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Erin_Clements

Chatting With the Senior Pop Culture Editor at TODAY Digital

Is working in entertainment editorial really as awesome as it seems? Just ask Erin Clements, who worked her way up from intern to editor at some of the biggest names in media, including MTV, ELLE magazine, and The Huffington Post. She’s interviewed celebs like Emma Stone and Larry David and launched new pop culture verticals—all in a day’s work as an edit #bossbabe. Now as a senior pop culture and lifestyle editor for the TODAY Show’s digital team, Erin sat down with Ed to talk about the challenges of being in entertainment (yes, they do exist!), transitioning from print to web, and the one celebrity she’s dying to interview next. 

Can you tell me more about your career backstory?

I was obsessed with TV, magazines, and pop culture from a young age. When I got to NYU, I began taking journalism classes and eventually chose it as my major. After interning at MTV and Rolling Stone and writing for the NYU newspaper during college, I took on a couple more internships at Harper’s Bazaar and Time Out New York. There, I learned I could get paid copy-editing shifts if I passed the edit test, so I took home the magazine’s hefty style guide, read it several times, and passed. The experience actually made me more detail-oriented and improved my writing a lot. A full-time job as an editorial assistant opened up, and from there, I was promoted to assistant editor and staff writer for the magazine’s Around Town section, which involved covering an eclectic mix of cultural events and interviewing quirky local personalities, which helped me develop a voice.

I made the jump from print to web when I landed a gig at ELLE.com as an associate editor. I ended up loving digital and haven’t looked back since. After that, I went to The Huffington Post as a news editor, where I mostly worked on the celebrity vertical, and then People.com as a staff editor, covering trending news. When an NBC News recruiter contacted me about my current role at TODAY, I jumped at the chance—the prospect of working for a TV brand was exciting, and I’d always considered NBC a dream company.

What five things are you doing during a typical (or as typical as possible) day at TODAY?

Assigning and editing stories, workshopping headlines, checking what celebrities will be coming on the show the following week and working with our booking team to feature them on our digital and social platforms, writing scripts for videos, and tweeting. (I take a shift on TODAY’s main account in the afternoons.)

Many years ago, you helped launch ELLE.com’s first pop culture vertical. What was that experience like?

When I started in 2008, ELLE.com was preparing for a relaunch with a plan to publish more original entertainment and lifestyle content beyond fashion and beauty. I’d always been impressed with the magazine’s smartly curated culture section, so my initial concern was how to create a digital extension of that while maintaining the integrity of the brand. I’d look at the magazine’s entertainment coverage and try to brainstorm bounce pieces—for example, profiling the bands whose albums were reviewed, featuring the costume designers for that month’s movies, and occasionally setting up interviews with the films’ stars. Coming up with franchises that merged pop culture with style was also key; we had a feature called Designer Playlist, where you could listen to songs recommended by the fashion designers profiled in the magazine.

It’s pretty easy to get starry-eyed when you’re covering a major award show. What are your best tips for interviewing like a pro on the red carpet?

When you’re nervous, it’s easy to get stuck in your head and fixate on what you’re going to say next rather than fully listening to what the other person is saying. Try to relax and make it a conversation. The best quotes often come from prodding the subject to open up further on something interesting they’ve said, or bouncing an impromptu question off an unexpected response.

Are there any challenges to entertainment editorial that nobody talks about?

Analyzing data around how stories perform is a bigger part of the job than one might expect. Despite the fun subject matter, you have to have a strong work ethic and be prepared for the fast pace of digital. We really try to connect with our readers, and sometimes when a story or video doesn’t resonate as much as you had hoped, it can be disappointing.

Can you share a published piece you’re most proud of right now and why?

I’m a huge fan of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, so getting to interview Larry David for HuffPost six years ago was pretty amazing. Some of my favorite pieces for TODAY have also been interviews—Kristen BellChrissy Teigen, and the Gilmore Girls cast members at the ATX Festival reunion two years ago. I even got to re-live my teenage crush on Scott Wolf when I interviewed him about Party of Five last week!

Fill-in-the-blank: The one celebrity I am DYING to interview is _________ because _________.

Betty White because she’s a legend!

What’s your biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to get into editorial?

Read as much as possible! Regularly read the outlets you most want to work for, and study their tone and style. It’s important to capture the voice of whatever publication you’re writing for, so you want to nail that down when the opportunity arrives.

Follow Erin on Twitter.

Photo: Erin Clements.

Heather Taylor is a former entertainment writer turned brand mascot aficionado (and head writer) for Advertising Week’s Icon Blog. She shares her thoughts on pop culture at HelloGiggles and has been published in Brit + Co, The Drum, and BettyConfidential. Chat with her about anything from SNL to the Pillsbury Doughboy on Twitter @howveryheather. GIFs highly encouraged.

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