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Yesterday’s magazine editors: Where have they all gone?

The magazine I used to work for was bought out by another, bigger publishing company and merged into one of their magazines. That magazine just folded. If we were to have a reunion of our old magazine staff, it would be indicative of the current state of the industry. While we were all sad to walk away from the Camelot of our careers, we are not pessimistic about our futures. Here’s a look at the state of the industry in medias res via interviews with industry professionals.

Magazine closures outpacing magazine launches

Magazine closures outpacing magazine launches

The first quarter of 2009 marked the first time in the history of media tracking that magazine closures outpaced magazine launches. The Magazine Publishers of America reported that 101 North American magazines folded while only 95 began. A year ago, Traditional Home Magazine had more than 23 editorial staff members. Today they have a little more than a handful of journalists still working there. Thus begins what New York author and journalist Lesley M. M. Blume refers to as a “high-stakes game of musical chairs.”

The Vocus Database indicates that since the beginning of the year, 3,000 magazine journalists have left their editorial jobs, while 1,850 have come into new positions. That leaves the question: Where have the others gone? Some are now full-time freelancers. Several have gone to vanity publishing or dot com brands. A select few are becoming entrepreneurs. Some are standing on the side of a digital road with a virtual cardboard sign that reads, “Will write for food.”

Since January 1, 2009, about 140 magazine editors became freelancers actively seeking PR material to help them write potential articles. “We’ve noticed a surge in people going to full-time freelance,” Megan Dennen of Clarins, Public Relations, told inVocus. “Now they are reaching out to us, having known our products from before.” Dennen notes that many of them have their own blogs just to keep their name out there in between freelance assignments.

Instead of freelancing, some have chosen vanity or custom publishing, possibly because these companies still have cash flow. Unlike traditional magazines, vanity publishing promotes one brand in magazine form. It may or may not also include mention of other brands or companies. The Hair Book, for example, is a quarterly magazine produced by Regis Salons. They snagged Polly Blitzer, former InStyle beauty editor and founder of BeautyBlitz.com, as their new editor. Wedding gown designer Demetrios launched For the Bride magazine as a way of featuring their gown designs. Enveloped in glossy pages with bridesmaid dresses from other designers, this magazine’s pages host a mélange of wedding paraphernalia. Press releases are welcome, but only if they do not come from competing designers. Similarly, former editor in chief of Surfer Magazine Evan Slater left behind a solid eight-year magazine career to manage digital content for internationally-known surf brand Hurley’s Web site.

Other Web sites gobbling up former magazine editors include AOL, parent to celebrity gossip brand TMZ. Industry Web site Mediapost.com pointed out that “Ex-print journalists appear to have found a new home: AOL,” by citing examples such as Sarah Cristobal from Harper’s Bazaar. Cristobal is not alone in her defection to a dot com. Eric Schurenberg, who was laid off as managing editor of Money in November 2008, is now editor in chief of BNet.com and editorial director at CBS’ MoneyWatch.com. Angela Matusik first jumped to the Internet by joining magazine Web site People.com after leaving her post as features editor of InStyle. Last month she officially completed her crossover and joined the editorial staff at iVillage.

And then there are the few, the proud, and the very, very brave. Take Sara Clemence and Laura Rich, both former Portfolio.com editors and Lynn Parramore, a freelance writer. As co-founders of Recessionwire.com, they are part of a movement of unprecedented editorial entrepreneurism. Former editorial staffers are taking their experiences and connections and launching personally branded Web sites, complete with original editorial content, advertising, and loyal followers.

In a Folio magazine article about predictions for 2009, Media Ink columnist Keith Kelly states that there will be “more survivors clinging to the online world as a lifeboat.” As Clemence explains, however, editing for a dot com is not necessarily a lifeboat. “I was working at Portfolio.com and at Condé Nast that was the first place to get gutted in order to shore up the magazine [which has now folded],” says Clemence, who also previously worked at Forbes. “I loved my work. But in some ways it’s maybe the best thing that’s happened to me because I have learned so much. To build something is really satisfying.”

With such a loud sucking sound still echoing throughout the American economy, some might wonder why these editorial entrepreneurs are launching their own “independent media companies” right now. James Erik Abels, former Forbes media reporter and founder of ThreeMinuteMedia, said that the naysayers shouldn’t keep anyone from moving forward, in a bad economy or otherwise. Content creation, Abels believes, will move on, only this time with the content creators at the helm instead of faceless publishing giants. On April 23, he gathered experts together in New York and provided specifics on forging ahead. “Editorial people can take their expertise and create content and distribute it in a cost-effective manner,” he said, adding that not all of them will become financially viable.

When the proverbial music stops and editors scramble for their chairs, we’ll be looking at a new selection of media outlet types. PR professionals wishing to reach out to these independent media companies may have a harder time tracking them down due to their initial small size. Abels said companies that track journalists will have to make internal decisions on the value of the outlet. Clemence agreed. “The disadvantage is that there are a lot more outlets out there and figuring out which ones are credible, which ones have a good audience is not necessarily easy.” The good news, she points out, is that it can be easier getting a decision maker on the line to hear that pitch.

–Rebecca Bredholt

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