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Sheila Weller, an award-winning journalist and writer, is coming to South Jersey this week as keynote speaker at The Franks & Beans’ 2016 Women’s Shopping Expo. We caught her before her appearance and asked her to sound off on the favorite stories she’s told and her advice for young journalists.

 

SJ Magazine: You’ve written so many stories and books in your career. Which stories were your favorite to tell?

weller-books-2Sheila Weller: “Girls Like Us” and my family memoir “Dancing at Ciro’s” were my most satisfying books, though it was also gratifying to break news on the O.J. Simpson case in real time in “Raging Heart.” But in addition to the books, there are so many magazine pieces I’ve loved writing I almost can’t enumerate them. It was lifechanging to write three articles on 9/11 victims and heroes and their families. I won three awards on my 2004 Glamour piece on the legacy – and daughters – of a heinous Civil Rights era case 40 years later. And I’ve loved all the long pieces I’ve done for Vanity Fair from the history of surfer culture to the making of “Thelma and Louise” to the history of the summer of love. Finally, it was meaningful to write about my cousin’s murder by a serial killer for Marie Claire and the New York Times opinion page.

 

SJ Mag: You specialize in telling the stories and investigating the issues of women. Why are these important to write about and why are you drawn to them?

Weller: Well, if you started your journalism career when feminism was starting, that was reason itself. So many things were changing – the entire culture! – and so many things needed changing. There are a lot of great women’s magazines – or, well, there were. And thus there has been a thriving niche for meaningful stories about so many issues in women’s lives – divorce, sexual assault, breaking all those glass ceilings (or trying to), domestic violence, changing values about love and dependency and friendship, reproductive freedom. An entirely changed system of ideas about things such as non-stranger rape – a massive change of consciousness and policy, norms and laws from the 1980s to today. Women’s lives really started to change big time in the mid-late 1960s, much more so than men’s. So there’s much dynamism and drama in their stories. I do write about men, too. But many women writers understand that there is a big market and opportunity to tell compelling stories involving a lot of personal growth in stories about women.

 

SJ Mag: Tell readers a little about what you plan to talk about at the Franks & Beans’ Women Shopping Expo.

Weller: I am going to talk about the often counterintuitive life lessons we can learn from all six of the women I wrote about – the music women, Carole [King], Joni [Mitchell] and Carly [Simon], and the news women, Diane [Sawyer], Katie [Couric] and Christiane [Amanpour]. One counterintuitive life lesson: Listen to and respect your own values, even if they are contradictory to – heretical to – liberal or even feminist models. I’ll also discuss surprising examples of what it takes to make it as a courageous woman, such as the way that Katie Couric withholds a bit of the best part of her character from others, at least those who are eager to criticize her. Also, I would like to talk little bit about their super successful heirs, Taylor Swift and Beyonce for the music women and Megyn Kelly for the news stars.

 

SJ Mag: What advice do you have for young women journalists and authors?

Weller: It is a very scary time to be a journalist and author. Digital is completely taking over. Find a niche, a specialty, a subject you are passionate about and can “brand” as your own. Go right to digital – the sites, the platforms. Place your work there and get jobs there. Be an entrepreneur. Look at newsletters and sites like theSkimm, Lenny Letter, Ann Friedman, Goop and so many others. Try to raise money and start your own. Network your ass off. There are thought-leader conferences and empowerment conferences all over the place – get yourself in fee-free by getting a reporting assignment on one and get to know influential leaders who can help you. Watch the movie “Spotlight” six times. Remind yourself that despite all these shortcuts and click-bait races and monetization and aggregation, nothing succeeds or satisfies like real journalism.

 

Join Weller at the expo on Nov. 17 from 5:30 to 10 pm at Cherry Hill Health & Racquet Club. Tickets are $15, and proceeds benefit Cantor Scott Borsky’s Animal Rescue Center in Cherry Hill. A book signing will follow Weller’s 7 pm discussion. Visitors can also enjoy boutique shopping and light refreshments. For more information, call 856-751-299 or visit the Franks and Beans website.

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