Focus on The National Trust Magazine with editor Sue Herdman

This week we catch up with Sue Herdman, editor of The National Trust Magazine.

About the publication:

What subjects do you cover? What stories are you most interested in covering?
Subjects covered range from interiors to gardens, food, British travel, environment, celebrity, wildlife, current affairs, opinion pieces, people (NT), film set behind-the-scenes, news, and more. We cover stories that are, obviously, about the National Trust but also topics that, if you were a member of the NT you’d be interested in too. I’m always looking for big stories that can also have an NT take on them. So we might take a topic such as, say, slavery (as we did when there was an anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic trade in slavery in 2007), commission a feature on the history of slavery and then tie the story in with Trust-wide slants (many NT cared-for 18th-century mansions were built on sugar money). The Olympics will be something I’ll also be very interested in – like most other editors.

What makes you different from the other outlets in your sector?
Well, our readership figures are pretty impressive… we currently have the sixth highest magazine circulation in the UK with 3.88 million readers. Otherwise, as with all ‘customer’ or ‘member’ magazines, my aim is to create a magazine that inspires and informs our readers about the work and world of the body the publication represents.

How do you decide the content, front covers and headlines?
Content: planning ahead, by months and aiming to second-guess what the hot topics will be six-months/a years’ time.
Front covers: we don’t sell in high street newsagents as we mainly direct mail, but the same rules apply as for those titles on sale on the shelves: I’m after a cover that grabs attention and gives a true feel for what lies inside.
Headlines: as with most, you hope for a light bulb moment… and you have to admire the headline writers on the Red Tops.

Do you produce a features list?
No – haven’t felt the need.

Do you use freelance contributions, and if so, are they for any particular section/type of work?
Yes, usually highly respected writers who have a real expertise on the topic for which they have been asked to write. I think long and hard about whom I’m going to approach…

About you and freelance journalists:

Do you like freelance journalists to get in touch with you directly to pitch ideas? And if so, how?
I always welcome approaches, ideally by email.

Name the three most important attributes that make a freelance journalist stand out for you and would make you use them again?
Fantastic writing skills, thorough checking of all facts before submission, can-do attitude.

About PRs:

Do you work closely with PRs (e.g. for supplements, round tables, events) or do you keep them at arm’s length?
Sometimes – but not a great deal. I can only suggest that they study the magazine for opportunities.

If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
It goes back to looking at the magazine…. and if we are working together, answering our emails and calls promptly!

How should a PR approach you about their client?
Email please.

What information/input from PRs is most useful to you?
Celebrity content is useful. We’re always looking for well-known names that would happy to be interviewed for the magazine, people who have colourful opinions about the NT (good and bad – we’re quite robust). We’ve interviewed everyone from Bill Bryson to Brian May, Maggi Hambling, Tim Smit, Kelly Holmes, Griff Rhys Jones…..

When is the best time for PRs to contact you & what is your deadline for contributions?
Anytime, but our lead-time is six months.

About you:

Describe a typical day at work: What are you editorial duties/responsibilities at the outlet?
Plates on poles, keeping the to-do list/email in-box from stealing my karma; rattling cages, chasing deadline-dodgers, gossiping with my team, sponging coffee out of the keyboard. That’s the first hour. No two days ever alike. That’s why we go into this profession…non? The rest of the time it’s about commissioning, editing, writing, directing photo-shoots, interviewing, working with our designers, gathering information, gleaning tales from the beautiful and unexpected properties under Trust care and guiding their stories to print.

What interests you most about your job?
The sheer diversity of inspiring topics we cover (every day is a learning curve); the creativity; the excitement of each new issue; the challenge of the chase (love that feeling when you’ve persuaded one of Britain’s top writers to do a special piece), supporting the work of the passionate people who work for the National Trust…

Where have you worked previously, and how did you end up in your current position?
Feature writer for broadsheets such as The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Guardian; then moved on to writing for magazines such as Country Life; followed this by taking on a Features Editor role at BBC Magazines, which was fantastic. I left there only because this job came up. I got here through focus and graft, luck and bluff.

Do you Twitter? Why, why not?
Use it or lose it – we Twitter (@NTMagazine) with the best of them and love it. We’re enjoying Facebook too. We get all sorts of snippets from our readers that way.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
A good journalist is an observer and then a communicator.

What media do you seek out 1st thing in the morning?
Behind the wheel: Radio – 4’s Today in the hope of catching another Naughtie spoonerism. Then flaky schmaltz alternative as a breather for when Humphrys is at his most riled.
On the train: Metro for free, Guardian and Times if I’ve factored in the detour to the newsagent, otherwise cheeky glance of someone else’s page. I’m not fussy.

If you could time travel what time would you go to?
I’m too greedy. I’d want every century. I’ll have to be satisfied with this one.

[lnk||_self|The National Trust Magazine]
[img|jpg|Sue Herdman]

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