Maghan McDowell



University of Florida - Bachelor’s Degree, Magazine Journalism

Not only is Maghan McDowell one of the most fashionable girls around, but she’s pursued her dream of working in the magazine industry without abandon. During college she freelanced for more than six publications, including Business Week and COED. And did I mention she had five internships by the time she graduated? Let’s just say she knew a thing (or two) about advertising, public relations and the inner-workings of the fashion closets at two of Hearst’s major women’s magazines. She currently serves as the executive editor of INsite magazine, as managing editor of the Gainesville Business Report, as well as executive editor of Welcome magazine. Oh and if that doesn’t seem like a enough for a girl’s plate, she also freelances, practices her Italian in the car, enjoys her workouts and dreams of one day opening a cupcake shop. Our guess is she can surpass Magnolia any day …

Make yourself invaluable to your boss by putting yourself in their position and thinking ahead.

Have you always been drawn to journalism? What inspired you to pursue magazines?

Yes! I grew up without TV at home, so magazines and books for me where like a fairytale land. I started with Highlights, then moved on to Seventeen and then, naturally, to Vogue, which is where I really learned about fashion. I’ve always had tons of diverse interests, been a very visual person and loved reading, so working in magazines was a natural fit. It always has been a dream and love I can’t shake.

What has been your path so far to get you where you are today?

It has been pretty convoluted and full of lucky chances! After intensely studying ballet in school (and moving around quite a bit), I spent a year in the Czech Republic between high school and college, which made me more self-reliant and heightened my love of architecture and history. And then my stint at Savannah College of Art & Design catered to fashion and art, but I really didn’t want to be a designer. While at the University of Florida, I freelanced, wrote and interned for lots of places and worked in both fashion and editorial before I was offered a job in -- ironically -- the town in which I was born, doing all that and more!

Was there any one person or situation that helped you along your career journey?

Yes. Professor Ted Spiker, who is a rock star in the health and fitness writing field, was invaluable. Throughout college, he offered tireless, real-world advice, and then, of all things, he ended up getting me my job. It turns out his neighbor, a former colleague at Rodale, was a local publisher looking to fill a position. I also really credit, for the advice, internships and scholarship. More on that story here.

Tell us what an executive editor does.

That can be hard to define, simply because it’s different at every magazine. For our magazine, which has a relatively small staff, it would be easier to name what I don’t do. In general, I am in charge of the editorial department of the magazine, and am the “face” of the magazine, in a way. So, I recruit and hire editorial staff; I coordinate all the stories, from concept to final layout and all that happens in between; I work with other department heads, like the art director, publisher and advertising director, to consistently promote and improve the magazine, and to make sure readers and advertisers are satisfied.

What is your favorite part of the magazine production process?

I love seeing the final product. I still get excited when the fresh, new magazines are delivered, and read it as if seeing it for the first time -- just like every day when I get home and see a new magazine in my mailbox.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far in your job?

I think the most exciting thing has been really embracing the whole three-dimensional social media aspect, even though I don’t consider myself an early-adopter or very tech-savvy. When I started three years ago, we were a print magazine with a very rudimentary website that simply had the PDF of the magazine. Now, we have a fully operational website, a very active Twitter account, and of course, we integrate everything with Facebook and the print version. I also sort of increased the magazine’s localized content, so, for example, we now shoot half of our covers in-house, rather than using stock celebrity images.

What has been your favorite story or feature you’ve worked on?

That’s hard to say -- probably whatever the most recent one is! However, every year we do a huge package on the most interesting people in town. That is truly a beast to put together, but the stories and photos always turn out really well, and we feature such a wide range of amazing people that many might not get a chance to meet.

And, I always love the fashion features and photo shoots -- again, only after they are done. We did one on using a simple black dress seven ways. It was such a simple concept and shot in the studio, but I liked it a lot. (Maybe because it wasn’t as much of a headache as the location shoots!)

What is the dreamiest part of your job?

I’m lucky because I’m invited to a lot of really cool events, often for free. Now, obviously I don’t abuse this at all, but I love having access to such neat events and meet people who normally probably wouldn’t give me much notice. Being the “editor of a magazine” has an attention-grabbing ring to it, especially in a smaller town.

What is the most challenging part?

The budget. And the turnover, because many of our editorial staffers are students, so I’m constantly re-hiring, re-training, etc. Personally and in the big-picture, I struggle with constantly staying motivated and fresh. Sometimes it’s tempting to sit back and let “cruise control” take over, which I allow myself to do occasionally; but if you do that for too long, you’ll never catch up with everyone else who’s racing to get ahead.

What is one lesson you’ve learned in your job that sticks with you?

That’s tough. One thing I always try to keep in mind is separating my personal life from my professional life, which is something that I’ve maintained since day one, almost, perhaps, to a fault. It’s hard, because a lot of my job involves socializing and being at clubs and stuff, so I’ve actually had to work on loosening up and letting my “real” personality out. But I still have two Facebook accounts. I also often struggle with compromising my “vision” for what is best overall for the company (and for my sanity), and learning to let minor hiccups go. Most things, really, are not that big of a deal. And, finally, I try to be a good boss. It’s hard to find a balance between being strict and being well-liked. I couldn’t go to work knowing my interns secretly were scared of me or hated me, but I still want to command respect and get things done. I also have learned that not everyone works the same way as me or has the same work ethic.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly for women in the magazine industry?

In this industry, I think it’s the competition. More women than ever (and more women than men, I’d argue) want to be a magazine editor, partly due, I’m sure, to the recent TV shows, books and movies that glamorize the industry -- which, I agree, is fascinating! At the same time, where formerly the field might have been a bit mysterious and tight-knit, the path to the top has become more transparent. Finally, the shift to online media and less traditional forms of advertising means smaller budgets, and thus fewer positions available. It’s no longer enough to have two or even three internships when you graduate. In what other industry do you have to work for free? For women, in any industry, I’ve read a lot about two ongoing issues: one, being assertive without being a “bitch;” and two, the great seesaw of “having it all.” I once heard a talk by Hearst Magazines President Cathie Black, and someone asked if it was possible. She answered, frankly, that it was not. Something had to be sacrificed. I agree, and I don’t even have children yet. Of course, men juggle multiple factors as well, but I still think most of the household responsibilities fall on the woman, which is not necessarily wrong, but a challenge nonetheless. I am thankful that there are multiple options these days, when it comes to life path and family vs. work.

Is there a quote or mantra that you live by?

Nothing is constant but change. And never give up.

What advice do you have for girls who want to work in your industry?

Create opportunities for yourself -- they won’t come to you. Work for free. Make yourself invaluable to your boss by putting yourself in their position and thinking ahead. Accept the stuff that no one else wants to, and open your mind to various “when I grow up” scenarios, because it will likely change. Then, when you think you’re working hard, work harder. And spell everyone’s name correctly. It will pay off.