Think your job is hard? Try running an all-volunteer blog, where no one — not the writers, not the managing editor, not the executive editor — makes a dime, but you still have to put out high-quality content week after week.
Jacqueline Antonovich is the founder and executive editor of just that kind of blog. Nursing Clio — part academic, part modern feminist — takes on pop culture and connects present-day issues of gender and medicine to history. The site’s tagline is “the personal is historical.” Since 2012 Nursing
Clio has built a devoted following of readers interested in topics l like how 19th-century stories of deadly diseases pop up in video games like Red Dead Redemption 2 or how our current (and perpetual) debate about whether women are “likable” enough as candidates unfortunately goes way back.
But Jacqueline attributes the success of Nursing Clio to one thing: Building an editorial team based on the core values of collaboration and inclusivity. For her, these ingredients are essential for sparking creativity. It creates a space where the team feels empowered to be creative.
We all know that people produce better work when they feel empowered, when they have the freedom to pursue their ideas, when they feel they have a voice. And creative pursuits like writing, in particular, require the right working conditions to create high-quality content. But how do you find that all-important balance between collaboration and productivity, between creativity and decision making?
I spoke to Jacqueline about building a blog with a cult following, fostering real collaboration in an editorial team and how she creates space for creativity and inclusion.
What inspired you to start Nursing Clio?
Part of the reason I was able to start the blog is that I was a non-traditional, first-generation college student who didn't really know what graduate students were supposed to be doing — and not supposed to be doing. There are a lot of downsides to that because you don't have that cultural capital. But the upside is that you can do whatever the hell you want because you don't have the rules in your head of what's good and what's bad. You just go for it.
I was taking a graduate seminar on public scholarship, and for our final project we had to come up with an idea of how we could take our academic knowledge and use it for good. This was 2012. We were getting our latest iteration of The War on Women, and politicians were talking about “legitimate rape” and things like that.
And it was driving me crazy. I would turn on the news or read articles, where my fellow gender and medical historians’ research was on TV, where they are talking about and debating issues rooted in their research. But there was no historical context to any of these issues. And my friends and colleagues weren’t part of the conversation.
So a project like Nursing Clio seemed like it would not only be intellectually stimulating but genuinely necessary. I decided to create my own platform to give a voice to this knowledge and these historians that could connect the current issues with their historical context.
I love how you saw that gap in the conversation and built your idea around that. As someone who has written for you, I was impressed with the way you balance room for input without everything grinding to a halt. How do you make that happen?
I think it works because we have a very collaborative, inclusive environment. Over the years I've cultivated a deliberately feminist space. There is a hierarchical structure, in terms of having an executive editor, a managing editor, editors and writers. But nobody really has more power than anyone else. All decisions are made through consensus. Sometimes that means we occasionally get into big debates about articles, but for the most part we all usually agree on the big issues.
Here’s an example. We had a piece that came through a couple of months ago, a critique of the Freddie Mercury “Bohemian Rhapsody” film. And we ended up scrapping it and doing a new one. And that's because by the time it got down to our second editor, who is part of the LGBT community, they were really upset with the review, and caught some problems that we didn't catch.
We sent it back to the writer, who redid it. That’s just one example of how everyone in the process has a voice. And for us, running a volunteer blog, that's incredibly important for creating sustainability. My team is invested in the content we publish because they have the freedom to say "I have this idea," and they know we will listen.
Why do you think creating that kind of collaborative environment is important?
It’s very important. Any labor historian would tell you that it's not rocket science in terms of creating a happy, productive labor force, whether they're paid or not. If everybody feels like they have a stake in the project, a stake that's different than the paychecks that they get, then they're going to stay invested in it.
It’s about believing in the project and in the work and knowing your team believes in you, too. It’s also about knowing that the intellectual contributions you make are valuable. At times it’s not easy. Occasionally we've had really long, drawn-out debates about particular issues, but in the end I think everybody respects each other because they know that nothing is going to go forward unless we all agree. And we are more proud of the work we produce because of it.
Letting your team know that they are valued, and their voice is heard, no matter what their role is, is crucial to the creative process. It cultivates loyalty and creativity and an atmosphere of collaboration that’s essential for creativity to thrive.
And as a managing editor, if you create that atmosphere of conversation and dialogue, you will find that a lot of issues and debates get worked out before you ever have to step in.
How do your values of equity and inclusiveness help you create better content?
Cultivating a deliberately feminist space is just healthy for the sustainability of the blog. We publish two, sometimes three or four, articles a week, roughly 50 weeks a year. And a large reason why we’re able to do that is that there is space for people to step away when they need to.
That's also why we have a big team, because if someone is having a baby, for example, they shouldn't have to worry about editing a blog post. Because we work so collaboratively, someone can step away when they need to and someone else can step in. It helps us prevent burnout and helps us keep the quality of our content high.
We also have a diverse team, and that’s so vital any time you’re publishing content. You need diversity on your team to bring in new perspectives and make you aware of your blind spots. The Freddie Mercury example really illustrates that. Having a diverse team allows us to produce better content in the end because our team brings a wide range of backgrounds, lived experiences and expertise to our work.
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