Future Moves: Marisa Bate, Journalist + Author

Future Moves – 9th May 2024

Can you tell meaningful stories and still go viral? 

How do you maintain hope amidst a negative news cycle? 

How can brands make a difference to women's lives?

These are a few of the questions we wanted to ask our friend and award-winning writer and journalist Marisa Bate. We stumbled across Marisa’s writing back when we started Mac+Moore in 2016 when the world was waking up to a fourth wave of women’s rights and it was “cool” to promote female empowerment. 8 years on the feminist movement feels different in a context that feels endlessly chaotic and lacking attention. Marisa tells us how brands can talk meaningfully to women now and how to use the internet to your advantage.

Jess: Welcome to Future Moves! Tell our readers who you are and what you do

Marisa: I tell the world I am a writer, journalist and author with a focus on women's rights and women's stories. I started out in women's magazines, went freelance about five years ago writing across national newspapers and magazines and published a book last year.

Jess: What was it that drew you to that subject and what makes you want to continue forging a path where women's rights and voices can be heard?

Marisa: It wasn't an obvious career choice. I wanted to write about fashion when I graduated. I remember it was quite early on in my career when I was on a stage at Portcullis House with Laura Bates, and Stella Creasy said to me, why are you a feminist? Nobody had ever asked me that before and I didn't have an answer. I just said it was because of my mum. But that was the truest thing I could have said. So I kind of came to my writing through personal experience, and that passion, but not only that, I was making my way to writing when the fourth wave of feminism was bubbling up online and spilling over into popular mainstream culture. And that was a similar time to when I was beginning to have a platform to write. I was at a website called The Pool which really rode that wave hard and every day I got to knock out 800 angry words about something that the Daily Mail had written, and then do it all again in the afternoon.

Jess: The Pool is where Nat and I discovered your writing back in 2016. What was it like to work there?

Marisa: The Pool was very much dictated by traffic. And so that had a big impact on how we wrote and what we wrote. It was quite an education, in terms of writing and thinking. There was an appetite supported by how much the internet loves rage. So the angrier I can make my pieces, the better they do, which is not necessarily always the right thing. I look back now and cringe at some pieces but it gave me a chance to really figure out what was important to me. I met so many different types of women, from MPs to people in creative industries to sportswomen. I think by the time I went freelance I had a much clearer idea of exactly what it was I wanted to be doing, which was sort of more reporting on things around, for example, domestic abuse. 

Jess: Do you think you can write meaningfully and still go viral? 

Marisa: You can. But you can't do it all the time. I think good writing and good thinking doesn't come from sitting behind a screen. But journalists and writers are being asked to sit behind a screen for 10 hours a day and knock out three to five stories. The expectation to be able to create work extremely quickly and cheaply is a problem. That has implications for readers as well. What do you pay for? What are you prepared to pay for? How quickly do you want something? We've got this attention span of minus four seconds, would you wait two days to read something about something that happened two days ago now or do we want it to be able to read on our phone that evening on the way home? 

Jess: The Pool must have put you front and centre with big brands. What's your perception of brand-building from a journalist/writer's perspective? Is it something you're consciously thinking about/aware of?

Marisa: I think it's a really interesting question because that was something we did a lot at The Pool. And especially around that fourth wave feminist movement, around 2012 Everyday Sexism had started, Girls the HBO show started, there was this feeling of a movement and brands were really jumping on that. I remember writing about ad after ad coming out, and at the time, the ones that really stood out were Under Armour and Nike, who were showing an alternative image of women’s strength and capabilities than what we were used to. Since then, I've shifted my understanding of how I would look at a brand and for me now it's far more important what the brands are actually doing. What I have been impressed by is when I read about brand policies, so companies like AXA or Vodafone that have domestic abuse leave, or companies that are helping pay for IVF. Brands who are walking the walk as opposed to talking the talk. When I was younger it was enough to see a very cool image of a woman that was defying how we typically see women on TV and perhaps now that I'm a bit older I’m a bit more cynical. What I look for in brands is the company culture and how they treat their staff. It's very hard to know which brands are really behaving as they should but if you look at Pregnant Then Screwed and you look at their work with women who are going to tribunals against employers, that'll give you quite an interesting list of the employers who are fucking over pregnant women or new mothers, and they are big brands.

Jess: What advice would you give creatives and writers?

Marisa: Without any doubt the pieces that I've written that have had the biggest impact have just been the most honest things to come out of me. And so I think there's an honesty that readers can almost just smell, they can just feel it. And the more honest you can be, the more direct you can be. 

Also bother to know your demographic. The best editors I've ever come across are the ones who spend more time thinking about the reader than they do themselves. 

Jess: When we’re writing for brands, we’ve found simplifying complex or jargon-heavy language is crucial for success. Is there a similar process for you?

Marisa: I think keeping things as simple as possible will always do better for you. I visualise writing as sculpting. You're continuously paring back and I think that's the same with ideas. Shaving bits off and chipping away till you get to the absolute core of it. I think that will translate and then the simplification will follow. Often really brilliant things look really easy, and that's part of their brilliance. Ian McEwan always talks about ‘glass prose’ - the idea that you almost can't see what the writing is doing, which I really like. I also really believe in trusting yourself. I think we have a culture of inhaling too many books, podcasts and advice from other people. Sometimes the most useful thing you can do is turn it all off and see what comes out. 

Jess: What do you feel hopeful for?

Marisa: With what’s happening to Palestine and in Gaza right now, you can see the absolute necessity of journalism and the necessity of people telling the true story. It shows how essential good journalism is - even when we’re seeing massive cuts across the industry, particularly in the US. We'll also see that with the elections coming up this year, and all the disinformation and fake stuff we'll see online. In these big moments, people still need good writing and good reporting, even when people are turning away towards places like Facebook and far-right podcasts spreading conspiracies for their ‘news’. We’re still a long way from figuring out how to make journalism pay for writers now we have the internet but we know that people want content, and we know that people need good content. 

Moving Forwards

  • A book, podcast or cultural movement that's made you think differently? Mona Cholabi on the long form podcast. She's a fantastic data journalist, artist, British Iraqi, who's based in New York. Her interview just blew my mind because it was such a challenge to traditional authority in the media.

  • Which future technology (or application of existing tech) are you optimistic for? A way of communicating and connecting that isn't social media. How do we do the best bits of social media without the worst bits?

  • Your hope for creativity in the future? that it's fairer and it's more accessible. We're going backwards and not just in terms of wealth and class there's now this other dimension which is follower count. So my hope is that we somehow unhook from the large follower count on platforms and the amplification that they receive and distribute that platform attention more evenly.

  • Who do you follow online for ideas, inspiration + advice - There are lots of brilliant women journalists that I admire immensely such as Rebecca Traister,  Moira Donegan and Hannah Drier and I’m interested in whatever they’re interested in. I’m actually incredibly inspired by a couple of young journalists I know through Twitter; Jessie Williams and Rachel Hagan. Jessie is freelance and Rachel currently writes for the Mirror and they both cover foreign news. They have such commitment, drive and passion for what they do.  They make stuff happen. I know Jessie travels to the news, finding the resources to do so and bringing home really important stories. I watch from afar with great admiration but there’s something contagious in their energy. They make me want to be better and bolder. In terms of advice, the Long Form podcast is a goldmine of in-depth journalists about the details of their craft. Listening reminds me why I do what I do.

  • One word to describe your hope for the future - “Fair”

More of our thinking...