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So What Do You Do, Jane Pratt, Editor-in-Chief of xojane.com?

The print industry vet on telling it like it is

- March 27, 2013
If you were a girl growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, you likely had a wall full of New Kids on the Block posters, an assortment of Bonne Bell Lip Smackers in your Caboodle, and stacks of Sassy mags that you flipped through regularly. After high school graduation, you probably graduated to Jane magazine, too. For the latter two, you can thank Jane Pratt, who founded both publications to create a filter-free reflection of the experiences, interests and sentiments of young and young-minded women.

Pratt has a reputation for saying out loud what conservative folks don't feel comfortable thinking by accident, and time hasn't dulled her signature penchant for rawness. In fact, when coupled with the freedom of the online space, she's turned her newest venture, xojane.com, into a platform for every facet of real-life womanhood, from flatulence to fatness. Here, she talks about how she made a career of keeping it (too) real.


Name: Jane Pratt
Position: Editor-in-chief of xojane.com
Resume: Interned at Rolling Stone and the now-defunct Sportstyle before graduating from college. Hired as assistant editor at McCall's and transitioned to associate editor of Teenage. Founded Sassy in 1988 at the age of 24 and sold it to Peterson Publishing in 1994. Launched Jane, a lifestyle magazine for 18- to 34-year-old women, just three years later. Left that publication in 2005 and went on to host talk shows on Fox and Lifetime. Founded xojane.com in 2011. Author of For Real: The Uncensored Truth About America's Teenagers and Beyond Beauty: Girls Speak Out on Looks, Style and Stereotypes.
Birthdate: November 11, 1962
Hometown: Durham, N.C.
Education: Bachelor's degree in communications from Oberlin College
Marital status: Single
Media idol: "Somewhere between Oprah and Gloria Steinem"
Guilty pleasure: Really bad pop music
Favorite TV shows: Dance Moms, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and "documentaries on just about anything"
Twitter handle: @janepratt


Why did you decide to sell Sassy and then, just three years later, found Jane?
I was hearing from more and more Sassy readers who felt like there wasn't anything for them to graduate into. They felt they were a little old for the teen material in Sassy, but there was nothing out there treating them intelligently and talking about the things that they cared about. So, I made a magazine for the next age group up. The company I was working with at the time wasn't able to start it, so I left Sassy to launch Jane. It took a few years before it got off the ground.

What expectations did you have of the buyers you chose, and how do you let go of your own vision for a brand when someone else takes over?
I had a very strong vision for it and I was able to find a good partner in Fairchild, which was eventually bought by Conde Nast. They shared the vision, because they were such a strong fashion company, with W and with other publications. They were also able to bring a lot to the table on the ad sales side with fashion brands and working on the aesthetic of the magazine.

"I was definitely doing everything I could to get Cat Marnell into rehab."

You've built magazines from the ground-up. What was your biggest challenge then, and what do you think the biggest challenge to launching a print publication is now?
Let's see. The biggest challenge then was that there were so many titles. People would say, "We already have Seventeen and Teen and Young Ms., as it was called at the time, and Tiger Beat and Bop." They would list all of these magazines and say, "Why do we need another title?" The same thing when I started Jane. They would say, "We have Mademoiselle, Glamour, Cosmo..." So, the biggest challenge was articulating to people on the business side what the differences would be and why people were going to want this magazine in addition to what was already out there. I think now it's a little bit of a different problem, because the number of titles is diminishing and going further that way, so it's about proving why you need a print publication at all, why you can't just do it online.

You have a reputation for being a "teller" -- tell it like it is, tell all your own business, tell people about themselves. How has that honesty come across as an editor, and how have you leveraged the truth without being offensive?
Well, I think that the not being offensive part comes from having grown up in the South. I think that you learn a way of saying things -- saying what you want to say -- that doesn't offend people or turn people off. I hope, anyway. But some people would say that I am offensive, some of the types of things that I've printed in Sassy and Jane and now xoJane.

Cat Marnell regularly wrote about her own drug use on xoJane.com. What made you hire her, and what do you say to those who think you just encouraged her addiction by paying her to write about it?
I was definitely doing everything I could to get her into rehab, which she did do, and encouraging her to get better for herself. But I don't think that her writing about it is what made her do it. I think it's a lot deeper than that, and writing about it was cathartic for her and helpful to other women who were going through that. Men have written about it before, their own drug abuse while they're still abusing the drug. But for women, it was always something they could only write about only after they were no longer using. I felt like it was important to tell that story; she wanted to do that. But there was a lot behind the scenes that people don't know about, and that's why she's not at xoJane anymore. But I hope she'll get cleaned up and be able to do stuff with us again.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Janice Min, Editorial Director of The Hollywood Reporter?

At SXSW, you boldly spoke about the myths traditional media has been feeding us. For those who weren't able to attend, can you give us a sampling of what those myths are?
There are so many. One of them is about numbers and how people will suggest to advertisers that they have a certain number of readers per month when they're counting pass-along readers, and they don't really know how active their readers are. They know how many subscriber copies are going out and that kind of thing. Online, you really know almost everything about what your readers are reading, what they're responding to. But I actually hope to take that a step further because I think there are ways, even online, to measure engagement even more closely than it is now. I suggested that if you could measure how hard somebody was pounding on the keyboard when they were leaving a comment, then you could get a sense of how passionate they were about the response they were leaving instead of just the number of comments.

Another thing, though, is that it still amazes me that a lot of women's magazines in particular will use this magazine speak, this terminology. Like instead of saying "your hair," they'll say "your mane" or "your tresses." And I always feel like if someone says "your lackluster tresses" instead of "your dirty hair," you feel like they're not telling you the whole truth. I feel like that makes you as a reader say, "Well, if they're lying to me about that, what else are they lying to me about?"

"The really raw, honest, quirky voices that you get when you read people's blogs are still not represented in print."

While print publications are struggling, online pubs aren't necessarily reeling in the dough, either. What's your monetization strategy for xoJane?
Fortunately, the parent company behind xoJane is a company called Say Media. Their motto is to sell ads on the site and particularly focus on engagement. So, rather than just selling the number of eyeballs on the site, they'll sell how long people are spending when they're on the site and other metrics that show how devoted our readership is. That works really well for me, because that's what I really like to do also, not just put up content that gets quick hits and a bunch of people to come one time but maybe not come back. I like to really build a community, so that's how we're doing it. The other thing is, with xoVain, which is a beauty spin-off we just launched a couple of weeks ago, we're also doing something I wanted to do since xoJane launched, which is sell products through the site. I really do feel like e-commerce and the revenue that comes through that is going to be the future, even beyond advertising revenue.

What's missing from women's publications nowadays? Whose voice do you feel is still unheard?
The really raw, honest, quirky voices that you get when you read people's blogs are still not represented in print. And I think that's because the editing process that goes into print still is about polishing to the point where you lose some of that individuality that you get from blogs. The other thing I feel is missing is a publication for women 35-plus that treats them as the cool, interesting, vital people that they are and the superficial beings that they are too, that focuses on the selfish side of being a woman that age and not how to take care of your kids or bake for your grandkids or whatever. I'd like to see that.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Janice Min, Editorial Director of The Hollywood Reporter?


Janelle Harris resides in Washington, D.C., frequents Twitter and lives on Facebook.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2013. 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.



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