Next Stop: Your Magazine Dream Job

Off the B(EA)ten path: Lessons From Editors Who Skipped Entry Level

By Christina Jedra

Every magazine intern knows that the standard entrance into the industry is through the bottom of the masthead—becoming an Editorial Assistant. This job can be awesome: It involves assisting a more-experienced editor and getting a front-row seat to the ins and outs of the editorial process. But for aspiring eds, it’s important to remember that EA jobs aren’t the only way in. Getting stuck in a hierarchical mindset can cause you to miss out on opportunities, point out editors who’ve skipped out on the EA track.

Find a Niche 

Jenna Helwig had juggled a career as a personal chef and a recipe developer for magazines, including Parents, for years when a position opened up as the food editor at the magazine. When the top eds offered her the spot, which involved assigning and editing food features, editing a monthly food column, and creating content for the website and newsletter, she was excited, but nervous. “I was really surprised,”Helwig says. “I’d always wanted to work in magazines, but I felt unqualified because I’d never been an editor before.” Without EA experience, Helwig had to quickly learn the ropes, like how to use InCopy and how stories go from ideas to final products. “It was overwhelming and fascinating,” she says. Despite the challenges, Helwig has no regrets. “I’m glad I came up as I did because I’ve had such a varied background,” Helwig says. Even without magazine experience, expertise in a particular field could make you uniquely qualified to be an editor of that department.

Work at a Daily

Courtney Hollands, now editor-in-chief of Culture magazine, applied to several magazine jobs before her 2004 graduation from Boston University, but nothing worked out. So she became a local news reporter for the Patriot Ledger, a daily newspaper outside of Boston. Although she covered crime, government, and schools, she wrote for the arts section whenever she could and later became a writer for The Boston Globe. Hollands made the official move to magazines as a senior editor at Boston Magazine four years ago and says her diverse media background has only helped her. “I can write or edit to any length, and can think web-first when planning articles for print,” she says. “I have a strong news sense from my years as a town reporter, but I also know how to plan and execute a large-scale fashion or weddings shoot with many moving parts and pieces.” The newspaper industry may be shrinking, but if you score a spot at a paper, know that you’ll likely be using those same skills once you make the jump to magazines.

Start at a Small Mag

Sara Greenfest’s first job out of college was as an assistant editor at teenybopper glossy TWIST, where the staff was small — only four-full time editors. “From the moment I started I was doing everything from pitching and writing celebrity features to conducting interviews and managing contests,” she says. “We also didn’t have a web team at the time, so I updated the website 2-3 times a day and helped manage social media.” Greenfest says having “quadruple” the responsibilities of a normal entry-level magazine employee strengthened her leadership and writing chops, and she’s now risen to senior editor at the magazine. Growing a career at a small magazine can help you learn the ropes much faster than proceeding up the more conventional career ladder.

Join the Research Department

Real Simple Home Director Betsy Goldberg’s first magazine gig was as an associate editor at Chicago luxury mag CS. After a year, she made the move to NYC and became a factchecker at New York magazine. “As a fact-checker, you learn the mechanics of journalism,” she says. The skills you gain in a reporting position like factchecking can build tough skin. “You learn great, persuasive phone skills — you need to get even the prickliestsources to verify facts in the article — plus you learn to be extremely detail-oriented.” That’s the stuff you’ll need to be a rockstar editor later in your career, even if you didn’t start as an EA.



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