Carla Jean Whitley knew she wanted a career in magazines when she was only 10 years old. But she started her journalism career in newspapers, working at The Tuscaloosa News, The Cullman Times, and The Birmingham News – all Alabama-based publications.
“I can’t say enough about how valuable my newspaper experience was,” Whitley says. “I had a chance to write, copy edit, line edit and design.
Still her magazine dreams were alive and well.
“When I heard there was an editorial opening at Birmingham magazine, I compiled my materials in 10 minutes flat,” she says. “I had interned at the magazine, and in the process I fell in love with city and regional titles. I always thought, ‘If I could get THAT job, I’d be set!’”
Whitley’s first day as associate editor of Birmingham magazine was Dec. 1, 2006, and she became managing editor on July 9, 2009.
“As I approach the seven-year mark at the magazine, I am so lucky to say that I’m working in my dream job,” Whitley says.
We talked to Whitley about her thoughts on the future of journalism, on her plans to write a book, and much more.
SJW: Why do you think Birmingham magazine continues to survive at a time when many print publications are folding?
Whitley: We’ve got nearly 52 years of history on our side. The magazine was launched in December 1961 by the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (now the Birmingham Business Alliance), and over time grew into the consumer publication it is today. However, I don’t think success is all about that longevity. The magazine has evolved with the community, and we constantly work to ensure our coverage reflects the metropolitan area we cover.
City and regional magazines have also been something of an anomaly during trying times. Although no publication is immune to economic and industry changes, these types of titles have held strong across the nation. Perhaps it’s because we offer readers an intimate experience with the cities they call home. In any case, I’m grateful to be part of it.
Why do you still believe in journalism despite the state of the industry?
I believe journalism is a changing—certainly not a dying—industry. And while the pace of that change seems to have accelerated in recent years, I don’t think change itself is new. Heck, I remember designing pages by hand and marking photo crops with wax pencil when I was a high-school yearbook editor! And of course, that’s all digital these days.
But at its heart, I believe journalism is storytelling. Stories, whether fiction or nonfiction, news or features, bring us closer to other people. They give us insight into our communities and neighbors. Stories shed light on government activity and on opportunity for improvement in any realm.
Speaking of stories, we heard you recently landed a book deal. Tell me more!
Several months ago a reputable independent publisher contacted me about the possibility of writing a book. I was flabbergasted. Who doesn’t want to receive that email?! We began a conversation about what might appeal to me and their demographic. They focus on historical books, and I was kicking around ideas with the Alabama editor. We landed on an Alabama music-oriented topic, and now things are off and running.
I have begun research for the book, and will begin interviews this month. It will be a fairly quick turnaround; my manuscript is due in April, and the book is scheduled to be on shelves in July. Right now, I’ve set aside a few hours every Tuesday night for book work, but I expect the pace to increase over time. The first step is breaking through the mental block of “oh my gosh, I have to write a book!” I think I have done that and am now in the “let’s get ‘er done!” phase. I’m looking at the project as 13 feature stories rather than a book. I know how to write a feature; writing a book is overwhelming!
It’s also quite a juggling task. I’ve got my full-time work at Birmingham magazine, of course, and that takes center stage in my writing life. But I also freelance a bit and teach at the university level. And then there’s my non-writing life! This fall is going to be a balancing act, but I’m excited about all that awaits.
(Whitley will be documenting her writing and publishing adventures at PostScript, the blog of Birmingham-area shop Church Street Coffee and Books.)
What advice would you give to a woman hoping to have success in the magazine business?
Start writing! Seek every opportunity you can for improvement. And reach out to the editors you would like to work with. I’m always happy to grab coffee with a potential freelancer or someone who is hunting for a job, whether we have an opening or not—and we typically do not. There is so much wisdom to be gained by merely talking to people whose careers you admire, and most people I know offer that help freely.
Yes, that does mean you can ask me out to coffee. My email is cwhitley@Bhammag.com, and I’m usually fairly flexible!
You can meet Carla Jean Whitley and other editors of Birmingham-based publications at the See Jane Write Meet the Press Media Mixer presented by Hamer Law Group. This is an invitation-only event. Invitations will be extended to See Jane Write members, See Jane Write Magazine contributors, and See Jane Write sponsors. Click here for more information on joining See Jane Write. If you’re interested in being a See Jane Write sponsor email email@example.com.
Originally published at SeeJaneWriteMagazine.com.