BABE #298: CLAIRE GOFORTH - Freelance Journalist
Since the age of eight, Claire knew she wanted to be a writer. And while she spent the next 20 years putting pen to paper, she simultaneously worked toward a career in law. After a few years as a practicing attorney, she decided to wholly pursue the path she felt truly passionate about: journalism. Today, she reports on news and politics for the Daily Dot, as well as Florida’s criminal justice issues through the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Claire’s extensive experience in journalism — from freelance to newsrooms and beyond — has made her the resilient, valued and trusted reporter she is today.
Hometown: Paw Paw, West Virginia
Current city: Jacksonville, Florida
Alma mater: Pfeiffer University; Florida Coastal School of Law
Degree: B.A., JD
Very first job: Work study in my college’s admissions office
Hustle: Freelance Journalist
Babe you admire and why?
My grandmother, Mary Byrd Hudson Goforth, who died before I was born. Though a wife and mother of three, she was by choice a working woman from the 50s until her untimely death in 1978. She worked in the sciences as a laboratory technician, and was promoted over men in her department to be head of bacteriology. Simultaneously, she was very much the quintessential Southern woman, truly a woman before her time.
How do you spend your free time?
My husband and I are avid gardeners; we have several fruit trees—grapefruit, lime, Meyer lemon, kumquat, calamondin—and an extensive vegetable and herb garden made all the more enjoyable (and tiring!) by Florida’s 365-day growing season. I also enjoy running trails, going to the beach, reading, hanging with friends and cooking. Oh, and wine.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Oysters, salad, ribeye (medium-rare), mashed potatoes, blanched asparagus with caramelized onions and portabella mushrooms. Both pecan and peach pie for desert—skip the ice cream, no need to be a glutton. All paired with great wine.
What’s something you want to learn or master?
I’d love to learn how to sing; alas, I need a bucket to carry a tune.
What’s something most don’t know about you?
I don’t enjoy podcasts. This is my deep, secret shame.
What’s a must-have item on your desk?
All I need is something to write with.
Tell us about your hustle.
I work part-time for the Daily Dot reporting on politics and the news three days a week; I also currently have a contract through the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange at Kennesaw State University doing in-depth reporting on criminal justice issues in Florida. And, of course, I am pitching, pitching, pitching when my schedule allows.
What does your typical workday look like?
On the days I work for the Dot, I hit the computer by 8:30 a.m. or so and work pretty much straight through until 1:00 or 2:00 p.m., then I take a break (hopefully) and start working on more long-form features. Usually I’ll wrap up around 5:00 or 6:00, so pretty typical hours. On days I don’t work for the Dot, I focus entirely on features, research and staying up-to-date on current events, which is absolutely vital in my profession. The various functions of my job as a freelancer aren’t much different from that of an in-house reporter, except I have to negotiate rates and quickly pivot between publications and editors with differing styles and focuses. The freedom and variability suit me immensely.
When did your passion for writing first develop?
I found my calling at the age of 8 when my gifted education teacher assigned me to write a poem. Although I knew with absolute certainty I wanted to be a writer, as I’d tell anyone who listened, for the next 20 years, I kept writing while pursuing a completely different career. I majored in pre-law in undergrad, went to law school and became an attorney. It was always important to me that my education qualify me to do an actual job that wasn’t teaching. When I was younger, I was convinced I didn’t have the patience for that. But after a few years practicing law and being utterly miserable in my career, I decided to shift gears and go after my true passion. It’s been difficult and amazing, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Plus, I still get to say I’m a lawyer.
What subject areas do you most enjoy?
As a journalist, I most enjoy politics, justice, human interest and the environment. I’ve always been fascinated by these topics. My creative writing tends to focus more on the intersection of human relationships and experiences, and delve quite a bit into the often surprising inner lives of individuals. [The questions I ask people] differ depending on the project. Mostly I think about the subject, examining it from various angles, turning it this way and that and trying to see it from different perspectives before diving into the research. Where I write is less important than the setting. It must be quiet, relatively distraction-free, have a window to look out of and, preferably, a desk I can stand at. The best mindset for reporting is focused, informed and “let’s do this.” For creative writing, it’s better for me to be thoughtful and somewhat outside myself.
Tell us about your time with Folio Weekly.
In addition to learning the lingo and skill set of working for a print periodical, for which I’ll always be grateful, I definitely walked away from that job with much thicker skin. I used to get so freaked out by criticism, even if I didn’t agree with it or thought it was inaccurate (you’d be surprised how often people misread or don’t read to the end before firing off a nasty email or comment). Now, I’m more inclined to take it in, give it a moment, and shrug it off if it’s b.s. If it’s not, I make a note of it and move on.
What are some of your most memorable pieces you’ve written?
The pieces that stick the most with me are ones where I helped someone or dug into some serious research and really covered something from every angle. Seth Owen, the Florida grasshopper sparrow, Adam Sugalski, Jhaysonn Pathak, Keegan Roberts and JEA are all stories I’m very proud of.
What are some of your favorite publications?
Everywhere I can read that doesn’t have a ridiculous paywall. I do subscribe to several print and online periodicals, of course, but I wish there was some kind of affordable, all-access subscription package for journalists. I love Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NPR, PBS NewsHour (my one TV news source that isn’t comedic), Mother Jones, VICE, The Funny Times, plus every pub that lets me squeeze a byline in.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
There have definitely been times when men in my industry have been shitty to me because I’m a woman, usually in a press gaggle or in the comment section. (Don’t read the comments, fam!) But for the most part, being a woman in this industry is an advantage inasmuch as people seem to feel more comfortable opening up to females. I’m more concerned with there being well-paying spaces for everyone in my industry. It’s no secret that journalism, especially print, is hemorrhaging talent and jobs. Subscribe to something!
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
Honestly, it feels pretty equal. My industry does suffer from a lack of minorities, however. While I do not believe that a journalist needs to have a particular set of experiences to write about something, it is important and adds richness to the profession to have a variety of voices represented.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Anne Schindler, Mary Kelli Palka, Tina Brown, Julie K. Brown, Judy Woodruff, Marlene Dryden (best copy editor on the planet), Eileen Kelley, Radhika Jones.
What does your approach to work-life balance look like?
Honestly, I’m really good at this, in part because I love my work, but also because I have found that without allowing enough time for life, my work suffers. So, I’ll take that run and jump in the ocean afterwards, or grab lunch with friends, or spend some quiet time cooking at home with my husband, because giving myself downtime makes me more efficient and a better writer. I’ll still pull a 12- or 14-hour day no sweat, and can do some of my best writing on a sprint, but the day after a marathon, I’ll probably take it a little easier.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Don’t take everything so damn seriously. And ask for more money. I’ve finally gotten comfortable negotiating higher pay and my only regret is that it took me this long. You’re worth it!
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