"It was kind of this dream scenario," Min told us. "Usually a CEO tells you to fire half of the staff and cut, cut, cut, cut. But this was a chance to basically remake something entirely, not with unlimited financial largess, but with an adequate financial sum to do it. That is sort of a dream come true, and when I looked at The Hollywood Reporter in its past incarnation, it was so clear that you could turn it into something major. You could turn it into something completely different."
And she's done exactly that, turning the daily trade newspaper into a glossy weekly and building a new website that attracts 10 million unique users, trumping its competitors. (The pub also just inked a deal to make its content available to AP subscribers.) We asked the publishing vet to explain how she did it and why you should never walk into a job interview saying you want to be editor-in-chief.
Has working outside of the New York publishing industry been a big transition? What's been the biggest challenge?
It's weird. New York is so media-centric, and everywhere you go you run into someone you know who works here or there, and it's all sort of interconnected and incestuous. In New York, people, in their own sick way, also sort of find people in the media fascinating. I can guarantee no one out here is fascinated by people in the media, because you have the figures in Hollywood. There is no media hangout in L.A. It is a very small community. I have to say I miss being around other people in the media. Obviously I have the staff here, but that has definitely been a transition. We increased staff by 35-45 percent, but hiring out here is hard. There is not a bench out here at all. You struggle to find enough working journalists out here to staff your publication and to even interview. We've been very lucky. We've had a lot of people from New York move out, but we've also found the most talented journalists in L.A.
|"People here were pretty happy to openly disparage THR in its previous incarnation."|
What are you looking for when you hire people?
Initiative. I've interviewed people who've wanted to interview but haven't read the publication. It's probably more common out here than it would be in New York. In L.A., if you interview with someone and they seem possibly promising, you ask them to do some sort of memo of ideas, some sort of critique, and they miss their deadline or they never turn it in. Things like that always come as a surprise. I always look for initiative. Hopefully, you can recognize some sort of special intelligence that brings something to the conversation, people who can look at a story in a different way. I always like to know someone is pretty well read and well versed in the topics and has some sort of intellectual curiosity.
One of the complaints people have in media is everyone is chasing the same story and they cover it the same way. Can you, as an individual, bring something different to the table? That's especially important to this audience out here. It is a very tight-knit community. Can you inform them about things that you don't already know? Can you make it fun? Are you a clever writer? There is enough ordinary. What can you do to elevate something out of ordinary?
Do you think that leading a magazine is an instinctual thing?
Yes. I think instinct plays a big part in being at the top of the masthead. But I also think it's having a lot of respect for your audience and knowing that they want smart stories. You could look at Us Weekly and say, "Oh my God. That's one of the biggest consumer magazines with lots of silly pictures of celebrities doing silly things." But how do you make it smart? How do you make it feel clever or vaguely subversive or that you are kind of in on the joke with them.
There were all sorts of subtle things about Us Weekly that communicated that to the audience. It kind of didn't matter if the people who didnít read Us Weekly thought you can get celebrity stuff anywhere. It's only the people who read it that you cared about. I think the same thing applies to any publication. I love reading New York magazine, because I've fallen completely into the trap and think "That is written for me." But of course it wasn't written for you. It was written for lots of people, but there is enough in there that you really enjoy and that you feel like you arenít getting elsewhere.
What are your tips for moving up the masthead?
I remember when I would interview people, even for an editorial assistant job, and you would ask them, "What do you want to do?" And when they say "I want to be an editor-in-chief one day," it's such a turn off. Immediately in your mind you're like, "Ok this is someone who feels entitled who is not going to want to work very hard." People who are so obvious at wanting the glory usually don't want to put in the work for it. Can you be the intern who is so useful the thought of you leaving the office at the end of the summer would be devastating? Are you the person who volunteers to stay late and finish the project when no one else will take it on? A lot of it is making yourself indispensable to somebody or the organization. Honestly, it has nothing to do with titles or where you are.
|"There is enough ordinary. What can you do to elevate something out of ordinary?"|
Everyone should try to find ways to be distinctive and valuable in an office and without being annoying. I've seen a little bit of angst of people in their twenties being generally dissatisfied with something, and you can't get them to articulate what they are dissatisfied with. I'm very sympathetic to that, but as an employer you kind of want to shake them up and say, "Keep your workplace angst out if it. Make yourself invaluable. Seize opportunities." Someone is always looking for a problem to be solved, so be the person to solve the problem.
Jann Wenner offered you the EIC position at Us Weekly when Bonnie Fuller resigned abruptly. What do you consider when deciding which companies to work for?
Can I actually succeed doing it? Even when Bonnie Fuller left Us Weekly and Jan Wenner offered me the job to take over for her, there were a few days when I thought there was no way that I would do that and put myself on the firing line. Then, it just came down to "Well, I know I could do it. I know I can do it, because I've kind of been doing it any way." There were things I wasn't psyched about, like the attention and going from anonymity to semi-anonymity. You have to consider all of those things.
What are your goals for The Hollywood Reporter?
We need to make it bigger. It's a must-read out in L.A. I would like for people to read it in other parts of the country. I would like for us to infiltrate New York and San Francisco and other sophisticated cities where I feel like the content would do well. I feel like that's probably going to be accomplished best through our digital presence. And our website is huge already. A year from now I would love for it to be double the size it is right now. I would love for it to truly be synonymous with entertainment. I would say that's the probably the next goal.
Aria Hughes is a freelance writer living in New York City.
© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.