Welcome to Desk Side, a new series where we’ll interview editors, influencers and the like to learn about today’s media landscape as well as their predictions for the digital era.
First up is Laura Eckstein Jones, editor-in-chief of Angeleno, Interiors California and Modern Luxury Beverly Hills. A seasoned editor with two decades in the business, we sat down with her to learn how she got her start in publishing and how the role has changed since then. She also shares her prediction for the future of print, and how it could live on harmoniously in tandem with the digital era.
How did you get your start in the industry, and what was your career trajectory leading you into the role you have today?
I actually went to school to be an art teacher, but after a semester of student teaching, I realized I wanted to work with adults. I love kids and loved the subject matter, but hated having to control a classroom. So I started searching for creative jobs at places like ad agencies or universities in NYC. I eventually landed an interview with an editor at Home|Style magazine through a friend of a friend, and it worked out! I got an editorial assistant job (it was offered to me on the same day), and started out fact checking, calling in and organizing props for photo shoots and writing credits for design and architecture stories. I eventually started writing small stories for the magazine's Kitchen & Bath supplement. Sadly, 9/11 happened soon after I started, and pretty soon after that the economy started to tank. The magazine folded.
Luckily, two weeks later I got a job assisting the Creative Director at Ladies' Home Journal magazine. Initially, I was resistant, as it didn't seem like a "cool" title. I vowed to only stay a year. But I ended up staying a long time, five years or so, and met people who are still my closest friends! It was a wonderful place to work, and I learned how the art and photo departments worked. I did photo research, found great locations for shoots, held model go-sees, and eventually, when the magazine started doing more design stories, I assisted the home editor with calling in props, styling shoots and more.
From there, I went to Women's Day magazine (after freelancing for a few years), and was the home editor. This was all going on during the recession, and I eventually was laid off. After a long time freelancing, really doing whatever I could to stay afloat (even fashion styling for a high-fashion Italian magazine!), I got a job at Good Housekeeping as the Market Editor for home. I went back to styling shoots and dealing with props, but it was here that I really learned to develop story pitches. Good Housekeeping was a fantastic place to learn. They have the lab, where they test everything, upstairs, and the place had so much integrity at the time. The editor-in-chief, Rosemary Ellis, was extremely demanding and meticulous, and for every story we had to have three fully formed ideas to pitch in a monthly meeting. It was terrifying to present to her as she was such a perfectionist, and, well, scary! But from that experience I learned how to prepare!
While at that job, I met my now-husband, who happened to live in Los Angeles. After a year, I decided to move to L.A., and quickly landed a job with Modern Luxury, where I still am today. That was more than six years ago! I started out as the editor of Weddings California magazine—having never covered anything wedding-related before, it was a bit terrifying—and also was a senior editor at Angeleno and Interiors California magazines. Through the years I worked my way up to eventually become EIC of Interiors California and Angeleno, as well as our Modern Luxury Beverly Hills title.
What does your role as Editor-in-Chief of Angeleno, Interiors California and Modern Luxury Beverly Hills entail?
A lot! In addition to putting together a lineup for each issue, I'm writing most of the local stories in each magazine. I'm responsible for calling in supplied hi-res photography and making image selects, and work with a photo editor to set up shoots. I sometimes moderate or sit on panels, and have to bop around town quite a bit to attend events and meetings. I sometimes write travel stories that run nationally in all of Modern Luxury's titles, which is a lot of fun. No day is ever the same.
How is an editor’s role different than it was 10 years ago?
It is TOTALLY different. When I started (mind you, this was almost 20 years ago, yikes!), photographers were still shooting on film. I remember that the photo departments had several lightboxes and loupes. Photo shoots took FOREVER because no one was using digital cameras. Now, no one I work with uses film, and I'm OK with it! Magazine staffs were much much bigger. I think we had at least 30 on-staff editors at Good Housekeeping, and everyone stayed in his or her lane. Now, I do so many different jobs. We all have to juggle so much and wear many different hats. I'm actually really grateful for my experience working in the art/photo departments at Ladies' Home Journal, as I'm still using what I learned there today. We used to route copy from desk to desk—printed copies of each story—and each editor had to make their edits and then pass it on to the next editor, until it went to the editor-in-chief for final review. Now, everything is done digitally, and it's really just me, the copy editor and my assistant who look at each story. Sadly there's more pay-to-play across the industry these days. When I started, the publishing side was always separate from editorial, oftentimes on a different floor completely. Now, things are a bit different.
What are some of the greatest challenges and opportunities facing a magazine publication in the current climate?
It goes without saying but there are so many ways to digest content, so people are less interested in picking up a printed magazine these days. I am certainly guilty of spending way too much time on Instagram, and read less magazines then I did back in the day. So we need to think of ways to stay relevant. But, in my opinion, if you try to compete with social media by simply creating pages with tons of images and barely any text, you'll lose. As a magazine editor, I see an opportunity to create more curated, thoughtful stories with gorgeous imagery.
What’s your prediction for the future of print publications? Will we see them a decade from now?
I don't think print will ever go away, or I'm hopeful that it won't, at least. Playing off of what I said in the last answer, we have an opportunity to create gorgeous pages and thoughtful stories. I like the idea of printing less often, maybe 4x a year, and creating magazines that are almost like books. This is happening already.. there are so many beautiful ones out there already. I remember when some magazines, like Colors and Flaunt had themes (maybe Flaunt still has themes... haven't looked at it in a while), and would like to go in that direction: quarterly magazines that are themed, very inspirational and beautiful and ones that are worthy of hanging onto for years. I also see print magazines leaning into digital and expanding their brands to podcasts, short-form videos, well-developed social media etc.
How is Modern Luxury adapting to the ever-changing digital landscape?
We''re trying our best to jump on the digital train. Our websites are in the process of being improved, we're thinking of more ways to integrate things like podcasts and influencers, and are trying to improve our social media presence.
What advice would you give to people aspiring to have a career in publishing?
I'd say go into it with an open mind. Know that the glory days of publishing—when everyone ran around town with a black car and a corporate card and budgets were unlimited—are over. Magazines may look glamorous from the outside, but putting them together takes a lot of work. Also, be patient. It took me a very long time to move up the career ladder. If that happens to you, don't be discouraged. Know that the grunt work you put in prepares you for each next step. Nowadays editors wear many hats. When I started at Modern Luxury there were 5 people on staff in Angeleno's L.A. office, and now there's one. Me! The job isn't easy, but I feel very fulfilled creatively and lucky to be doing what I love day in and day out.
Photo credit: Munn Singh
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