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LectureHop: Strangely Optimistic Joanna Coles

Bwog Print Devotee Chloe Eichler was in the audience when Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire and straight-faced Tilda Swinton doppelganger, visited the Journalism School on Thursday to offer thoughts on her chosen medium.

Despite calling print media “an absolutely terrible market to get into,” Coles was confident that newspapers and magazines would stay alive. She began by describing her years as a reporter in London and New York, starting at her local newspaper at age ten. Coles recommended every paper have a children’s section to galvanize the next generation of reporters, noting that “in England, we grow up on a very rigorous diet of newspapers” that inspires a “tremendous interest in the news.” She praised blogs for giving young writers exposure (and doubling readership of Marie Claire through artful networking).

Coles labeled journalism “an isolating job” that requires access to people inaccessible to everyone, including other reporters. An enormous amount of travel, language, and diplomacy can be necessary. Coles stressed the unpredictability of a journalist’s career path; her own big break came when she filled in on The Late Show for a writer who had died of a heart attack that day. That’s profiting from someone else’s misfortune.

But unpredictable does not mean uncontrollable: “Mostly old, male journalists” say being in the right place at the right time is crucial, Coles said dismissively. Instead of letting information to come to her, she found taking out “people you wouldn’t expect” for drinks to be a great way of getting stories. She then declared the point moot altogether in the Cellular Era: if your editor calls your cell phone, simply always say you’re already at the scene of the story. Again, Coles really seemed to be embracing technology (and alcohol and fibs).

Coles was especially sunny when discussing the future of the woman’s magazine. As for Marie Claire, Coles celebrated its mix of “high and low interests,” declaring that “we are in tune with a new demographic of young women who come out of college and leapfrog the men in the workplace.” She claimed “all editors dream of not needing a celebrity on the cover” to sell magazines because of costly photo shoots and oily publicists, but confessed to seeing no end to that particular national obsession. She ended the night by collecting resumes from about half the audience, a fantastic act of encouragement in itself.

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