This article is the first in a series of advice, guidance and inspiration from professionals in the journalism industry.
On October 10th, Vox met with Amanda Heckert, The Editor-in-Chief of Indianapolis Monthly, and Justin Heckert, a freelance writer published in GQ, New York Times Magazine, and others. Needless to say we were starstruck – the staff was far more well-behaved than usual.
The husband-and-wife power duo came to Vox and imparted their wisdom, both about how to help the magazine grow and how to survive in this industry. There’s a few lessons we learned:
1. There is no clear path to success, so don’t be afraid to forge your own. Amanda graduated with a degree in advertising before deciding to flip into the editorial side of magazines. “I wondered two things,” she said. “Am I really good enough to do this, or am I going to bomb spectacularly?”
She grabbed her first job for a magazine with a two-room apartment as an office – now she’s one of the youngest editors of a city magazine, and her magazine recently won an award for General Excellence. Her advice? Chase your dream while you’re young and don’t ever stop.
“Sometimes you just have to take a leap and see what happens,” she said. It most definitely paid off.
Justin started as an editor at Vox as his capstone at Mizzou, and took a postgraduate internship at ESPN Magazine. After bouncing around city magazines he launched himself into freelance reporting, building connections and networking himself into writing stories for The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, GQ and Indianapolis Monthly.
“I wanted to see if I could do this thing that I dreamed out, writing about things for big magazines,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m just going to try to write.”
Now he’s written a cover story for the New York Times Magazine and he has contacts at several major national magazines.
“Nothing that you do will ever prohibit you from getting where you want,” Justin said. “You can take weird paths and go your own ways.”
The common denominators of successful people? Dedication and a good work ethic. At her first job, Amanda helped clean the office, paid bills for the magazine and answered phones. Eventually she landed a temporary job at Atlanta Magazine when an editor left on maternity leave.
“I thought, “At the very least, this is going to be a chance to learn new skills,” she said. She spent that time exploring all different parts of the magazine and gathering as many skills as she could.
She ended up keeping the job, probably because she made an effort to understand and improve her workplace – and she communicated well with her bosses.
“I’m a really big believer in telling your editor or superior what your goals are,” she said. “If they’re any good, they’ll help you get there.”
Be groundbreaking – it’s the key to making an impression. Justin recalls making radical content while at Vox, from editing first-person essays written by drug users to crazy porn star coverage. Amanda challenges writers and editors to push into new territory.
“If we want to cover something, how can we push this farther? How can we help the reader make a connection they wouldn’t have otherwise? She said. “Be format-breaking.”
A high risk, high reward way of getting into magazines is freelancing. Justin started freelancing to get his foot in the door different magazines, a difficult way of life that’s easier when you’re young.
“When you’re just starting out – that’s the best time to freelance,” he said. It can be difficult to support a family or “adult” bills on the inconsistent salary. “But it’s a good way for a young person to get their foot in the door at places.”