Born and raised in Atlanta, Emily Murphy began her successful journalism career soon after graduating from Vanderbilt University, when she landed a job at CNN, where she became an Emmy-winning producer. After a fellowship in enviromental journalism at UC Boulder, Emily made her way to Washington, DC, and onto the launch team for National Geographic for Kids.
By 2008, Emily had returned to Atlanta, joining Mother Nature Network, as managing editor. Recently named COO of MNN, Emily is successfully combining her journalism talent with her passion for the environment to help create the most widely read online source of environmental news.
Starting out at CNN put you right in the middle of the cable news machine. What lessons did you learn then that you find you’re still using today?
I learned that you cannot miss deadlines, you have to communicate clearly and you are lucky if you like the people with whom you work. When you work on live broadcasts, you have to be quick on your feet and be able to move to Plan B or Plan C as seamlessly as possible. It was a hectic and crazy place to work, but it was a lot of fun.
You’ve been with MNN since it’s inception in 2008, helping the network launch. Tell us about the genesis of this incredibly successful project.
In 2007, our CEO, Joel Babbit, was working with some of his advertising clients and there was a growing demand for campaigns focused on the environment. Since he needed to do some homework on some of the issues they were covering, he searched for answers online. The more he looked, the more he realized there was not a single source that provided the kinds of answers he was looking for. Most of the sites that offered information about the environment at that time were political and polarizing or confusing and difficult to understand. The rest of the sites he encountered were either small “mom-and-pop” sites, focused on single causes, or advocacy-based organization sites. He saw a void in the market and decided to launch a mainstream environmental site that covered a wide variety of relevant topics in an engaging, easy-to-understand, nonpolitical way.
A good friend of mine reached out to see if I would be interested in meeting Joel and discussing this project with him. It ended up being a great fit for my interests and background—I had done a fellowship in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado, and I had worked in digital media for more than seven years at that point at National Geographic, USA TODAY and the AJC.
He hired me to be the managing editor, and I was his first hire. It was beginning of the recession. What better time to start a new company, right?
How do you want to see MNN grow? What are some of the goals you have as COO?
Since we launched MNN.com, we have grown our traffic and social reach quarter after quarter and year after year. We acquired TreeHugger.com from Discovery in 2012 and launched two additional sites in the last year. We are going to continue to develop new sites and new brands, and I would like to continue to grow the company sustainably. As COO, I am grateful to have such a talented and dedicated team, and I love being part of a digital media company that is successful and growing.
Who have been some of your greatest mentors, and what tidbits of their advice do you hold dear?
My greatest mentors have been my parents and my older sister, Holly. My father is a self-made man with an amazing work ethic. My mother finished her Ph.D. after she had three children; she’s never afraid to try new things and excels at everything she does. And Holly is incredibly successful professionally, but remains one of the nicest and most thoughtful people I know.
The favorite piece of advice came from a colleague and good friend: “Work as hard as you can, save as much as you can and don’t take it personally.”
Do you have a personal mantra?
I have an unfortunate habit of signing up for marathons and half-marathons with great intentions, not training the way I hoped I would and showing up the morning of the event with a lot of regrets. It might not be pretty, but I always finish. As the cliché goes, half the battle is showing up, the other half is seeing it through.
What do you wish more people could understand about the state of the environment?
The environment needs your help and all the choices you make matter.
Let’s get a little silly with some quick, lightning round questions. Give us your:
- Personal splurge item? New running shoes
- Irrational fear or secret goofy talent? High kicks (goofy talent – not an irrational fear!)
- Movie for guaranteed laugh? Office Space
- Tearjerker film? I was just crying during the Masters green jacket ceremony. It doesn’t take much.
- Guilty pleasure song? “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift
Now, for a different type of “green living” … you’re quite a golfer, so who would you put together for an ideal foursome and where would you play?
One of my favorite things about playing golf is having a chance to spend four hours with interesting people. I would shift time and space for my foursome to include Bobby Jones, Margaret Mitchell and Ted Turner. We would play at Augusta National.
Which books are on your current reading list? Which do you most often gift or share?
I am reading a book my sister shared with me, The Opposite of Loneliness. It is a collection of posthumous essays and short stories by Marina Keegan, an incredibly talented young writer who tragically died just days after she graduated from Yale.
Other than that, I am reading a lot of Go, Dog. Go!, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, and Hi, My Name Is Elmo. My 2-year-old niece and nephew are big fans.
Some of my favorite books to give are anything by David Sedaris.
Tell us what you miss most from the Atlanta of the past and what gets you most excited about the Atlanta of today.
Houston’s and Houston’s. Just kidding!
My twin sister and I used to ride horses at Westminster when they had stables there, and we would go on trail rides that took us across Nancy Creek and all over the Westminster campus before they had many of the buildings there now. It was a simpler time, and there were a lot more people riding horses around West Wesley and Nancy Creek than you might imagine.
One of the things I am most excited about today is the thoughtful preservation and development of old spaces, like Ponce City Market and the Westside Provisions District, and the expansion of the BeltLine. I love that Atlanta is salvaging old spaces, becoming more walkable and connecting neighborhoods.
Where are we most likely to find you around town … shopping, dining or just hanging out?
I spend a lot of time walking my dog in my neighborhood, coaxing my flowers to grow and catching up with friends around town.
Name three things you can’t live without, other than faith, family and friends.
Iced tea, golf clubs and my to-do list.
Emily, we so enjoyed spending spending the day with you (and Sabrina) and learning more about Mother Nature News. Special thanks to Catrina Maxwell of CatMax Photography for these beautiful pictures. And you can learn more about Emily’s efforts and get inspired at www.mnn.com and www.treehugger.com.