This is the first installment of our monthly Alumni Interview Series and it is our pleasure to introduce you to Christine Ford, Product Manager for the New York Stock Exchange. Ms. Ford has a wealth of experience as both a magazine editor and in product management for online content. Her innovative approach to technology and publishing has served her well and her insights on the state of the industry, trends and technology are interesting and valuable.
If you are an alumni and would like to be interviewed or, if you would like to suggest alumni for future interviews, please email Professor Jane Denning at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include all of the relevant contact information.
Prof. Denning: What year did you get your MS in Publishing Degree and what was the work environment like then (in terms of job opportunities) as opposed to now?
Ms. Ford: I graduated from the program in 2000 but actually took most of my courses in 1996-97. When I first started the market was tough as it was just coming out of a recession. By the time I completed my Master’s we had gone through the dot-com bubble craze and the economy was again on the down-swing. During the dot com period I had only had my thesis left to do but I was so busy launching websites I had a tough time just finishing it up. But in the end I finally did it!
Prof. Denning: What was the topic of your thesis paper? What advice would you give to students who are just beginning to research and write their thesis papers?
Ms. Ford: Mine was a book proposal for a technical book publisher that I was working for at the time. It seems so dated now. It was about how to use WinFax Pro, Microsoft Office to be your complete business marketing center. As for advice to students; write about something fun and relevant that you can really sink your teeth into. That will give you more incentive to continue working on it.
Prof. Denning: Please tell me a bit about your educational experience at Pace.
Ms. Ford: I was fortunate to have a graduate assistantship working at Pace University Press. I worked with Dr. Hussey during the day and then went uptown to the mid-town center for my classes at night. It had just opened. I don’t know if there was one class in particular that stood out over the others but, I was interested in magazines so all the magazine classes meant a lot to me. The magazine production course was valuable to me. It helped me learn how to use track changes in word and I remember that well. I’ve seen it used a lot now in the industry.
Prof. Denning: Were there any faculty that you considered to be mentors to you?
Ms. Ford: Dr. Hussey was definitely a mentor since I spent quite a bit of time with him and, Prof. Alan Rabinowitz—he tried very hard to squeeze math and finance into my English major brain. I remember saying to him that I didn’t really ever use this type of information as an editor. Then when I became managing editor and had to do my first P&L report I told him, you win! I was wrong, you were right. I have had to use a lot of the finance information he taught me. Prof. Rabinowitz also taught us how to read investor reports, which comes in handy when you are trying to decide if the company that’s offered you a job has staying power.
Prof. Denning: Do you stay in touch with any of your fellow classmates?
Ms. Ford: Yes. I am still very good friends with Rachel Cohen, the Editorial Director for LifeTimeTV.com.
Prof. Denning: What have you been doing since you graduated?
Ms. Ford: I’ve been into everything. I went online in 2000 and helped launch a few sites, including modernbride.com—it’s now rolled into Brides. When the bubble burst I went back into print and was Managing Editor for Working Mother Magazine where I oversaw the production of Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers. I then took a few years off and freelanced, then went back to online. I took an editing job with Kaboose.com and ended up a product person and community director. I helped develop a suite of playgroup organizer tools for mommyandme.com and Kaboose.com. Disney bought Kaboose and I became a part of the Disney Interactive Media Group. I then accepted a position as a Senior Product Manager at EverydayHealth, Inc and will be starting a new position in the coming weeks as a Product Manager for the New York Stock Exchange.
Prof. Denning: What were your responsibilities at Everyday Health?
Ms. Ford: As the Director of Community for all of Everyday Health properties, I did product development for them as well as for other properties. I helped redesign the interactive My Calorie Counter tool that lets you keep track of your food and how many calories you’ve consumed or burned off during the day.
Prof. Denning: How has the industry changed since you began your career?
Ms. Ford: The internet was just getting rolling when I started. It’s changed tremendously. No more of the genteel magazine world where the media kept the published word under lock and key and you needed to pay your dues to get published. Blogs and websites leveled the playing field in a whole new way. It’s good and bad. It put a lot of bad, unvetted information out there and destroyed the value of the written word, but on the other hand, it brought social networking to be, and brought more players to the table. It’s also brought to light some really interesting, relevant voices that might have been able to before. Now the publishing industry is struggling how to stay relevant and on top of the story and still make money. There are definitely ways for them to do it. They just have to embrace change and think of things like ebooks for example, as not spin offs of a book, but it’s own product. Mobile and web should be given an equal level of attention as print.
Prof. Denning: What advice would you offer our current students—specifically if they want a career in magazine publishing?
Ms. Ford: They need to understand the online world, mobile apps and all kinds of digital media. Magazines are not just print anymore, they cross all the borders. Even the editor in chief can be called in to oversee the website or mobile app. They also need to understand how to write for online, how important SEO is and how to use analytics tools like Omniture and Google Analytics.
Prof. Denning: What types of courses in the MS in Publishing curriculum do you think are essential for our students to take? What kind of new courses would you like to see added to the curriculum?
I think students need to understand product management, user experience, project management methodologies, how to work with software developers, website design and development. I think they should also address the reality of demand driven copy, black, gray and white hat SEO and more. All of the basic classes are useful as long as they are current on what is actually happening in the industry.
Prof. Denning: What do you think the biggest trends in magazine publishing are now?
Ms. Ford: Going mobile, figuring out how to integrate the e-readers into their revenue plans, how to create apps, and sites that integrate with their magazines, how to integrate social networking. Understanding Facebook open graph is also important as it’s going to get bigger as time goes on.
Prof. Denning: Which technological innovations are having the biggest impact on the magazine publishing industry today?
Ms. Ford: Mobile, ereaders, ipads, tablets, droids. I’m technically not in the print magazine publishing industry but that’s what I’m seeing from my friends in the biz. I don’t think of publishing as print anymore. It’s media in all forms.
Prof. Denning: Would you like to speculate on the future of magazines?
Ms. Ford: I think there will always be a place in print but the ereaders for the Ipad and other tablets will get more advanced and you’ll see all kinds of media embedded into an issue. You’ll see magazines and books exclusively in digital form.
Think of Harry Potter’s newspapers and how they’d have interactive elements to them. I don’t see that being so far out. The landscape is also changed with social networking. No longer are the big publishing houses the purveyors of information. It can be anyone. And instead of a complicated mathematical algorithm to figure out what people are looking for, companies like FaceBook are going to use real people who like and recommend things, to let others know what’s hot.
So publishing houses have to figure out where they fit, how they can play a role and stay relevant. Their content is vetted and curated and that’s an important distinction. They can also go over the controversial stories since they have a legal department to defend them. Many small bloggers have to worry about being sent to the cleaners because of lawsuits over what they say and publish.
Prof Denning: What are the essential skills you think students need to leave the program with in order to succeed in the industry?
Ms. Ford: Understanding how to think on their feet, accepting change, being autonomous and never sitting back and just letting the industry happen. You always have to see the next big thing coming. The core values of publishing and what it means to put out a good product. They have to have a good understanding of technology and user experience. Analytics is huge. Business intelligence in mobile and online is exceedingly important. You can’t make decisions on what you can’t measure.
Prof Denning: Any other advice you would like to offer up to our students?
Ms. Ford: Read the human interface guidelines from Apple if you are at all interested in the digitial side of things. People don’t realize how print magazine editors have the perfect set of skills to put together great digital products. Everything thinks you have to be a software developer first. So not true. But we have to start thinking of the digital product person, or media person as a proper profession within publishing and give it equal weight to editors. Media types also have to understand how to work with software development. Think of them as your new production department.
Prof. Denning: Would you be interested in doing a guest lecture or teaching a course in the program?
Ms. Ford: I would be happy to guest lecture. I would love to talk about how magazine, publishing and media people can help develop products that off-set magazines and media websites. I would be happy to explain the role of product manager and how that fits in with publishing. There are very specific things you need to know to do this line of work. And if you think that product development has nothing to do with publishing, tell that to Hearst Digital or the head of product at Conde Nast who oversees sites like vanityfair.com, GQ and Gourmet. Or Disney Interactive that puts out digital books online for kids to read.
Prof. Denning: I know you are a working Mom and that you have a young daughter who, from what I understand, loves your iPad?
Ms. Ford: Yes, a little too much. We had the misfortune of succumbing to predatory in app purchasing taking advantage of wee ones. We downloaded the free app for creating a Smurf village. She played with it on a long car ride and when we got home we opened our email to discover around $250 in “smurfberry” purchases. That would be the “cash” that you can use to buy virtual bling to buy for your smurfs. They even had the nerve to tell us if we turned the game off we’d lose all our smurfberries. Imagine putting the opportunity for kids to buy a $70 wheelbarrowful of smurfberries in a free app! Companies like that ruin it for other app developers because after we took care of it, we made sure to turn off the app purchases for all of our apps right away.
Prof. Denning: Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. Do you have any parting words or advice for our students who are embarking upon their publishing careers in this economy and during this era of rapid technological innovation?
Ms. Ford: Like I said, embrace change, keep reading and learning, look for industry trends and take jobs that make you stretch and learn. Don’t be afraid that everyone else knows more about the topic than you do. Just trust in yourself and your skills and you’ll flourish!
Prof. Denning: Thanks Christine!