This fall, former editor-in-chief of The Boston Globe Magazine, Susanne Althoff, left her career in publishing to teach students at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. Althoff had been teaching part-time at Tufts University, and she realized that she had a passion for sharing the skills necessary to work in publishing and editorial as she had for twenty-two years.
As a first-year student in Emerson’s graduate program in Publishing and Writing, I was enrolled automatically in two courses that fit into my schedule. One of those two courses had an intriguing title: Launching a Women’s Magazine or Website.
This special topics course is one of the two courses that Althoff is currently instructing, along with Principles of Management for Publishing.
Over the summer, prior to my first semester, I would talk to my high school best friend, Desiree, who is just as passionate about women’s equality as I am. “I’m really excited by this women’s magazine class,” I said. “I wonder what it will be about. Feminism? Women’s issues in the media? Women’s-specific genre magazines? How to make sure a new publication doesn’t fail?”
The answer, it turned out, was all of the above. Althoff’s class offers an in-depth look into the history of women’s magazines, their current place in the market, topical issues that go along with targeting a publication for women, and problems related to launching any new publication, whether it is print or online.
Althoff went to Loyola University for her undergraduate degree in Writing and Media and then attended Columbia University’s graduate program in Journalism. Her journey into the world of writing and publishing began while she was still at Loyola, when she pitched an article to the Vegetarian Times. She began freelancing for the magazine shortly thereafter.
Her biggest tip for people interested in journalism, writing, and publishing? It’s never too early to start.
“Read the magazines on subjects that you love, and start pitching them right away,” says Althoff, who notices that many young professionals don’t realize they can write for publications while they’re in college — or even in high school. “You don’t have to wait until you receive a degree or have special qualifications. You have to start putting yourself out there and trying.”
Althoff cites Rookie as one of the more well-known online magazines that accepts submissions from younger writers. Rookie was started by a woman named Tavi Gevinson as young as age 12.
“She is such a wonderful role model for women interested in publishing,” says Althoff. Her passion for women in publishing and journalism shines through while she’s engaged in conversation about Gevinson, as well as when she’s commanding topics of ethics in women’s media — such as how women are treated as sports writers. She leans forward with her palms pressed together and with a curious look as her students share clips that they’ve found from the previous week’s media landscape relating to women’s publications.
Althoff was inspired to share her passion and knowledge of the industry because of a series of articles that began populating in 2013 in reaction to a cover story in Port Magazine about the top editors in magazine publishing — all of whom were male. The articles begged the question: “Do women’s magazines produce serious journalism?”
She thought, Wouldn’t it be great to have a college class that focuses on women’s magazines?
During the first meeting of the class, students broke up into groups to debate about Photoshop and its place in modern publications. Each group was assigned a side — pro or con — and had to formulate rationale behind their stance. It was a lesson in collaboration, but more than that, it pushed students to think about everything that publications have at stake. As a member of the “con” group and as a person who has previously presented the project “A Graphic Designer’s Role in Harm-Free Advertising” at a research conference, I felt torn. It was a firsthand look at what actual publications go through every day: weighing the options in front of them and making decisions.
There’s something extremely valuable about dedicating a class to women’s magazines and to the process of launching a new publication. As a final project, each of us is expected to propose our own new magazine or website, and I’ve already got some ideas brewing in my mind. What makes the course so valuable is how it brings together so many aspects of the publishing world.
One of those key aspects, of course, is technology and digital media. The fact that the course has the word “website” in its title speaks to the way that the publishing industry continues to change.
“Magazine editors and writers need to be so much more nimble now, because the technologies are changing so quickly,” says Althoff.
Althoff stresses that many creative people don’t think that they can own a company — but they can. She urges those who are interested in making their own publication or business to begin by practicing. Starting a blog, interacting with industry leaders online, and making a homemade newsletter are all good first steps. She also says, “Don’t only read the things you think you’re interested in. It’s important to know all the kinds of publications that are out there.”
As an aspiring publishing professional who frequently imagines her current self as Andy Sachs from The Devil Wears Prada, I wanted to know what the best part of being a magazine editor was.
“To see people read it and comment on it. Living in Boston, one of the biggest thrill’s is being on the subway and seeing someone holding the magazine that I’ve created,” Althoff says.
It’s difficult sometimes, knowing that I’m still in the “getting someone an unpublished copy of Harry Potter” stage in my career, but that comment gives me hope and fuels my dedication to making it happen. I may be Andy now, but I can be Miranda Priestly someday — just kinder, and with more glitter.