Next Stop: Your Magazine Dream Job

Chatting with Jessica Hartshorn: Two Titles, Two Magazines

What was it about being a magazine editor that attracted you to the industry? I’ve always loved the pretty-picture aspect of magazines. There was a night in 9th grade when I tore my issue of Seventeen apart and reassembled it on my bedroom door. My mom was not amused, but I was like, “I looooooove this.” I wasn’t sure, at that point, how I’d get to a magazine, but the goal was planted in my brain. I studied journalism at Penn State, which back in the day prepared students for a life in news, but though I’m super-nosy, I like to uncover practical advice more than politics or events. So I drifted toward feature writing.

What is your career backstory? My most crucial move in college was rooting through the “internships” file in the career office and stumbling on the ASME application. I think I was the only student who knew about it, so I became the Penn State ASME nominee and landed a summer internship at Good Housekeeping. It was life-changing; I suddenly saw a path into magazines, starting with moving to New York. I took an internship at McCall’s after graduation, where they gave me $5 for lunch every day and nothing else, and within two months got hired as an EA at Woman’s Day and was off and running.

I spent five years at Woman’s Day and loved every minute, rising to Assistant Editor. But I was jealous of the benefits over at Time Inc., where some of my friends worked, so I snagged a job as an Assistant Editor at Parenting, then a Time Inc. title. I only stayed for 11 months because I was bored, honestly. Woman’s Day published 17 times a year and kept me busy, but Parenting was 10 times a year, and the staff was smart, capable, and huge. They barely needed me. I then took a job as the Features Editor at American Baby, which kept me busy again because the staff was teeny-tiny and they were monthly. Everyone had to do everything. Maybe a year and a half after I started, the lifestyle editor left to raise a family, and I asked for her job. And I’ve held that job ever since! American Baby was sold to Meredith, which then bought Parents magazine. Eventually the two staffs merged under the same editor in chief, and about two years ago I became the Entertainment Editor of Parents in addition to still being Senior Lifestyle Editor for American Baby.

Did you start out wanting to be an editor who covered the lifestyle/entertainment realm? What attracted you to those topics? Do you suggest young editors leave their options open, or be topic specific? I would have taken any job in magazines. Any! I interviewed for a photo-assistant job and would have gladly taken it, but fortunately the person interviewing me sensed that someone who majored in journalism should probably be writing, not casting. I was hired into a features department and dealt strictly with health, finance, and inspirational stories at Woman’s Day, until they also let me take over the travel stories. That sort of steered me toward lifestyle. I did some product stuff at Parenting, then went back to straight features at American Baby until I changed into the Lifestyle Editor role. I didn’t plan on sticking with it for so long, but it’s a blast, and now I’m not sure I could ever leave it behind!

I think it’s ideal to get a job in at least the department you know you want to be in, but with this shrinking industry, sometimes you just grab any open seat and then wait until what you really want comes up. Also, I’d say leave your mind open to being pleasantly surprised. You may not picture yourself doing, say, finance stories, and then find out you really have a knack for it and it’s a niche that not many other young people want to own.

What is an industry pet peeve of yours? I get bent out of shape about how New York-centric we all are. We write magazines for the entire country but reference train rides and nannies, things that families in Pittsburgh, where I grew up, do not take as a given. But then sometimes I am just as guilty of it.

What is a must-have on the job? Chocolate, iced chai, and coworkers willing to talk; I can’t work in silence all day and I like both commiseration and collaboration!

What is your favorite work perk? Cupcakes, tied with beauty sales, tied with publicists who hold meetings while we both get blowouts; although all of that may be overshadowed by the occasional press trip to Disney World.

You work on two print magazines (Parents and American Baby) as well as do web for both; do you thrive in the diversity of the content you curate/create, or do you favor one over the other? Doing so many jobs makes me feel spazzy, but happy. On a good day, all my print stories and blog posts and social posts are looking great and I have my hands in fashion, decorating, baby care, and so much more that I feel like a wonder woman. Generally the worst that happens is one aspect goes badly, say a celebrity we’re trying to snag is bolting or a story I worked on is cut or getting rules for a blog giveaway through the legal department is taking forever. But usually no more than one thing goes off the rails, and the fact that everything else works means I still leave feeling like I’ve had a good day.

You have a pretty packed schedule. How do you keep it together? No one tells you how to prioritize all the print, web, and social duties, so you have to figure it out yourself. The most important thing is to jump in and get started on something! Most days I like to go task-by-task starting with any print stories that need me. But it’s also smart to see if anything can be moved along quickly. Does someone just need me to quickly top-edit their blog post so it can go live? I’ll take a break from a print story to do that, since it’s generally just a 10-minute job.

One piece of advice I try to impart to younger staff members it to not let your self-worth get too caught up in work. A magazine is a group effort, and anything you write will be edited. Any products you bring to a run-through might make it in or get cut. Enjoy the process as much as you can, and marvel at how an idea turns into a story at the end, not just because of you, but because of the entire team. Then go home and have your own life, too.

Another thing, now that I’m on this tangent: It really does help to snoop around at what others do. I love sitting next to the art director at either of my magazines and watch them work on one of my layouts. I love looking at the photo editor’s shots, and seeing what she circles as selects. Sometimes I just ask a coworker near me, “What are you working on?” Everyone likes to blab about what they’re doing, and it gives you the big picture of what’s going on, not just your own little piece. I even love to find out what the ad/sales and marketing people are doing. Like I said, I’m super-nosy. But I think it keeps me from being too self-involved.

Are toys really just for kids? Of course not! The number of videos of grown men reviewing Nerf guns would startle you. It’s like in the millions. Check it out on YouTube.

What is a favorite published piece that you’ve written? Whatever story I did last is always my favorite, so probably our 2014 “Best Toys of the Year.” It represents work I did from February through August. It is epic, the work that goes into testing new toys and putting together this annual story.

What is some advice you have for others trying to break into the industry? Work to get your foothold and then hang on! Find something, and it can be small, that makes you kind of indispensable to the people above you. Also, let them know what you enjoy doing. “I loved doing that slideshow/going to that photo shoot/writing that sidebar, let me know if I can do that more often!” If people know what you like to do, they are more likely to keep shoveling those opportunities your way. Especially if it takes something off of their plate! And then you can become “the person who is good at ____________.”

Location: New York, NY

URL: parents.com

Twitter: @jesshartshorn

Instagram: @jessicaghartshorn

Amanda Jean Black is a guest blogger at Ed2010, sharing stories from her site onthemasthead.com. When not hunting down publishing’s elite for an interview, you can find the native New Yorker obsessing about style and culture, shopping for designer streetwear, and jamming out to 90′s alt rock.

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