Q&A with Elizabeth Hudson, editor of Our State magazine
Elizabeth Hudson is editor of Our State magazine, a monthly publication about the people and places of North Carolina. The magazine is based in Greensboro and has a circulation of 150,000. Hudson has worked at Our State since 1997. In this interview, conducted by email, Hudson talks about her job, her use of Twitter and the outlook for regional magazines.
Q. What is your typical workday like at the magazine?
A. There’s an old saying that “a chair-bound editor is a dangerous editor,” and it’s a idea that I embrace. In a sense, my office is the entire state of North Carolina!
A typical workday really depends on where I happen to be. I travel extensively, often with the other editors and our art director, visiting the towns we’d like to write about, eating in the restaurants we want to cover, and meeting with local residents and people who work in the travel and tourism industry. We can’t effectively and credibly create an experience for our readers if we haven’t had the experience of a place ourselves.
So a typical workday could include anything from a visit to the Nasher Museum in Durham or Tryon Palace in New Bern, a drive along Railroad Grade Road in Ashe County, a morning in the back of a Mayberry-style squad car in Mount Airy. (Not all of these on the same day, of course.)
The one day people can find me in the office is on Mondays. We have a company-wide meeting every Monday morning at 8:30 a.m.; I follow that meeting with a smaller one of my own with my team of editors and art directors. We critique manuscripts that have come in for the week, and we have a round-table pitch discussion to review story queries, sometimes a half-dozen pitches.
On the days that I’m not traveling or speaking to a church or rotary group, I’m making story assignments, planning content for later issues, meeting with our sales, Web, or marketing team, or working with the art directors conceptualizing layouts and magazine covers.
Q. Many journalism students at UNC-Chapel Hill want to go into magazines as writers and editors. What advice would you offer them?
A. Become a student of magazines. No, scratch that. Become a voracious devourer of magazines.
Get an appetite for the beauty and literary power that magazines hold. Go to the library and pore through bound volumes of great magazines: National Geographic, Esquire, Texas Monthly, Saveur, The Atlantic, The New Yorker (and Our State, of course!).
Learn to think visually — a magazine is a marriage of great writing and great design. One can’t work independently from the other. And try to see the magazine as a whole — think about how the front of the book works with the back of the book — the heartbeat of the magazine — and how the feature well gives your magazine its soul.
Q. You use Twitter in both a professional and personal way. What do you and the magazine hope to achieve through the use of social media?
A. My Twitter account is an extension of my job and my life; I actually don’t really separate the two and, in fact, I don’t think you can if you work in a creative field. You don’t turn it off at 5:30 p.m.
Some magazine editors use Twitter as a way to extend the magazine’s brand — that’s why you see tweets about current content in the magazine; you know, recipes you should try from this month’s issue, for example. That’s fine, but my tweets are more an extension of my personality, which really fits the mission of Our State. Our magazine is intended to feel like a friend you’ve invited into your home; there’s a warm comfort to it, and Twitter, for me, is a way to extend that friendly conversation.
My posts rarely repeat content in the magazine; they’re just a reflection of my day. Sometimes interesting, sometimes mundane, but minutia is the basis for any relationship, really. It’s a nice, easy mixture of the daily. Twitter is a great place to stay connected to the daily.
Q. In an increasingly digital/mobile world, what do you see as the future of Our State and city/regional magazines, both in print and online?
I’m excited by the potential of regional magazine now, especially since the digital world causes everything to be so global. For so long, long-form journalism was king. Great magazines, and newspapers, too, ran 4,000-, 5,000-, 6,000-word stories.
Then, in the late ’90s, you started to see a shift toward shorter, tighter, blurb-ier copy. Many magazines lost their substance. And certainly there was an appetite for shorter, bite-size stories.
But that’s the beauty of the web and of mobile. It demands short, which means that magazines now are swinging back to their heyday of rich, long-form content. I’m seeing it happen, and it’s wonderful.
There will always be readers for whom story matters. And when you can get everything you need in the short-form online or on a tablet, you’ll create a craving for long-form elsewhere. Enter magazines. The perfect portable device for delivering the kind of content, at length, that people will start longing for again.