Sarah Burns – Senior Health Editor, iVillage
There are many causes for the print-to-online media shift. Much has been said about the availability and flexibility of content as it gets increasingly delivered through channels that are free of subscription rates and which can be pushed to any number of different devices. However, the industry sometimes forgets that the Internet also hosts two other massive content forms, the reference site and the message board, and very few media companies have made strides in integrating this kind of content into their news products.
This is the not the case for NBC Universal’s iVillage, who has recently hired Sarah Burns as its senior health editor to continue establishing the site as a unique entity that integrates reference information and community boards with more traditional editorial offerings.
“iVillage is a very dynamic place,” Burns said. “It’s full of extremely talented people who all bring a lot to the table, so it’s just really an honor being part of that team. My goal is to just jump right in and join the team and offer as much as I can in my area.”
Burns is no stranger to either health coverage or online publishing, though her career does exemplify the broader migration of content and content creators to Internet properties. When The Navigator first interviewed her in 2008, Burns had just boarded Good Housekeeping as the features editor, and between that role and her current one, moved head first into online editorial work, freelancing at first for a number of sites and eventually landing at ConsumerSearch.com, where she was the home and health editor.
“The crux of my career has been spent in print media,” Burns said, “It’s just been the past few years I’ve made the transition to online, and I really felt that was important because it really is where everything is headed. As an editor you need to be very acquainted with how to create online content. Even if you are in print, you need to be able to do that.”
One of her print jobs was as an editor at American Baby, and she landed that job at a pivotal time not only for herself, but the nation.
“I actually moved to New York City about two weeks before 9/11. It was a very tough time. Jobs were definitely tight at that point, and I was lucky enough to be hired at American Baby, which was a small publication at the time, and really be given a lot of opportunities to dabble in a variety of areas….I got to do beauty, I got to do lifestyle, I got to do health and fashion, but at the end of the day it was health that really spoke to me. It’s something that I’ve continued on in my career and just have an incredible enthusiasm for.”
She has sustained a kind of ideology about health coverage that has driven her goals at every health role she has found herself in and which is something especially fruitful for a site like iVillage.
“Health editors have the ability to create content that can truly enrich individual’s lives,” Burns said.
And it is this sense of enrichment that folds particularly well into iVillage’s mission of bringing women together and providing them with the content and means of discourse to engage those topics that are most important to them.
In terms of health coverage, Burns is very careful to avoid “shocking, off-the- cuff” health headlines.
She explained, “It’s not only taking a look at what’s come out that day but also scrutinizing things—looking through things using a lens as a reader, an editor, and also, in my case….I’ll also pick the brain of the experts that I know of and get their take on it, how viable it is and what kind of service it can provide, before we go forward, because you really want to make sure, with health especially, that you aren’t scaring anyone and that you aren’t red-flagging something that maybe isn’t viable. It’s very important to use discretion.”
Regarding iVillage’s content, she said, “You are going to see things that are catering to our audience, busy women who have families, who have obligations, who have jobs. Life enriching content—you are going to see that.”
And iVillage is in a unique position to see what is important to their readers by hosting their discourse in a number of topic-driven message boards. Burns elaborated on this, “The boards are a very large part of iVillage. We try to do as much as we can as editors to integrate that component into our content. I have monthly calls with the editors that oversee those community boards, and we try to cultivate content based on the needs and the themes that we are seeing in the boards, and more often than not we will create specific content based on the responses we see.”
In addition, the health pages at iVillage offer a host of more static, reference resources, including theConditions A-Z tab, which is “an incredibly comprehensive kind of dictionary of ailments.” She continued, “ What we are looking to do is increase our lifestyle content [there]…so for instance, perhaps we would want to do an article on what the best foods are to integrate into your diet if you find out you have insulin resistance.”
Health seems especially suited to these kinds of integrations, and it is clear that Burns views the health guides and boards not only as supplemental content for the staff written pieces but also as insightful, go-to places to help shape their choices in features.
Burns is particularly interested in natural health and has plans for an A-Z natural health slideshow to appear shortly at iVillage. Overall, however, she is looking for “ very fresh” pitches.
“My kind of beats are healthy living content, general health content, hard health, general nutrition content and the kid’s health section,” she said. “I also deal with the Conditions A-Z., so I am looking for innovative spins and innovative news hooks on areas of this nature. If you have something, if you have a product that would be really enriching in, say, the area of kid’s health, and you have the science to back that up, or if there’s a book that might cater to those audiences that I mentioned, I would be the appropriate person for that.”
Burns has largely had an amiable relationship with all manner of professionals in the health field and has throughout her career built an extensive contacts list.
“In my career I’ve dealt with a lot of press reps, and with a lot of authors,” she explained. “I have many friends and acquaintances who are health professionals that have written books, professionals who do a lot of media, as well as scientists and researchers. At the end of the day it’s all about what they bring to the table and how that fits our formula here at iVillage.”
In terms of lead time, she tries to keep things as current as possible, so make sure to pitch sooner rather than later if it’s something of a newsy nature.
Perhaps most importantly, Burns pointed out that, “The common thread is that women are busy and getting busier. Everyone’s trying to balance everything on their plates, and that has not changed, and the way I view that in my content creation process has not changed either. All along in my career I have kept that in mind, that the reader is very busy, that she needs very life enriching, very simplistic content, simplistic in the sense that something is fuss free, that it is easily actionable. No one wants to read something that makes them feel overwhelmed or discouraged. So here at iVillage we try to create upbeat, very optimistic, very surprising, health-enhancing content.”
Contact Burns with questions or ideas via e-mail.
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