Why Working In Print Editorial Sucks (And Why Writing On The Internet Rules)

journalism digital

When I was 18 and a little baby first arriving in New York, I thought that it was in my blood to write for a magazine. No, wait — scratch that. Be editor-in-chief of a magazine. A year into my college career I began applying to the internships that would accompany such a career path. You know, at the hefty Hearst, or the big, bad Condé [Nast], and other places like that. As a teenager with absolutely no experience in writing except for editing the smallest high school newspaper you could ever imagine, a few essay contests, and a handful of liberal arts classes, I didn't get very far. In fact, I got rejected from everywhere I applied pretty much — as they all wanted someone with “experience.” (Yeah, but like isn't the point of interning to get experience? Whatever, I digress.)

Finally, one nice lady on Craigslist was willing to give me a shot. She was the head editor of a small interior design magazine and needed someone to help her with the daily mundane tasks that accompanied the job. (Also, it should be noted that their entire staff consisted of about four people…including me, the unpaid intern.)

While working for said print magazine, there was a time when I had to carry 70 copies of the magazine to the post office… in the rain. Do you know how heavy 70 magazines are? Heavy. Do you know how heavy 70 wet magazines are? Very, very heavy. Because, ya know, back then you couldn't email your article to people you wrote about, YOU HAD TO PHYSICALLY SEND IT. (Oh shoot, I digress again.)

When I was about fed up with making mindless color adjustments of pictures of furniture on PhotoShop, my boss asked me to help out with the magazine's blog.

At first I was only allowed to proofread pieces, but eventually she let me start writing about subwoofers that looked like dogs without heads and stuff like that. And wow, did I like doing that so much more! Boy, it sure was fun.

After that I decided to see what else I could do on the interwebs. Besides, all I heard from my professors at my journalism “institute” was that print was dead and digital was totally the “in” thing to do. Most of them had been laid off from their prestigious print media jobs and were freelancing or writing books or only teaching, leaving them a little bitter to the wide-eyed blogger sitting before them. Actually, they were so bitter and negative about the industry that it left a bad taste in my mouth. I switched to broadcast journalism and film for fear that I would be throwing away my $200k education listening to old folks teach me antiquated ideas.

I took to Craigslist once again and got my first strictly-writing internship for a New York social and cultural blog. My bosses liked me right off the bat and let me have free reign to write about anything I wanted. It was there when one boss forced me to start a Tumblr account and immediately I was hooked. Instead of flipping through a pile of music, fashion, design, art, and political magazines one by one, I was scrolling through an endless feed of fun, all in one place.

That's when it hit me — the difference between working for a print magazine and the internet was the element of fun.

It's fun to write on the internet. Readers want to comment on your article. They want to engage with you. They want to argue with you and send you long ranting emails and call you out on your bullshit. They want to tweet it, Facebook it, Google+ it, and even email it to their mothers. And it's because the writer and the reader are all in the same place — the internet. And that's really neat.

After that, I ended up interning for a major magazine's digital department for a while. I imagine it's more laid back than working in the actual print editorial wing. (Actually I know so because I would hear what interns going on photo shoots had to do and it didn't sound fun.) I started their Facebook page and helped them tweet funny stuff. And once again, the digital people were awesome. They liked cat gifs, weird YouTube videos, and just like, general cool stuff. AND IT WAS FUN.

Recently I read an article that ranked the best magazines of the year. Marie Claire was number one, Harper's Bazaar was number two. And the reason they were chosen?

A lot of it had to do with their digital initiatives.

So, when young people still tell me they dream to write for print still, that's when I get confused. Why? You aren't going to make more money. (Hello, assistant editor only making $28k a year at Condé Nast.) Let's be honest with ourselves, within the next couple of years, it's likely print will start thinking digital first.

And sure, maybe there's some “prestige” with writing for a magazine because a couple of editors have to approve your worthiness before something is published. I get it. A lot of people write on the internet because almost anyone has access to it. But, if anything, the internet has created a generation of great writers and lousy writers — but most importantly, it's created a heck of a lot of persistent writers. Ones that are willing to keep working at building a following. And I think that means something.

Just remember, that article in that magazine can be lost in a fire — the one on the internet is there to stay, forever.



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14 Responses

  1. zoe

    I think this article is extremely biased. Just because they had a bad experience in print doesn’t mean everyone does. I still dream of working for a fashion magazine because I love fashion magazines, tangible fashion magazines. I love smelling them, touching the smooth shiny paper, tearing pages out onto my wall. Plus I dream of the process of making the layout putting it all together and looking back at your work, and seeing how hard you worked on it. Its not that hard to make a template for a blog. It takes work to get to a magazine, anyone can blog.

    • Chelsea Burcz

      Hi Zoe –

      how are you? I appreciate your feedback.

      Yes, it is a biased account, mostly because it’s based off of my personal experience and it’s written in the first person.

      Also, yes, it’s true. Anyone can blog. But to be a successful blogger requires JUST as much work and skill set as working for a large, printed publication.

      – cab

  2. Molen

    love it .. you describe very good the editorial world.. and its better to write in digital 🙂

  3. Barbara

    I totally agree with you on this that internet is king right now. In Nigeria however this is yet to be fully established. Even though I have a successful beauty blog, brands and members of that industry do not notice you until they see your name in something they carry around, something physical. This is very frustrating as you can imagine but that is the industry here.
    So right now, I am getting approaches from magazines to write for their site but when I ask them if this will be translated to their print they renege and hold back because they know that this is where I will be recognised.
    I wish internet was king here too, lol.
    Lagos, Nigeria

  4. Toni Styles

    I really enjoyed this post; it’s so true, we are all very lucky to be engaged at a relatively early period, in fashion blogging and social media – we have the opportunity to grow with it. It will be so huge one day. However, print has an almost Old Hollywood appeal to it. There is something very romantic about seeing ones name in print – as a former newspaper columnist, I always felt a rush, even a fright, when I saw my name and could actually hold/ feel my work. Albeit, the immediate feedback you receive online is a new rush and a new thrill.
    It has its pros and cons not unlike print.

    http://rhythmandruffle.com <3

  5. Meaghan

    Wow, our beginning stories are incredibly similar…HS newspaper editor, leading to a Journalism major. I was “scared” off by the same things and switched to a Business degree my first semester. I don’t feel like my school even offered up the digital side, and this wasn’t forever ago, I’m talking 2004/2005.
    Now I’ve tried out being the admin. asst./sales professional and have been pulled back to Journalism, digital of course. Only now it’s a hobby and I am working on making it a profession, while keeping it FUN!
    Best of luck to everyone trying to make it.

  6. Meaghan

    Wow! Our stories sound incredibly similar. I too started out as a High School paper editor, journalism major who swiftly converted to a business degree at the horrible advice of a sad, digital hating professor. I honestly don’t even think the digital option was made apparent in my classes, and this was in 04/05 not 1990!
    I’m glad you found your way, I am just now coming back to it after trying out the sales professional and admin assistant life. no fun.
    Now this is my past time, I am working to incorporate into a profession here very soon.
    Best of luck to everyone in our shoes as I’m sure we’re not the only ones who dealt with this.

  7. TheAsiaMonique

    This post: gives me life. I love how you speak of your experience and how it pushed you into an entirely different realm, that in actuality, got you to where you wanted to be…with a bit of a twist.

  8. Karina De Jesus

    i’m not surprised your bosses loved you right off the bat – your sense of humor and writing style is so engaging.
    And I absolutely agree, digital is the way to go. There are endless opportunities on the web and the interactive style that can be achievable is unbeatable.

  9. Jaida

    I’m going to have to agree with Zoe. This article is very biased and while I can appreciate convergence in the journalism field as someone with a degree in the field, I still love print media. I’d rather buy a copy of a magazine than read it online. ANYONE can get online and create a blog and write anything, which has also become an issue in the journalism field because some people can’t tell the difference between real journalism and stuff somebody just wrote on a blog (i.e. Gossip blogs, etc.) The same person who works for a print publication won’t necessarily make less than someone working for an online publication. I don’t know about anybody else, but I would LOVE to see my name in the byline of a PRINT publication still. Some things just aren’t the same. I’m all for change and advancing, but I still appreciate the “vintage” stuff.

  10. Sabina

    I think the writer of this article comes across as being a tad self-righteous. Obviously you had a bad experience, as did your professors during the recession. Who didn’t? But to say there’s no element of fun in print? Seriously? While I do have a blog I publish (for fun) I’ve made my living in print for the past 11 years. And no I don’t make big bucks, but no one ever lied to me and told me I would. Fortunately, print, like digital, has its own emotional rewards. The stories are just as exciting (fun) to put together, possibly because in print, there’s never an excuse not to do your best. Your readers will not want to hear that you’re too busy with other things to put together a quality article. Also, when people who chose not to go the print route constantly try to portray those who did as dinosaurs, guess what? They’re the ones who look bitter.