The Establishment Looks Back On Year One
By Establishment Staff
It’s easy enough to quantify the first year of The Establishment’s life: 1,361 stories. 619 writers. 15,200 Twitter followers. 20,000 Facebook fans. 366 consecutive days of original content. 562 free beers from the Berkeley WeWork office. 645 pelvic thrusts of triumph.
It’s more difficult to adequately qualify what the last year has been like — to encapsulate the emotional experience of launching what is — ostensibly — “just another media company,” but for us, has always meant a hell of a lot more. This year we’ve been attacked by the ever-delightful MRA trolls — of course! — in addition to being mistaken for the political establishment during the most vitriolic election in history.
(And this is to say nothing of bearing witness to the meteoric rise of an orange-hued glorified garbage-fire become a presidential candidate, even as we published story after story after story that sought parity in every shape, size, and creed.)
But through it all, we’ve been humbled and delighted in equal parts. We’ve welcomed an extraordinary roster of writers, video producers, comic creators, and illustrators, and had the great honor of sharing their thoughtful, diverse perspectives with millions of readers. We’ve taken on the patriarchy, misogyny, transphobia, queerphobia, rape culture, police brutality, festering bigotry, and everything else — and good god there’s a lot of it — that makes this world much uglier than it needs to be. Thanks to our brave and brilliant contributors, we’ve been able to fight for something better, and we can’t wait to continue doing so in the (many) years to come.
We may never be able to adequately describe what the last year has been like. But we’ve asked our team — Editor-at-Large Ijeoma Oluo, News Director Kelley Calkins, Editorial Director Nikki Gloudeman, Creative Director Katie Tandy, Marketing Director Jessica Sutherland, and Contributing Editors Ruchika Tulshyan, Jess Zimmerman, and Maxine Builder — to try.
What does The Establishment mean to you?
Ijeoma Oluo: For me, The Establishment has meant freedom. When we launched, I was just starting to really build my career. As a black, queer, female writer, the amount of freedom I’ve had to build my career using my voice and my opinions is almost unheard of in this field.
Nikki Gloudeman: To me personally, it means waking up every morning excited, nay thrilled, for the day ahead: for the chance to interact with people I deeply respect, and to learn from their experiences and perspectives. It’s a terrible cliche, but true — I am a better person than I was 366 days ago because of this job.
Jessica Sutherland: The Establishment is a baby I love watching grow. It is what fuels my life, so it is nourishment. And it is the sound of voices I’ve never heard so loudly and so often, so it is music. Please don’t oversimplify that to say that I think of our company as a really smart toddler who’s a chef-pianist.
Ruchika Tulshyan: A space I turn to for honest conversations, new perspectives, and all-round domination of those who have been marginalized.
Maxine Builder: As a writer, I love The Establishment because I’ve always felt free to pitch some of my most difficult stories, confident in the support I would receive throughout the process. That freedom to play around with big ideas in a nurturing, feminist sandbox (so to speak) has helped me grow as a writer, and now as a contributing editor, I feel so lucky to even attempt to nurture others’ work in the ways I know that my own has been.
Katie Tandy: It means justice. It means anger. It means the overturning of stones. It means integrity and the joy of being undeniable. It means the coalescence of what once felt like my disparate parts.
Jess Zimmerman: That’s the people who fix all the elections, right? You should yell at them on Twitter.
Kelley Calkins: Spanning from my tenure as a wee tot — coming of age in the hinterlands of northeastern Vermont — through my (in retrospect, SHOCKINGLY off-brand) tenure at a foreign policy think tank in DC, I used to play by “the rules” — and nothing in my life has, ultimately, failed me more. Which is a long-winded way of saying: The Establishment, to me, means conceiving of a new system wherein people and their talents are accepted as they are and invited to flourish — for the betterment of us all.
Why does The Establishment matter?
Ijeoma: Because what we expect is conditioned by what we see. And The Establishment will have you expecting kickass writing on compelling topics from women, people of color, queer people, trans people, disabled people, fat people . . .
Nikki: Because mainstream media has been failing so many for so long (as in, since the dawn of media); shaking shit up is downright essential.
Jessica: The content we put out into the world is content you won’t find anywhere else; we’re providing a flood of stories from a fountain that allows anyone from anywhere to be heard. The company culture is one of collaboration and consideration: We listen to each other, our content creators, and our audience. I have never felt more valued in a workplace than I do by my Stabby colleagues. We’re better together.
Ruchika: Where else can you read a first-person essay on miscarriage, a news story on SCOTUS decisions on reproductive rights, and an illustrated feature on period sex? Most media paints women as one-dimensional; The Est. has been multi-layered and multi-faceted from day one.
Maxine: Even though the stories published on the site often address challenging and relevant issues, I regularly use the word “safe” to describe The Establishment. That feeling of security, created by the team and fostered by the writers and the community, means The Establishment can serve as a platform where people who might not otherwise have their stories told can actually tell their stories, get the support to make them as good as they can be, and give those words the fair shake they deserve.
Katie: Because an echo chamber is tiresome and hurts my ears. I’m a crushing cynic and largely believe humanity is a blight; but if it’s one thing we’ve got, it’s great stories that need to be told by everyone and The Est. has committed to doing just that.
Jess: Because by god, SOMEONE has to counter the rising tide of white male mediocrity in media.
Kelley: Because we didn’t know how bored out of our gourds we all were until we had the opportunity to hear something different, something real.
What’s your favorite thing about being a “lesser gender?”
Ijeoma: Lesser? I don’t know that word. Who’s he?
Nikki: Seeing the look of terror on men’s faces as they come to the dawning realization that WE’RE TAKING OVER THE WORLD.
Jessica: Oh, definitely that thing where men are allowed to interrupt me at any time. Followed closely by being underestimated when it comes to my performance in All You Can Eat situations.
Ruchika: People expect me to know less, talk less, want less. My favorite thing is the look of confusion on their faces when I know, talk, and want more.
Maxine: The ability to consistently exceed expectations.
Katie: The smell of other people’s fear — my nostrils twitch in elation — and my own stench, heady as a beef stew.
Jess: I don’t understand the question.
What are you looking forward to in the next year (and beyond)?
Ijeoma: I’m looking forward to both the flexibility of growth, and the focus that comes with it.
Nikki: We have something super-exciting already in the pipeline (but it’s CIA-level top secret). Beyond that: sharing more perspectives not typically found in mainstream media, and diversifying the content itself, including producing more videos and podcasts — and, further in the future, virtual reality personal essays and investigative features researched by robots (that’s what the future will be like, right?).
Jessica: Besides the super huge exciting thing I’m not allowed to talk about yet? Well, I’m excited to see what we do with video this year. It’s my greatest passion. I’m excited to watch our writers open minds and change them. And I’m excited for a Trump-less White House. I’m excited to grow our team and our brand. I’m excited to finally figure out how to get around the Bay Area without my GPS.
Ruchika: Dismantling the patriarchy one story at a time.
Maxine: I barely know what I’ll be doing tonight, let alone next year, but right now, I’m just ready for this election to finish up and to finally have a woman president. And for The Establishment, I’m excited to see this site continue to grow, for more people to learn about the cool work that’s already happening, and for more voices to feel comfortable to enter the fray.
Katie: Suddenly realizing our content isn’t an anomaly — they’re simply the stories people actually want to write and read. Also, music videos. A singing news series. Having enough clout and money and public panache to help other female-led projects get the fuck off the ground and into the stratosphere.
Jess: The day when there is not a single picture of Donald Trump’s face in my newsfeed. And someone pitching what turns out to be my new favorite piece.
Kelley: Every Friday, a gentleman in a food truck rocks up to my neighborhood farmer’s market serving the most delicious rotisserie chicken you’ve ever tasted. I look forward to continuing to visit him for all of my Friday lunch and dinner needs. Also to building the greatest, most interesting, highest quality media empire of all time.
If you had to sum up the past year in a GIF, what would it be?
Jessica: This GIF has it all when it comes to the duality of starting a new company: there’s the fear and determination leading up to taking a risk, followed closely by the pure joy of success. Again and again. Forever. I love you, Shaq Kitty.
[No dog was harmed in the creation of this GIF.]
Have we mentioned we have the best writers and readers in the history and entirety of the cosmos, a scientifically proven fact?
Well, we do.
Over the past week, not only has our founding editorial team shared their favorite stories since launch, but we’ve asked our contributors and readers to do the same. Check out what people are saying here (yes, we’ve cried reading all this, and yes, we’re cool with that), and share your own favorites using the hashtag #HDBEST.
And, for good measure, here are two of the many tweets/GIFs that brought us immense joy, unofficial turtle theme included: