“I hope they know we did our best”: The Pool’s staff reflect on its demise

The rise and fall of beloved website The Pool deals a blow to women's media. 

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There are few websites that service our every content need. For millennial women of diverse backgrounds, cities, and upbringings, The Pool came pretty close. It was the only website whose newsletter I’d always open, whose pieces I’d regularly read, and whose URL I’d type into my web browser most mornings.

On Thursday, The Pool went into administration. By Friday morning, its writers were tweeting that the publication was over.

Although it housed most of the content that millennial women desire under one roof, the site’s audience was already served by other outlets – a problem that may have contributed to its collapse. As my colleague Anoosh noted in her piece on media start-ups earlier this week, successful publications like Azeema and Gal-Dem focus on groups that are criminally neglected by the mainstream media, including people of colour and non-binary people, and have likely fared well because they’ve found a true gap in the market.

The publication also came under fire over the last several months for late payments to freelancers, hurting its reputation amongst the millennial women it was trying to target.

But unlike the publications that preceded it – The Debrief, Vogue, Elle and Refinery29 The Pool married tailored content with unparalleled knowledge of its audience. Their columns unpicked pop culture, provided unfiltered parenting advice and fashion guidance, and reported in-depth on women’s health. Their writers were ferocious in tackling an array of subjects while succeeding to make each topic – no matter how niche – compelling.

Respect for The Pool is palpable across the media industry. When she wanted to talk about her experience with domestic violence, Empire’s editor-in-chief Terri White said The Pool was the only place she could trust. When asked to name her favourite interview, author Roxane Gay said it was when Yomi Adegoke spoke with her for The Pool

Zoe Beaty was The Pool’s news editor, working at the publication for two and a half years. “I was excited to be immersed in a digital environment that not only reflected my views and politics, but was jam-packed full of sharp, smart women who really do think differently,” she tells me, on joining The Pool after leaving Stylist’s features desk. “Despite mounting stress – which was, at points, quite overwhelming for the team,” she says, “I loved my job until I lost it last week.”

Editor-in-chief Cate Sevilla assumed her position in September 2018, four months before the publication folded. “What I wasn't prepared for… and wasn't ever properly told about… was why or how the situation surrounding payments to freelancers and suppliers was an issue, and how it escalated so quickly,” she tells me.

Despite Sevilla’s rocky tenure, she had only positive things to say about her colleagues. “I’ll miss the promise of what it was… and what it could and should be,” Sevilla says.

Beaty, too, described the publication’s supportive atmosphere. “The team – past and present – are funny, passionate, curious thinkers who changed minds and listened to each other,” she tells me. “We were a small team, and very close – it was… an incredibly supportive place to work. I will miss that.”

The deluge of Pool-positive messages that flooded Twitter after news of its collapse reflected the publication’s supportive culture. As former sub-editor Vic Parsons explained, “editors genuinely cared and wanted your piece to be amazing… you could explore subjects that perhaps other publications would pass on”. Employees could count on one hand how many times they woke up on Monday and didn’t want to go to work, Parsons added. “Out of 70 Monday mornings,” Parsons says, “that’s a pretty good ratio.”

The Pool had a bit of a “white feminist” vibe to begin with, they add. But over time, the publication took active measures to amplify the voices of women of colour. “I'll miss – I already miss – working in a place where people are constantly trying to do better,” Parsons says. 

All of The Pool’s staff that I spoke to noted the implications of its demise for the way digital journalism operates. With the news about The Pool coming out the same week as mass lay-offs at BuzzFeed, VICE, and HuffPost, they were keen to acknowledge that free online journalism is struggling to sustain itself. 

“We can’t ignore the fact that this model for journalism isn't working, and that creative services are skills that can no longer be consumed for free,” Beaty says.

But above all else, everyone was heartbroken that this feminist project that meant so much to them wasn’t given the time to become what they wanted it to be. Beaty tells me that the writers continued to work knowing they wouldn’t ever get paid for the time, just in the hope that they could spur The Pool on or, at the very least, get some of their freelancers paid.

I asked all of the writers and editors I spoke to about what they wanted The Pool’s readers to take away from the publication's rise and fall. “We poured ourselves into the site and to see it dissipate is disheartening to say the least,” Beaty tells me.

“More than that, though,” she says, “I hope they know we did our best.”

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.