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MB Q&A: Janet Ozzard of New York

A team effort makes New York's "Strategist" section so slick

- March 20, 2006

Named as National Magazine Award finalist in five categories, New York magazine under newish EIC Adam Moss has earned the attention and admiration of readers even outside of the metro area. The magazine's "Strategist" department, which serves as a swanky service guide to its high-end (or aspirational) readers, was recognized with its own honors as one of five finalists for the "Magazine Section" award. Strategist editor Janet Ozzard took the time to answer our questions mid-close.

Mediabistro: So, is it REALLY an honor just to be nominated? What was your reaction?

Janet Ozzard: It's incredibly flattering to have our peers acknowledge our work. But the Strategist is the result of many people — writers, editors, art, photo, copy — working very hard every week to make it great. The nomination recognizes them, which makes me very happy.

Mediabistro: The Strategist has recurring sections — food, best bets, Look Book, etc. — but always seems fresh. How do you keep up that kind of momentum with a weekly magazine?

Janet Ozzard: We're fluid with the format. I have the great good fortune to work with Adam Moss, who loves change, and who encourages us to experiment with new ways to communicate information. So there are the weekly rubrics (Shopclerk, Lookbook, Best Bets) and regularly appearing ones like the Everything Guides, Neighborhood Maps, and so on. But sometimes we have an idea for something we want to write about, and we make up the format to fit it. I'm also always encouraging — well, hounding — the staff to go deeper with information. New Yorkers are extremely specific and opinionated; you're talking to a population that knows precisely which subway car lets you off closest to the stairwell that isn't under construction. A lot of service stories feel very soft and predictable, but New Yorkers won't stand for that.

Mediabistro: Design is a big part of the section's appeal. What is your role in the design of Strategist?

Janet Ozzard: Not to harp on the "team" thing, but it is the truth. I have my ideas about what the pages should look like, but the photo and art departments have theirs, too — and those are generally better. With so much information on the page, clear design is incredibly important.

Mediabistro: Where does Amy Larocca find her subjects for Look Book? And why does that feature "work" for the magazine?

Janet Ozzard: I get asked this question all the time, and here is the god's honest truth: All the subjects of the Lookbook are RANDOMLY FOUND ON THE STREET. Every few weeks, Amy and the photographer, Jake Chessum, set up a white seamless on a street corner and then just stand there and...wait. For hours. They always come back with at least ten or 12 amazing characters.

It works for the magazine because we're actually doing something every New Yorker thinks about. Everyone walks down the street and looks at other people and thinks, "That person looks so cool/crazy/interesting, I wonder what he/she does." We answer the question. And it's very funny.

Mediabistro: As an editor, how do stay on top of all the new and current stuff that's featured in The Strategist? How important are your staff and writers in keeping you abreast of stuff that should go in the section? What role do publicists play?

Janet Ozzard: Like every editor, I read as much as I can; newspapers, magazines, online. But the staff and writers are very important, of course. They're the critical filter. One of the good things about working on a city magazine is that we are the reader. We're not writing about someplace we've never been, or some experience we've never had.

Publicists, I'm sorry to say, generally don't get the Strategist. I get a lot of pitches for stuff that's already been somewhere else, or a trend that's come and gone, or a product whose main claim to fame is that it's new. Just because it's new doesn't make it better.

Mediabistro: There are so many outlets in New York City for info about restaurants and new stores and real estate etc. What do you do editorially do differentiate yourself? How do you stay on top of your competitors?

Janet Ozzard: We're selective. Again, we won't write about something just because it's new. There has to be a compelling reason, or reasons. Our food writers Robin Raisfeld and Rob Patronite, for example, are incredibly diligent, skeptical reporters. If they say they're going to do a food map of Red Hook, they'll go out and spend three days in Red Hook, walking around, eating, interviewing people. Then they'll come back and do research. And they’re great writers. Who can beat that?

Mediabistro: What's your daily/weekly routine like? What's the lead time for Strategist?

Janet Ozzard: The early part of the week is hectic, of course, so we tend to do a lot of catching up and planning on Thursday and Friday. Lead time is at least a couple of weeks; for visual stuff like The Best Bet, it's a month.

Mediabistro: What's your editorial background? How did you end up at New York?

Janet Ozzard: I started at Women's Wear Daily and worked there for 9 years, gradually becoming a deputy editor; I also wrote for W as well. I spent two of my Fairchild years in Paris as a beauty editor, running a publication that's produced out of the Paris office in three languages. I left Fairchild in 2001, freelanced for all of two months, and then became executive editor of Style.com, which was tremendous fun, for three years. Jamie Pallot, the editorial director, is a fantastic boss. I'd been wanting to branch out from fashion, but wasn't sure where I was going next. I was thinking about grad school. I'd been reading New York magazine forever, and I found Adam's changes really exciting. Then I heard about this job and just jumped.

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