s your favourite side project?
Sarah: Probably our all-staff recording of the musical Rent. It hasn’t happened yet but honestly, it probably will. Also, collective eating.
Beth: If you can call it a side project, our podcast is a nice break from the daily grind. Since our staff is all writer/performers, it allows us to get a little sillier and have fun with each other in a way we can’t when we’re all staring at our computers.
Feminism. Photo: Reductress
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
Sarah: I am in the middle of Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. And yes, I would recommend it!
Beth: I just started Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. So far it’s really good!
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Sarah: Honestly, the CBD oil guy down the hall.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Sarah: “Work smart, not hard.” I suck at both of these.
Beth: “Fake it ’til you make it.” Like a lot of women, I struggle with imposter syndrome, so I try to just “follow my foot”, as they say in improv.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
Sarah: How to make money on the internet in a way that isn’t porn?
Beth: Yeah or fake news clickbait. It sometimes feels like you have to have bad motives to make money online.
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