Erin Hanafy has an impressive resume, one that most of us dream about. She’s worked with some of the biggest names in journalism, and she’s covered major international and domestic stories. She is now the executive director of Well + Good, an online health and wellness publication dedicated to all the components of a healthy, chic lifestyle. A panelist at NYWICI's 2018 New Year New You event, we caught up with her to ask her a few questions and get a taste of her expertise.
You’re now the executive director of Well + Good, you have a strong journalism background and you’ve been described as a “news junkie.” How did you become interested in news on both the local and national stages?
Growing up, there were books, magazines and newspapers everywhere in my house, and we talked about current events at the dinner table every day. Looking back, it was the perfect preparation for what you need in news: to know a little bit about a lot of things. What I love about journalism is that it’s a job where you get to learn new things every day. Whether you’re covering breaking news or spotting wellness trends and sharing healthy-living intel to make people’s lives better, asking questions is the main job requirement. What’s better than that?
You’ve covered major and devastating events, like the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Has covering these events changed you as an individual?
One of the hardest things about journalism is immersing yourself in stories that are really horrifying and then finding a way to shake it off at the end of the day. You have to, so that you can give all of your focus and energy to honoring those who have been affected by telling their stories accurately and fully. That’s the goal, and it’s an awesome responsibility. When Hurricane Katrina hit, I also felt a responsibility to my family back in New Orleans. It was torture working at the AP in New York City, while I was getting calls from my dad, trying to account for everyone and locate lost relatives.
I didn’t know the term “impostor syndrome” at the time, but I was in the full throes — I felt like a phony because I really didn’t care about editing copy at that moment and was just faking it the best I could. Finally, I felt like I had to confess. I went into my boss’ office and said, “I don’t think I’m a journalist because I just want to go home.” And I couldn’t believe it: He smiled. And basically said, of course you don’t feel like a journalist right now. Go home, deal with your stuff and someone else will pick up the slack. Some other time, you’ll pick up the slack for someone else — that’s how this works. So I started to realize: This isn’t a final exam, this is real life. If you work as hard as you can, and be as honest as you can be, then there are no regrets. Really. It’s as simple as that.
The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 was an absolutely shocking story at the time, and as the AP’s multimedia editor, I led a team that was experimenting with very visceral, interactive storytelling using video, audio, photos and text gathered by AP journalists on the scene. The talent and heart and professionalism of my colleagues was just jaw-dropping, and the resulting coverage won several awards. For me personally, though, it was the first time that I was forced to take self-care seriously (though “self-care” was another term that absolutely no one used in 2007). We were working long hours, and at some point, my body just said: No. Get some rest! (Let’s just say, when you wake up on the subway with your head resting on a stranger’s shoulder, you have a problem.) Hitting the wall was humbling, and I think that was the year I started drinking green juices, doing Pilates and yoga, and reading a lot about sleep schedules and meditation for the first time.
You started at Well + Good in 2016. What spurred the change to a company that focused more on lifestyle & wellness news?
I have been a Well+Good super fan since it launched in 2010! W+G has always written in such a smart, journalistic way about wellness and all the empowering ways to improve your health and well-being — and it has never been preachy or shame-y or finger-pointing. Wherever you are on the wellness spectrum, there’s amazing intel to help you learn more and go deeper. Which was great for me, because as a skeptical news copy chief during the week and a student of Ayurveda and reiki on the weekends, I was very conflicted! My evidence-based brain didn’t understand why these practices felt so transformative and healing. Well+Good was my touchstone back then, and I’m so lucky my career brought me here as executive editor. It’s an exciting time to be here: We’re reaching a monthly audience of 10 million and now have a monthly events series here in NYC called Well+Good Talks — and we’re now launching a new wellness retreats business that's been lauded by Fast Company. The team of journalists I’m working with all have the same degree of passion about bringing wellness into people’s lives. It’s a really mission-based feeling in the office; we all are trying out different things and swapping intel constantly about things to try.
It's the beginning of 2018 — do you make New Year's resolutions? We'd love to know what this year’s is, and if you don't make any resolutions, why not?
I think setting intentions for the new year is a kinder thing to do for yourself — to set a vision of where you want to go and what you want to create, rather than looking at yourself as an object that needs fixing, or resolving. That’s what our annual (Re)New Year program is all about. I’ve also started following the phases of the moon and doing goal-setting on new moons (something that would have sounded insane to me just a few years ago, but it’s made my life so much better). Renowned meditation teacher Kelly Morris creates a guided visualization for Well+Good every month that we publish as a “New Moon Reset,” and it’s a really amazing resource that our readers love.
Finally, what advice do you have for other female journalists and professionals, given the current climate?
We’re going through a time of incredible change right now, in media/marketing/PR and politically across the globe. Everyone is living it, in their careers, in their personal lives, in their civic life. It’s crazy out there. But the most uncertain times often contain within them the biggest opportunities, because the old way of doing things doesn’t work anymore — so there are openings for new ideas, new businesses, new leadership models and new narratives to describe who we are as a culture and where we’re going. My advice right now would be to think entrepreneurially. Focus on whatever gets your blood pumping and your endorphins flowing, whether it’s pursuing a creative side hustle that feeds your soul, running for office (as record numbers of women are doing right now), or actually dusting off that business plan and going for it. Being a team player is great, especially if you believe in your team’s mission, but there’s also a need for inspired leadership in virtually every part of our society right now. Why not you?