User-Generated Everything

A venerable women’s magazine is relying more on its readers to become its writers.

The Ladies Home Journal, which dates to 1883, is now going to use content provided by its readers, rather than relying on professional writers for its articles. The magazine, according to an article about this new direction will cast a net wider than its own website to seek content. The message: please contribute. Please be real.

This is an interesting development for a magazine that’s 128 years old. It’s also a sign that the magazine knew it needed to adapt to a changing world. But for writers who have embarked on building a platform, and by that who’ve started to engage with an audience, this is a way of creating content that will come as no surprise.

When you engage with your audience – that is to say, when you have a virtual dialogue with the people who follow what you write on your blog or through your network of social media contacts – then you’ll further refine your message. The user-generated content here isn’t something that others have written, but ideas of yours that others will help you clarify.

What The Ladies Home Journal is doing is seeking to engage its readers in that platform-building way, but also to provide them with the voice they already possess. In other words, readers want what they’re not getting from some magazines: authenticity.

Diane Malloy, publisher of The Ladies Home Journal, said that the magazine decided to take this new tack after research showed that “the magazine’s readers wanted more of their voices reflected in the content and to feel as if they belonged to a community,” according to the article. “It is reflective of real life,” Ms. Malloy is quoted as saying. “When you have a health issue or a sticky situation, you are likely to reach out to your community….”

In other words, perhaps readers have become less interested in what editors at the magazine considered to be worthwhile topics. This can happen – at newspapers and magazines, editors are often seriously out of touch with the reality of the people they’re supposed to be serving.

A joke in the newsroom at the paper where I worked used to be that what editors considered a trend was something they’d overheard at a dinner party – editors would often ask reporters to spend time following up on something just because a neighbor mentioned it. This sometimes resulted in stories that were less topical than manufactured – trends that were deemed so because a reporter managed to find three people who could comment on something that could be assembled into an article.

Editors will still choose the content at the magazine, but it’s perhaps more likely that what runs in The Ladies Home Journal will reflect what’s on the minds of the ladies at home than those at the Journal.

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