Ella Buchan, editor of the Daily Star Sunday’s lifestyle magazine take5, tells us what it’s like to work on a national newspaper supplement.
About the publication:
Who reads it and how many of them are there? Describe a typical reader for us:
The circulation is around 400,000, although several people will read each copy. The average age is 34 and a third of readers are women. The typical take5 magazine reader (whether she has bought the paper herself or nabbed the mag from someone else’s paper) is female, young, interested in reading about celebrities and also real people she can identify with. She likes to keep up with fashion and beauty trends, and has money to spend – so long as it’s worth it.
What subjects do you cover? What stories are you most interested in covering?
Celebrity interviews/news, real life stories, and I oversee the mag’s lifestyle content – fashion, beauty and food. I also work on the travel section of the Saturday and Sunday newspapers. I enjoy all of it, because with such a variety you can’t get bored. The real life stories are fascinating because, just when you think you’ve heard it all…
What makes you different from the other outlets in your sector?
The magazine has a great sense of humour and we know what people want on a Sunday – fascinating real-life reads, honest celebrity chats, lovely clothes to look at, funny pictures of celebrities and useful beauty and health advice. We’re colourful and fun, but that doesn’t mean standards or writing and grammar are allowed to slip.
How do you decide the content, front covers and headlines?
The content is always about balance, features that we can pull catchy headlines from, and most of all what/who we judge our readers will be interested in. We know pretty instinctively whether a celebrity is suitable to grace the cover – they have to be relevant, current and interesting – and the picture needs to be animated and engaging with the reader in some way.
Do you produce a features list? Why? Why not?
We have our own features list but we don’t send one out, because on a national newspaper supplement the content remains fluid until it’s set in print. Features are swapped around for topicality, balance, or simply because something brilliant has come up that we want to run immediately.
About you and freelance journalists:
Do you pay for contributions from freelance journalists?
Yes, we pay them!
Occasionally we use freelance journalists, though we tend to get most of the stories and interviews ourselves due to the budget and because that way we know exactly what we’re getting. Too often we’ve commissioned pieces only to find we’ve been misled on the angle, or that pictures we were promised do not exist.
Do you like freelance journalists to get in touch with you directly to pitch ideas? And if so, how?
Yes, just a brief but clear synopsis of the story/interview angle, including ages etc and stating what pictures will be available. Definitely by email, because that way you can decide whether to put in a bid on your own time.
Name the three most important attributes that make a freelance journalist stand out for you and would make you use them again?
A clear approach (including an introduction if we haven’t been in touch before), decent grammar and honesty. Problems will always surface with features, so there’s no point waiting until everyone has put in all the legwork.
If you can, tell us about the best approach you’ve seen from a freelance…and the worst…
Not sure about the best – I guess just with the attributes mentioned above. But the worst was a journalist who sent pictures of a ‘couple’ where the woman’s head had clearly been cut out and stuck on someone else’s body. She claimed not to have spotted that – so she was either extremely inobservant or totally dishonest. We’ll maybe never know who the unsuspecting bloke was, but I was sure I recognised him from a feature on death row penpals…
Do you work closely with PRs (e.g. for supplements, round tables, events) or do you keep them at arm’s length?
Yes, we do a lot with PRs, especially for celebrity interviews.
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
Just to make an effort to find out what is actually relevant to the publication. At least when it comes to ringing us – if we get irrelevant emails, it isn’t such a big deal as we can just delete them or fire back a quick response.
How should a PR approach you about their client?
Ideally by email, unless it’s a really exciting proposition such as a great celeb interview.
What information/input from PRs is most useful to you?
Opportunities for interviews, whether a real-life story or a celebrity.
When is the best time for PRs to contact you & what is your deadline for contributions?
Early in the week. Our lead-time is just over a week but we juggle lots of issues at once so the sooner in advance, the better.
Describe a typical day at work: What are you editorial duties/responsibilities at the outlet
It’s hard to describe a typical day, as there aren’t too many of those! But in the office the day usually starts with one of many cups of tea and a look through the flatplan, to see what still needs interviewing/writing/editing/pictures/lay out etc. Then I’ll get progress reports from the picture and art desks, writers etc on those features and to check what else they’re working on. The rest of the day is juggling features for that week with sourcing real-life stories and celeb interviews for future issues.
What interests you most about your job?
I love the fact that one day you could be interviewing Lionel Richie and the next day Cheryl Cole! And I really enjoy selecting the images to go with each feature and thinking about the layout, trying new ideas and thinking about what will draw the reader in visually. It’s nice to work on the whole package, words and pictures – seeing features through from beginning to end.
Where have you worked previously, and how did you end up in your current position?
I worked at Wessex Features (mainly finding and writing real-life stories for national mags and newspapers), then Full House magazine as a features writer, followed by Love It! magazine where I did real life stories, hard-hitting news reports and celeb interviews. I was approached for the take5 job (I started as deputy editor) while I was working at Love It!, because an ex-boss had recommended me.
Do you Twitter? Why, why not?
A little – I’m trying to acquire the habit!
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
I can’t think of a specific nugget of advice, but I’ve picked up lots of tips just from observing people at all levels – whether it’s what to do or what not to do! Trusting your instincts is crucial, and not being lazy – if you think there might be more to a story, do everything you can to get it. Don’t wait for your boss to pick you up on it later on.
What media do you seek out 1st thing in the morning?
I read whatever I can – Metro, Guardian, Mail Online, and the Daily Star.
If you could time travel what time would you go to?
A month ago when I was in Mexico! Or the 1980s, when women fought to work shoulder to shoulder (pad) with men at the top of their professions.