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How Magazines are Pivoting During a Pandemic

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In mid-March, as we were all discovering just how widespread COVID-19 was, I was in the midst of producing two different lifestyle magazines. One was a startup I’ve talked about before on The Muffin.  

As an editor, I don’t think I had realized just how heavily we relied on local events and movers and shakers in the community until all of our content prospects started to fizzle. How do you produce a “Wine and Dine” section when bars and restaurants are only offering take-out, if they’re open at all? How do you cover a nonprofit benefit when it has to be rescheduled? How do you put together a calendar of events when nothing is happening?


For the May issue of one of the magazines, CURRENTS, we did a community-focused issue where the publisher wanted to produce at cost and run ads for the small businesses that support us for free. It seemed like a great idea at the time, except I had no budget to hire any writers. I found myself researching and writing stories of how the community was pulling together and shifting their business models to stay afloat, all while relying on whatever photos I could take myself or that were provided. It was hard, but I kept telling myself that at least I still had a job.


For the next issue, we tried to do a theme that we could still sell around, which was “Classic Cars.” Again, we had to get creative with the stories, and the dining section still looked a little different, but we were still maintaining a presence in the community. 


For July, we created our annual pet issue, which was a great way to get our minds off the shelter-at-home orders. Who doesn’t love cute photos of animals? It also provided more sales leverage because people were still taking their pets to veterinarians and dog boutiques and grooming services.


August is normally our back-to-school issue. Again, that looked a lot different because most of our public schools in the area (North Carolina) are not returning to school in person full-time just yet. Instead, I planned content around what schools were doing, ran a profile of a local tutoring service, a nearby “glamping” resort where people could get away, a teacher who authored a children’s picture book and a nonprofit that provides laptops to families who can’t afford to pay full price for them.


As I write this, I’m editing articles for our September issue, which is focused on the arts. The arts in our area have suffered. I’m interviewing the local organizations on how they’ve had to cancel their programming, offer virtual performances and gathering what types of art work have been created by local artists and artisans.


Again, I still feel fortunate to have a job. Both magazines are still being produced and I only had one month where I couldn’t pay writers for one magazine and had to fly virtually solo. Writers have been grateful for the work, and I feel like we’ve all become stronger and more creative individuals during this crazy time.


How have you had to pivot your career or writing during the pandemic? Have you been inspired to write about the process?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.

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