|I use these tips every month of the year.|
Luckily for me (and parents everywhere) I was not writing a monthly advice column, instead, I’ve learned an important lesson about magazines: I don’t have to be the expert; I interview the experts. Working for any magazine is really about applying reporting, writing, and editing skills to the topic at hand — any topic — whether it’s a humorous piece about local turkeys for Boston Magazine or a story about gun safety for Parents.com. The good news: if you’re interning at a magazine, you probably already have those skills!
On realizing this, I was able apply the procedure I used on previous reporting assignments at The Boston Globe and USA Today College to the parenting beat. Here are five steps any journalist can take when assigned to a new and unfamiliar subject area:
1. Understand your reader. Yes, the magazine I intern for is called Parents, but really, we cater to moms, and not just any moms, Millennial moms with young children. In contrast to print, our online reader is more interested in pregnancy and baby coverage. Knowing my reader and what stories she likes in what form is extremely helpful when pitching ideas, which leads me to…
2. Study the publication. Once you know who you’re writing for, you need to know where you’d like to write it. For the most part, magazines have very specific sections and subsections with the same elements published every issue (for example, news items, statistics, polls, book reviews, product round-ups, etc.) Once you understand these archetypes, you’ll be able to recognize a fitting idea when you see one.
3. Dig, dig, dig. Research is key. Create Google Alerts for buzz words on your beat, ask people in your target readership about their concerns and interests, and browse social media for keywords to find stories. Also, it’s important to read the daily news! A magazine’s niche is the lens through which they see the world; you may be able to take a brand-specific focus on a more general issue.
4. Pitch original ideas. A magazine’s job is to be a useful resource for a certain community of people, and in order to actually make people’s lives easier, you have to offer them new information or a fresh angle on something they're already familiar with. Pitch stories that are current, directly relevant to your audience, and haven’t been covered by your publication or your competitors in recent memory.
5. Build a strong skin. Not every idea you pitch will be accepted. In fact, coming from an intern who is just learning the voice and mission of a magazine, most ideas will probably not be accepted. And that’s okay! I’ve learned just as much from my failed ideas as my published ones because I absorbed feedback that I kept in mind for future pitches. Plus, the fact that I pitched ideas at all showed my editors that I really want to be a part of the magazine.
Written by Christina Jedra, Parents Magazine, Emerson College
Edited by Varun Nayar, Fast Company, Grinnell College