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As one half of the founding team of indie magazine The Great Discontent, Editor-in-Chief Tina Essmaker is a self taught publisher who’s been helping run TGD since its launch in 2011. Over the years, Essmaker has not only taken on the responsibilities of EIC—which include putting together issues, planning live events, and doing a podcast—but she’s also spoken to more than 200 subjects about what it’s like to pursue a career in creative fields.
How and why did you become involved in your line of work, resulting in becoming a cofounder and Editor in Chief of The Great Discontent?
It wasn’t a straight path. My background is not in publishing. I have a Bachelor’s of Social Work from Wayne State University in Detroit, and I spent 12 years working with runaway and homeless youth in my Michigan hometown. I started to dip my toes into editing and copywriting on a freelance basis about 8 years ago—I’m self-taught—and then The Great Discontent was born as a passion project, cofounded by Ryan Essmaker and me. TGD began out of sheer curiosity: What drives people to pursue a creative path, and what is it really like to pursue that path? The goal was to create a publication of in-depth conversations that illuminate the creative life, including the struggles and challenges we face. It launched as an online magazine in 2011, and continued to be a side project for me until January 2014, when we added a print counterpart and I dove in head first as Editor-in-Chief. Since then, TGD has grown to include a live event series and podcast, too!
Tell us a little bit about your day-to-day and what’s at stake when it comes to running your own publication.
From the outside, it may seem glamorous to run a publication, but it’s a lot of hustle. Of course, there are moments that make up for that, like hosting events, attending parties, and interviewing amazing individuals. But my daily work probably looks a lot like everyone else’s: responding to emails, taking phone calls, managing schedules, producing for upcoming issues and events, and all of the things that go along with running an online shop and selling a physical product. The work behind the scenes is necessary, and I try to find joy in it because it’s satisfying to see the end results in the form of a new print issue or a successful live event.
What do you find most fulling about your work?
This is easy for me to answer: all of the people who I get to meet and talk to! It’s such a privilege to be invited into the lives of those I interview. Since TGD launched in 2011, I’ve spoken to more than 200 subjects for our various mediums, and sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if I’m awake or dreaming. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. TGD has become this extended family for me, and many of the people I’ve interviewed have become collaborators and friends. The same goes for our community of readers. It’s this big extended creative family that I’m so, so grateful for.
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What are your proudest achievements with running the magazine at a time of media turmoil, and what are your greatest challenge?
My proudest achievement is that we’re doing it. Running a magazine has many challenges—the overhead of printing, staying lean enough to evolve as the industry does, creating content that continues to engage, responding to changes in how people are consuming media—but at the end of the day, you do it because you believe that the content you are making is valuable and needs to exist in the world. I’m proud that we’re creating work that resonates and that we’ve stayed true to our roots as we’ve grown.
What do you hope changes or improves (or continues!) with TGD and the industry in the future?
We’re an indie publisher, and although we’re affected by trends in the publishing industry as a whole, we try to ask ourselves what the next right move is for us. I hope we’ll continue to do that in the future as we grow on our own terms.
For fun, who would you nominate to be on this list?
I’d nominate street photographer Andre D. Wagner, filmmaker Damani Baker, writer and Brain Pickings founder Maria Popova, and designer and founder of the magazine Hello Mr., Ryan Fitzgibbon.

Learn more about this year’s 100 Influencers in Brooklyn Culture.

Photo by Jane Bruce