Video Interview with Catherine Haughney, editor of Reader’s Digest

Today, editor Catherine Haughney introduces a classic magazine that probably needs no introduction (seeing as it celebrated its 75th anniversary this year)  Reader's Digest

Tell us about Reader's Digest…

We’re a monthly magazine, general interest, for people who are aged 50+. We have a huge variety of topics in the magazine every month, as well as the features we’ve become famous for over the years. We were first published in 1938 in the UK, so we’ve been going for 75 years. The most famous features that everyone associates with Reader’s Digest are 'Word Power', ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’, and a feature called ‘You Couldn’t Make It Up’, which is all jokes and true stories about everyday life.

How do you decide the content?

We talk as a team, every month. Obviously, we’re trying to make sure we get the variety. The most important thing about our readers is that they love general interest, so we try to get as much variety as possible. We make sure we don’t have too many stories that are too sad, or too happy, or too much about health, or not enough about ordinary people doing amazing things – we make sure we balance all that out.

Do you work to a features list?

We do have a list that we use, but it changes so much that we don’t issue it as a full forward features list, because we’d have to spend so much time amending it, and telling people that we’re not running a particular feature anymore. So we’ve got an idea of what’s coming up, but it’s not set in stone.

What do you think makes Reader’s Digest so successful?

I think we’re successful because we’ve stayed fairly true to what we are; we are general interest and the whole thing about variety – that is really important to our readers, they just love that. I guess it’s a bit like being at a good party and talking to a whole bunch of different people, all of whom are interesting all in their own different ways, and going through our magazine, that’s what it’s like. Interesting things, from all over the place. And you do find yourself – I do it all of the time – quoting from bits that you’ve read, yourself, when you’re out and about. And people always say to me, how come you know that? And I say that we’ve had it in the magazine.

Do you work with freelance journalists?

We do work with freelancers, and we have people that we work with. In terms of pitching ideas, it’s best if it’s very clear that you’ve read the magazine and that you’re clear on how the idea you’re pitching would fit in the magazine – that’s the most important thing. In terms of pitches, just being really clear and concise, and hook us in as well – give us something interesting about your pitch, that makes us think we really want to find out more about this. Because that’s exactly the experience the reader will have, when they come to reading the story.

What sort of stories do you hope to feature?

What we’re looking for would be what we call ‘heart stories’, so a 'heart story' is, as is sounds, about an emotional thing that has happened to somebody, so they might have had some tragedy in their life that they have to overcome in some way. Or something that happens to someone you know, or someone who does an amazing thing. Something that gets you right there [*gestures to heart*]. Those are the short of stories we’re always looking for, because to tell the story well can be quite hard sometimes. And there has to be enough in it for a six or seven page feature for us.

Do you work with PRs?

Yes, we do. Because we’re general interest, we do cover a lot of topics. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big or small agency, but what does matter is that the information they give to us matches the kind of thing we’re looking for in the magazine. So, for instance, we have a gadgets column in the front of the magazine, which can feature anything from a potato peeler to a computer app, so that would be an area where we’re looking to find out what’s new and what’s happening. We’re always interested in what’s happening in the health field, and we’ve done worked with some really good PRs in charity; Comic Relief and UNICEF. We did a really great piece on Malaria with UNICEF and that worked really brilliantly.

Can you describe a typical day at work?

A typical day at work is pretty full on; from when I come in, to the moment I leave, there’s something to be done. You’ve got meetings, you’re talking to people, you can never quite escape from your email inbox. You’ll be talking to designers on the magazine, any and all of the staff, ad sales people, marketing. There’s always something going on. That’s a really good part of this job, you’re involved with so much of it.

What interests you most about your job?

The best thing about this job, I think, is having an overview. It’s seeing all of the pieces coming together. It’s that feeling of, at the start of the month you have nothing, you have some ideas and you might have some stories coming through, but by the end of the month you’ve got a magazine, and that’s a really great thing. Because the magazine is printed and comes into the office, it’s something that you can get a hold of and think, yes, we’ve done this.

And you can get a hold of the Reader's Digest team on Twitter @rdigest.

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