Why Ideas Are an Entrepreneur's Most Valuable Currency
Kristen Dold is a freelance writer for national magazines, and their digital extensions. She covers health, travel, pop culture, entertainment, fashion, beauty for magazines like GQ, Vice, Women's Health, Cosmo, Travel + Leisure, and other various men's and women's publications.
Describe your job to me, how has it changed since you started?
KD: Magazines have changed dramatically. I started about eight years ago in the industry as an editorial assistant, and it's night and day. I remember the first time I was at Women's Health, we were creating the first print edition for an iPad, only eight years ago, which is kind of crazy to think about. At the time it felt like [digital] was a totally different entity. We had to put a different hat on to do it. Now when I'm writing a story, I think about, is this clickable on Facebook? Will brands want to share this? It's all much more cohesive than it was in the past, and it has been for the past few years.
You mention the iPad experience, are there other examples that you have that signal a shift in this direction?
KD: Obviously there are challenges. Staffs are consolidating. It was disheartening to see Details Magazine close down, I used to work there. Magazines are becoming smaller, but there's also more opportunities. Probably more opportunities than challenges if you think of it the right way. Yes, when you're pitching you have to come up with a multi-platform pitch and you're fighting against all this other noise. There's so many more publications and outlets than there used to be, but you also have so many different ways to share your story. So, for example, I did a piece on Vice a couple of weeks ago, and within a week, they had created this video component to go with it. You get to see these people you interviewed come to life and now they're on screen. It's in a new shape and it's cool. You're reaching more people. You just have to fight against the noise.
How has the digital revolution impacted your career?
KD: It's different for an editor and a freelancer. As a freelancer, you're creating pitches that work on multi-platforms. For a magazine that comes out once a month, you're pitching ideas that aren't competing against the 24-hour news cycle. You have to take a step back and think, because there needs to be more excellence and more curation. As a magazine you're thinking about everything that's happening and then you get your one shot to give your say and make a point.
Most magazines also have a digital side. I'm writing as many digital stories as I am print stories, if not more. There's no ‘just print’ writers anymore, and there's no ‘just digital’ writers. Everyone is in the same bucket.
Tell me about personal branding from a journalist's perspective, what does that look like?
KD: I think branding is important, I'm terrible at it. You need to be on Instagram. You need to be on Twitter promoting yourself. It's something that I think helps when people are looking to see who wrote this story, they like to see that they're intelligent and living the lifestyle that they're writing about. Is it gonna give you the story that they want written about something major that's happening in politics? Probably not. You still have to be accredited, smart and be a great writer who believes in excellence and quality. So yes, it's important. Is it a make or break? I don't think so.
How do you keep up with all of these changes when it relates to work?
KD: You have to be a voracious reader. I read most print magazines and most of their digital extensions. You have to keep up with Refinery, Buzzfeed, Vice and all of these other brands. So many fashion brands now have their own online magazine and they're creating content so there's no shortcut. You literally just have to read it all and be a warrior of what is being put out there. Then take a step back and figure out what you can contribute, curate and bring down from all the noise.
What do you think about media outlets relying on other outlets to pick up their stories?
KD: Yeah, it's weird I've had a lot of stories that I've written for a magazine get picked up by Yahoo, or Fox News, which I learn from via Google alerts. It's always a surprise because most of the time editors don't even know that that's happening. It happens more up top with sales and marketing. I'm ok with it, honestly as long as it's not being stolen, as long as it's being shared and everybody is involved and ok with it, then I'm fine with it. You know, you're getting more eyeballs on your story which is the goal right?
How has the current marketplace influenced your decision to freelance vs taking up a permanent post?
KD: My decision to freelance was more situational. My husband and I were moving from New York to Chicago so he could go to grad school and freelancing was something I just sort of tried on a whim and it was successful. I kept doing it and I love it. Magazine staffs are getting smaller, it's harder to get a magazine job. Being in Chicago I still, luckily, can write for all of my editors in New York. Everybody is remote these days. As a writer, it's important to be on your computer all day, everyday like everybody else but you do have more flexibility in terms of autonomy. You can work from anywhere, which is great.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to pursue your career path?
KD: For young people I would say there's no one route to get to where you want to go. When I started out I was a page at NBC and was holding lemon water behind stage for Jennifer Lopez. It was stupid stuff like that but I found opportunities there. Someone at MSNBC was looking for one of us to help write. I volunteered and when a magazine job opened up, I was able to nab it, gain experience and work up from there.
There's no one way to break into the industry. If you're a writer, then the best thing I can say is to be interested in the world. Your ideas are your currency, always. If you have a great idea you can take it anywhere. Having a name does not matter. If it's a really great idea Vogue wants it, they're gonna pay for it and they want you to write it. Have great ideas, be nosey, never be afraid to ask questions and just write about what you're passionate about. As I said before, you don't have to put yourself in a bucket. If you like fashion and you like politics, you can write about both.
Predictions on where the industry is going?
KD: It's interesting because I think we've started to realize with media, general excellence is not enough. Having great content isn't enough. We have to find better ways to engage with people. Consumers want their experience to be elevated, and they want it as shiny and as satisfying as their iPhone, or the next iPhone. We can't just work harder to get better stories, we have to really think about how are people engaging with this content and where their eyeballs are going from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed.
Long-term, do you still see yourself doing this, like 10-15 years from now?
KD: I have learned to take it day by day. Things have changed so much from where I was 10 years to now that I don't know what will exist or what [publishing] will look like. Will it be magazines? Will we have newspapers? I don't know. I know there will always be the need for good writing. As long as I have that, I will still be a writer. I just don't know what form it will look like, but I'm ok with that. TV shows end. Magazines will end. Certain things have to evolve and we just need to be ok with disruption.
You said that ideas are currency, where do you get your ideas from?
KD: The best ideas come from people. It is really hard to Google a good idea. Obviously being informed about what's going on helps, but really the best ideas I've seen come from chatting with people, traveling and meeting new people outside your bubble.
Good ideas also come from reading. A lot of times there's a big story and you're going to see a slice that hasn't been covered. There's an angle to it, there's somebody in that story that deserves a bigger voice and it might be something that's gonna take on a life of its own. Read, really smart educated pieces (Pulitzer and the ASME winners). Go from there and see what's left to talk about.
The video portion of this interview ran on July 4, 2017 on Entrepreneur.com: Why Ideas Are an Entrepreneur's Most Valuable Currency
To connect with Kristen, follow her on Twitter at @KristenDold.