I started the Simplyjen blog after some persuasion – in 2005!
It was while we were launching the US version of OK! Magazine (I was on the launch team and there for their first five years). As ‘Society Editor’ whose job it was to go to parties (like awards shows and movie premieres) and write about them, the powers that be thought it would be fun if I wrote a blog about my life. Every day. They had visions of grandeur for what it could become. I ultimately agreed to give it a try and for several years penned Simplyjen, ‘An ordinary girl with an extraordinary life.’
I was so apprehensive at first I begged for the attached photo to be a caricature, like the one my blog banner now. When that idea was squashed I went with a photo where my hair covered half my face. I set out on a career as a print journalist because I love pop culture, I love news and I love talking to people, observing situations and doing unique and crazy things – and sharing them through writing.
I never relished the spotlight and my only TV aspirations were to write what the journalists read off the teleprompters during newscasts. It was never a goal to be the newscaster.
But, here I was, on the brink of turning 30 and writing a daily blog about whatever I did or sans that, whatever popped in my head that day.
This was before the popularity of blogs, or the existence of many besides a few like Perez Hilton (who launched his while we worked together at Star Magazine) and if there were others then I couldn’t even name them now.
It was odd at first writing about myself when my job had always been, and in the magazine was still, to write about other people, but eventually it became routine. I even started to enjoy it – although some of my posts made my family cringe. They called immediately when I was in Vegas and posted that I was debating a small tattoo. I believe my dad’s words were, “I’ll cut off your arm.” And, my dad asked if I ‘have to share so much’ when I wrote about drinking or boys, but I’ve been an open book without much of a filter for as long as I can remember.
When I resigned from OK! – when the world of celebrity journalism had gone more from interviewing celebrities to gotcha journalism and reporting what the Kardashians’ had for lunch – I started jenbirn.com to keep the blog going, because documenting my day for the masses was as reflexive to me as brushing my teeth.
But, after a short time I realized I still didn’t feel comfortable writing about myself without a reason (being paid to do so and hosted on a larger platform). So, this blog tapered off.
A few weeks ago I was at Summit at Sea, a voyage to international waters where “a collection of entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, artists, scientists, athletes and other change makers” spent three days attending talks from the likes of the founders of Google and Uber to Esther Perel and even Edward Snowden by satellite, curated entertainment and activities while meeting people to expand our minds, curiosity, personal and business networks. I attended a talk with Richard Edelman, owner of one of the world’s largest PR firms. He said he blogs about once a week because it’s important to stay relevant. It felt like my insides were a towel being wrung out. ‘Did I make myself irrelevant?’ I wondered.
The next day I was asked to do an interview with an in-house crew about who I am and what I do. I’m relatively less important and have accomplished a lot less than the majority of people on the ship that weekend, but when I was asked if I have any career regrets, I looked back on what’s been a great run so far and said no.
It wasn’t until later that night, when I was at a roulette table and ran into Brian Felt, co-owner for BMF Media, and he said to me, “I was just thinking today when someone was talking about blogs, you were one of the first blogs I read and followed” that it donned on me like a church bell ringing at midnight that while perhaps not a regret per se, my biggest career misstep was giving up my blog when I had a foothold in cyberspace as possibly one of the first crop of pop culture bloggers.
Now, dabbling in PR I’m begging bloggers with much less access or audience to write about my events and passion projects – and often told they charge a fee (sometimes tens of thousands!) to write about said pitch. This hurts my heart, not because I think ‘it could have been me commanding the tens of thousands of dollars for a blog post’, but because I think journalism should be objective and I could have had influence to write about things the way journalism used to be.
Waxing poetic about the evolution of journalism and media is a blog for another day, but I’ve decided that my goal for 2016 is to resurrect Simplyjen. I may not be Society Editor of a major national magazine anymore where I can go to celebrity-filled parties each night and write about them, but…I do still have the privilege of attending some pretty fun parties, albeit more strategically (don’t underestimate a nigh home cuddling on the couch), and will venture out to the DailyMail’s People’s Choice official after party tonight. But, to me life now is even more interesting than it was towards the end of my tenure at OK!, when I was writing about a different incarnation of the same party every year. Now I help produce the parties I used to cover; I got to interview a fierce celebrity for next month’s American Airlines in-flight magazine, I recently wrote a fun story after a trip to Maui that will be on Yahoo Travel any day, and I can share here what didn’t fit to write there) and I just (finally) turned in the final draft of a fiction novel I co-wrote with former NFL star, current most amazing person ever, Dhani Jones. I’m excited to share the process of what happens next in the publishing process– because I don’t know either.
So, that’s it. These blogs may live in the ether, or they may catch on again. Rather than people bookmarking my blog to keep up on where a celebrity’s been or with whom, I hope I can inspire people to come back by keeping them inspired. My life and career has changed, but only gotten bigger and brighter as the chapters continue to unfold. I travel more now, I workout more, experiment with fitness and food and take on any project that appeals to me – and that’s a broad spectrum. I’m navigating my way through a relationship and constantly learning as I figure out what I want to do when I grow up, as I have been the last five years since I quit my job to figure out what’s next.
I’m back. And, if I stick with my goal for 2016, I’ll be here at least until the end of the year. During that time my only hope for this blog is that I can at times teach, inspire and entertain, if only to a small few. Look forward to this journey with you. Happy 2016! Xojen