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The Voices of Austin: Q&A with Austin Monthly

POSTED BY prbythebook ON October 22, 2014

austin-Monthly-Logo-Black-442x156By Alessandra Wike, @alessandrawike

The people of Austin love to make their voices heard. From activist to musician, foodie to wine connoisseur, the voices of Austin are a force to be reckoned with. Talented, hard-working and unceasingly creative, the media of Austin works to recognize the accomplishments, oddities and dreams of our unique city. PR by the Book has begun talking to Austin’s awesome local media to find out what goes on behind the scenes at these important organizations.

Over the past few years, Austin Monthly Magazine has experienced phenomenal growth in recognition. Helping the magazine through it all is Editor-in-Chief Erin Quinn-Kong, who’s been with the magazine for almost five years. Erin kindly took the time out of her busy schedule to talk with me about her career at Austin Monthly. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation:

PRBTB: What does a typical day look like for you?

Erin: At Austin Monthly, we work in four week cycles. So, my day depends on the week. We just shipped our October issue last week, so this is week one of November. This week, I have tons of meetings, planning November photoshoots and finalizing everything. November text is coming in, and I have to make sure to assign December text. It’s a really busy week. We also do an ideas meeting for the January issue. We work on three issues at all times, meeting and planning and assigning. Next week is editing issue A (right now that’s November). We call the issues we’re working on A, B and C respectively. Week three I’ll look at layouts, make sure the design is good and see that photos come in. That’s the week when text is finalized. Week four is shipping week/production. We have a  proofreader come and read everything that the editors have finalized. I read everything twice before a proofreader sees it, and we try to find every error.

I’m usually in the office between 8:45 am and 9:00 am and leave at 6:15 pm. Some days I go to lunch with PR people or business owners. Sometimes I have events at night. My schedule really just varies by what’s going on.

PRBTB: Before you worked at Austin Monthly, what was your funniest/weirdest/most interesting  job you had?

Erin: I started working at 15. My first job ever was at a tree nursery. I worked as a gardener. I watered plants and was out in the sun eight hours a day. I really liked it because it was something new (and I got a tan!). My next job I was a Subway sandwich artist, then I worked at Panera Bread and Chili’s.  One summer when I was in college, I worked at Disney World in their college program. It was really fun.

PRBTB: What inspired you to become a journalist and work in the industry?

Erin: I took a journalism class in high school and loved it. I’ve always been an avid reader and that transformed into magazines when I got older. I figured, I can’t do yearbook in the real world, so how can I do this as a job? Which lead me to journalism. I’ve always preferred features rather than news, so magazines were a great fit.

PRBTB: You worked at a few big-name magazines before moving here, what’s the biggest difference from working there and working at Austin Monthly?

Erin: My first job ever was at Allure magazine, and then I went to US Weekly as a Staff Editor. The biggest difference there is they have a huge staff, so your job is really specialized. At Allure, I focused on celebrities and features and then got into fashion, and at US Weekly it was features. The editors edited, writers wrote and reporters reported and there was no cross over. Here we can have more flexibility. If someone has a great features story they want to pitch, they can write it. Here we do a little bit of everything. I think it keeps the job fresh.

PRBTB: At Austin Monthly, you obviously focus on Austin; what’s your favorite thing to cover about city?

Erin: I handle features, the bigger stories in the middle. I’m fascinated by all the new stuff going on. I’m also really into the food scene. But really, my specialty is Austin and anything going on. We’ve had the opportunity to talk about David Ash, and I learned a lot of stuff about football and injuries. It’s super fascinating. Especially because this national issue has come home and touched our personal football team.

Tomorrow we might be talking about restaurants, the next day ACL. I love the variety, and we get the opportunity to learn about all aspects of city.

PRBTB: What about personally? What do you love to do in Austin?

Erin: I moved from the midwest to New York City and from New York I moved to Austin. I loved New York, but I missed the outdoors and the ability to have a more balanced life. I really wanted a dog and dating in New York was hard. After I moved here, it took awhile but I got all those things checked off my list. When I first moved here, I found friends and we like to go to Alamo Drafthouse, walk around Lady Bird Lake, go to happy hours. I do a bootcamp once a week, too. I adopted a dog a few years ago, and I take her to Walnut Creek Park or to Zilker. And then I met a guy. I’m a newlywed, and we’re closing on a new house. A big part of my life right now has been transitioning. I still do all the stuff with my girlfriends like yoga and concerts, but I now have the added element of cool adult things in my life like planning a wedding and buying a house.

PRBTB: What are you most proud of about Austin Monthly?

Erin: I started at Austin Monthly five years ago. It was a good magazine, but a lot of people didn’t know about it and by then it was eight years old. The quality has increased every month. We get better and better, and in the last year and a half our readership has grown so much. We have tons of facts to back this up: Facebook conversations about our stories, e-mails about our AIDS feature, etc. People have begun conversations, suggesting maybe we should go into schools to talk about AIDS. We’re having more and more of an impact every day. It’s been a tidal wave. From 2012 to 2013 our readership went up 33% and our social media has blown up. Since we hired someone to do social media, it’s exploded. In May, we won General Excellence 1 at the City and Regional Magazine Association Awards. If you had told me five years ago what the magazine would become…I never realized we would be so recognized. It’s really neat to watch; we’ve come so far. We do the best every issue, and we keep getting better and refining our work. I can tell. Not only are people in the city noticing, but people outside of the city as well.

PRBTB: What’s a piece that you’ve written/edited that you were most excited about covering?

Erin: Every year there’s a big story that I get excited about. Last August, we published a piece about drunk driving that was pegged to the Rosemary Lehmberg arrest. I was proud of that piece last year. This year it’s the AIDS piece. Every year there’s one serious issue that stands out to me.

PRBTB: Do y’all have any fun/quirky office traditions that you would like to share?

Erin: In the office, we celebrate birthdays once a month and decorate offices with balloons. For Valentine’s Day, we decorate a box and give out candy. Its really fun, and everyone moans about eating too much. In May when we won our award, we took out the staff and their significant other to a nice dinner, and we all dressed up. Whenever we have a big win for the team, we celebrate. After every issue ships, we do a pizza lunch and talk about cool stuff going on.

PRBTB: How often do you get pitches from freelance writers or PR companies?

Erin: I get pitches from both all the time. From PR people, I get at least 30 a day and a lot more national pitches now than ever before. Writers usually just send their résumé and a letter of interest. It’s amazing the amount of emails I get.

PRBTB: If you could give one piece of solid advice to PR companies and to freelance writers what would it be?

Erin: The biggest thing is knowing who you’re pitching. I’m sure it’s a hard part of the job, but I get so many pitches that don’t apply to Austin Monthly. Then I get the follow ups, and they’re sending double emails with something I would never cover. I get pitches for musical acts, but we don’t do reviews like that. I would say, know your audience. If you pitch me and have a specific section that your story should go in for this reason, that’s great. Mostly these pitches are just spam.