Lauren Purcell is deputy editor at Self magazine. As one of two Purcell Sisters, she is also the co-author of “Cocktail Parties, Straight Up!” Although she learned her editing chops at UNC-Chapel Hill, Purcell is loyal to her undergraduate alma mater and always pulls for the Duke Blue Devils.
This Q&A, conducted by e-mail, takes a look at Purcell’s job and the tasks of editing at the magazine.
Q. Describe your job. What’s it like to be a deputy editor at Self?
This job is amazingly varied, which is part of what I love about it, but I’ll describe my main role. Magazines have what are loosely called assigning editors as well as top editors who provide another editing layer for the content the assigning eds produce. I act as the top editor for Self’s fitness, fashion and celebrity/entertainment coverage, as well as a front-of-book gazette-style section and various special sections and one-off projects. At various times in the past, I’ve overseen health, beauty and nutrition. (I’ve been here for quite a while, and switching things up every few years has helped me stay fresh.)
Q. You had some newspaper training and experience earlier in your career and in graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What are the differences between editing for newspapers and editing for magazines?
A. My newspaper experience was very brief and many years ago, and newspapers have, to my mind, increasingly employed what I think of as magazine-style strategies since then. But one major difference—and it’s one that makes editing magazines especially challenging and creative—is that the text and visuals are inextricably entwined on many magazine pages, as opposed to an image, drawing or chart serving simply as an illustration, as is more typical in newspapers. (For instance, at Self, we might conceive an entire story as a chart, rather than writing a story and then enhancing it with a chart.) The need for writer-editors to think visually, craft stories in an array of formats beyond straight narrative and collaborate with layout designers makes for a very rich editing experience.
Q. Many journalism students want to go into magazine editing. What advice do you have for someone trying to break into the business?
A. When I’m interviewing someone for an entry-level position, I want him or her to show me a passion for magazines. Apply for internships — sure, those at major national books are great, but having several gigs at smaller publications shows me just as much dedication. Write or edit for on-campus or local magazines. I want to know that you pursued every avenue to be involved with magazines on some level. And of course, read magazines voraciously and be able to talk about them with enthusiasm.
Q. The magazine industry, along with other segments of the media, has been hit with layoffs and cutbacks in recent months. What do you see as the future for magazines in print and online?
A. I’ve been hearing about the so-called “death of print” for years now, and yet, Self’s audience continues to grow both in print and online, and readers tell us they value both experiences. The increasing vitality of online efforts by magazines isn’t evidence that the print model isn’t working — to the contrary, it shows that we’re learning how much we can enrich both the pages in your hand and those on your computer screen by having them work together. I rarely edit a piece these days without making plans for what its presence online at Self.com can add for the reader — extra content, interactivity, mobile access, etc. Though the current climate feels very tough, from where I sit, magazines (not all, but many) have a bright future.
UPDATE: In December 2011, Purcell was named editor in chief of Everyday with Rachael Ray.