Laurel Touby: Desperate, Lonely Freelancer Is Also Face-Blind

The Voice has a great profile of Mediabistro millionairess Laurel Touby today; it includes two of our favorite Laurel anecdotes ever. What you need to know about the former desperate freelancer:

  • Her trials of prosopagnosia : "Her most famous gaffe, though, came at Time editor Jim Kelly's house in October 2005, when a short, older man introduced himself around the room. Touby asked him to say his name again. He politely reintroduced himself: 'Mike Bloomberg.' Touby groans at the memory. 'I was horrified—especially since it was in front of a room full of journalists. You know that disease called prosopagnosia? I am convinced I have that.'"
  • Dorky earnestness: "'She's not cool, she's not removed, she's not studied,' says her friend and former employee Greg Lindsay. 'She's not snarky, she's not bitterly ironic. Laurel is an extremely earnest person.'"
  • Turning concepts into reality: "While she often works off other people's suggestions, Touby is the one who takes action. Former editor Elizabeth Spiers had suggested the "Lunch at Michael's" column, which had been suggested to her in turn by Spy magazine founder Kurt Andersen, who said he'd read the site if it simply listed the people who appeared at the media haunt daily. Months passed, until Touby herself finally went to the restaurant, pad in hand, boldly asking people who they were. Eventually, the participants began to call in their names themselves."
  • How Mediabistro opens doors: "Huffington Post blogger Rachel Sklar, who started as an ex-lawyer from Toronto looking for a journalism break, found her first jobs on the site; she took the classes, went to the parties, and even briefly blogged for FishbowlNY, the site's media blog. 'I was totally sold,' says Sklar. 'Everything happened through Mediabistro—that was the source of all my journalism knowledge, awareness, and contacts. It was a full package deal.'"
  • On being desperate and lonely: "Peers reacted to Touby's big payday with derision and disbelief. Even the most positive piece of press, Simon Dumenco's New York article about the sale, was littered with backhanded compliments: Touby is a "secret genius. 'She started out a "desperate freelancer.' Her early events were 'anti-loneliness cocktail parties.' Such descriptions burn her. 'I don't like it when people always put 'desperate' in front of 'freelance,' ' she says. 'The word 'lonely'— I didn't have an office. That I didn't have people to hang out with didn't mean I was a desperate, lonely freelancer.'"
  • On the boas: "She doesn't remember how it caught on—someone suggested she wear a boa so people could easily recognize her at Mediabistro parties. Now there's an assortment of them in her office: purple, orange, red, green, pink, and white. 'Men love boas,' she explains. 'It makes a woman seem more approachable—tactile, even.'"
  • On generosity: "Jesse Oxfeld, a former Mediabistro employee who publicly feuded with Touby after moving on to Gawker, was one of the few who took the stock option upon exiting. ('I knew it would drive Laurel crazy to have to write me a check,' he says.) He got a low five-figure cut from the sale; he recalls that when a dividend check arrived, Touby had added a note reading: 'You're so lucky.'"

    There's so much more! But here's your takeaway: Laurel Touby, despite being socially retarded, made millions of dollars off the backs of desperate freelancers like herself. Jesse Oxfeld is definitely worth mugging. And, ladies, wearing boas will hope you achieve the dream of finding lasting love.

    The $23 Million Boa [VV]