EDvice: Scoop on celebrity news with Kelly Marages

Kelly Marages of Us Weekly

Ed knows you pile your plate high and may not be able to see every speaker he brings to campus, so he’s going to make this easy. Every week this semester, he’s looking to treat you to a juicy Q&A session with an editor– delivered straight to your computer. Keep checking back to the website for his latest guest speaker and the newest piece of advice.

Getting the scoop is nothing new for Kelly Marages of Us Weekly. She has worked (freelance writing, permalancing, and holding editorial positions) at magazines including Marie Claire, Men’s Health, Organic Style, nymag.com, and more. Now, this seasoned magazine aficionado dishes on how she got started and what you need to work in the fast-paced world of celebrity news.

ED: How did you get your foot in the door in the magazine industry?

KM: I was somewhat inventive getting my foot in the door. It goes against conventional wisdom, but I never did an internship in the city—or even applied for one. I didn’t feel like I could really afford one. (I did a small internship two days a week the summer before senior year at Connecticut Magazine, which left me five days a week for a paying job.) So the summer after college, I moved back to my parents’ and worked three jobs to save up money, all the while trying to make contacts on email.

ED: What happened when you finally moved into the city?

KM: The fall after graduation I moved without a job and (cliche alert) really pounded the pavement: following up on my summer emails, going on any interview I could get (HR, informational, job, other), emailing anyone new I could (contacts through Syracuse, aunts and uncles of kids I taught swim lessons to, friends of friends, whoever). I applied to Starbucks and a temp agency that had some editorial clients. I quit Starbucks the day it conflicted with wrapping Christmas presents at GQ.

I thought I could infiltrate the Conde Nast building, and I kind of did. A few weeks later, I got a temp job working in sales at Men’s Health. Steady gig AND in an editorial building—score! Basically, I roamed the floors and talked to editors on my breaks. I ended up getting a permalance gig that way at (the now defunct) Organic Style. This whole time I was interviewing for EA jobs everywhere. It always seemed I’d make it to the final round and never get picked.

In the end, I got my first full time job as an EA at Marie Claire a year after I graduated. They had just hired a new executive editor, who had happened to teach me a writing class when I studied abroad in London. Luckily, I had kept in touch. I called her one day out of the blue for advice on some other permalance thing and she told me not to take it, to come in and interview with her instead; she needed an assistant. I ended up being that assistant.

ED: For some niches (like health and business journalism), a minor or in nutrition or management looks great on a resume. What sort of experience would you recommend for a student wanting to get into celebrity journalism?

KM: There aren’t any minors offered in celebrity because, well, there’s no real expertise needed. Which is great, and also bad since it’s hard to set yourself apart. You just need to follow it and know as much about it as the next person. Read all the entertainment websites you can, watch movies, read books, listen to the music you like, read Us Weekly every week (go ahead and leave People, In Touch, Star, and Life & Style on the shelf). And of course, good writing trumps all; don’t lose sight of that. You can ALWAYS set yourself apart with writing skills and ideas, at least once you’re in. The good news is, at a lot of magazines, reviews and various entertainment pieces are small — a great place to try to break in, and a great place to show off your voice. Plus, there are so many websites you can write for, meaning there are tons of opportunities to collect clips.

For the strictly celebrity aspect of it (not just entertainment), places like Us Weekly hire a decent number of stringers. Meaning, we need people to work carpets all the time and ask celebs (or “celebs”) questions. It’s paid work, and the more you have contact with people on the inside, the better. One of our current EAs started as a stringer for Us. Now he’s up to writing and editing a couple of pages an issue.

Disclaimer: You can still make fun of celebrity culture/look at the larger ramifications of the celebrity machine and work at one of these publications. Depending on your role there, you don’t have to watch every episode of the various Kardashian and Real Housewives series, but you should have a working knowledge and be ready to take it seriously. And it’s hard work to create somewhat fluffy material; don’t think other people in the industry don’t realize that. Let the person you’re interviewing with know you know that. People at ALL mags can be prickly about their subject matter. A lot of editors think they’re rocket scientists. But no matter their disposition, I’ve found every editor is looking for someone who can be passionate about the material.

ED: How does the environment at Us Weekly differ from that of a monthly magazine like Marie Claire, where you mentioned you co-edited entertainment?

KM: Basically, every magazine office is a certain kind of crazy. You have to decide what kind of crazy works for you and go for it. When working at a weekly, you have to be able to Get.  Stuff. Done. It’s the best training for editing quickly and making fast decisions. And it’s like dog years. Work at a weekly for six months, and it’s kind of the equivalent of working at a monthly for two years — same number of issues. Then again, at a monthly, there’s more opportunity to mull things over, plan ahead a little more, put together bigger packages, work with freelance writers, craft the perfect graph. Starting at monthlies  really helped me see a bigger picture in some ways. I’d also love to apply everything I’ve learned at a weekly to a monthly. In an ideal world, I think every editor should have weekly and monthly experience. And web, but now I’m just getting greedy.

ED: After reading your piece for the Washington Post a couple of years ago about frugal chic, what advice do you have now for someone moving to New York City over the summer to save money while working unpaid or at beginning salaries?

KM: Save up all the money you can before you move there. Pack your lunch most days. And your breakfast. And your coffee. Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem cool; I’ve found higher-ups generally look kindly upon it… and wish they weren’t too lazy to do it too (again, generally)… or get nostalgic for the times they did have to do it (it’s weird, but true, I’ve found). See if you can pick up a tiny freelance gig on the side for a couple of hundred extra dollars a month, or start your own website and see where it goes. Also, get a roommate or two. And live in Queens.

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