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2012 March 23

Lucky's Top Eds Take a Field Trip to Columbia's J-School

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Brandon Holley Brandon Holley
Billy Farrell Agency
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(NEW YORK) Back to class. Your Daily headed up to Columbia University last night to catch Lucky’s Brandon Holley dispensing advice and dishing on her own career trajectory with candor to spare alongside super-awesome executive editor Deb Schwartz and executive digital editor Lauren Sherman. The lecture, part of the Journalism School’s Delacorte series of illustrious eds popping by campus each week all spring, was initially supposed to feature Glamour’s Cindi Leive, who couldn’t make it last minute, alas (fun fact alert: Leive knew Holley back in the day when she was Lisa Holley, before swapping for her middle name, Brandon!). Luckily, the Lucky trio had plenty to share. First up: a crib sheet to 10 things Holley did, and/or suggests adding to your to-do list. Then, a glimpse into Holley’s college days at Columbia’s sister college, Barnard, revisited! Are you taking notes yet?

TEN TAKEAWAYS! Brandon on how she made it, and how you can, too…

1. Journalism can, for some, be a way to procrastinate going to law school.  “I am in publishing because I was a bartender. I was working at Max Fish, and working on a book that was a girl’s guide to muscle cars: how to find them, fix them, and race them. David Hershkovitz, who was one of the founding editors of Paper, was one of my regulars and he asked me to write the story for Paper. I’d been planning to go to law school, and I really, really didn’t want to go. I found this was a great way to put it off for at least a year!”

2. Less-than-favorable stints will happen. ‘I worked at a terrible women’s magazine at a point. I was a Barnard gal so it was very hard to do stories like “Why your boyfriend thinks you’re fat.’”

3. Get your foot in the door…however possible.
 “If you can get a job in publishing, even if it’s at Refrigerator News, take it! A lot of the great editors I know or have worked with started at, like, Nursing Monthly.

4. Have a secret weapon for acing interviews and wowing bosses. “Memos! I always wrote 15 or 20 page idea memos when I walked into an interview—that gave people something to comment on or react to, so it was always my memos that got me the job.  [To wit: Elle Girl was basically born from one of Holley’s memos.]

5. Swapping print for digital, as Holley did with her gig at Yahoo! Shine, may make for a dearth of office supplies. “It was total geek-out fun. You couldn’t even find a pencil if you tried to, it was so online, it was crazy.”

6. When Condé Nast’s Tom Wallace asks you to helm Lucky, don't immediately accept. “My response was, ‘Maaaaybe. But what are your online ideas?’"

7. The daily grind of an EIC might not be what you’d expect. “I don’t really feel like I do anything all day. I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk, and once a month I write a terrible editor’s letter that Deb edits for me. It’s a lot of meeting and idea-shaping—it’s about thinking of what someone hasn’t done yet. We’ve all seen a silly shot of a model holding a guitar or riding a motorcycle.”

8. Whippersnappers are integral to a mag’s success, partially because of their bedtimes. “We don’t know what the youth like. Tell us! I’m in bed by 9:30 every night.”

9. Writing well for the web is all about the skew. “Take a news story, and tilt it. Look at it sideways. Seriously! Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean!”

10. Staff up with smarties. “I don't want to be surrounded by a bunch of ‘yes’ people. I like it when people I work with are smarter than me.”


FLASHBACK TIME! Brandon reflects on her Barnard days…
What would your college-aged self tell modern-day, EIC-of-Lucky Brandon?
“You won’t believe what’s going to happen."

What’s the biggest misconception about the industry that journalism students still seem to believe?
That fashion people are bitchy. I don’t see it everyday, I really don’t. Nice people work in magazines! 

Back to your college days. Were you still Lisa Holley when you arrived at Barnard in the mid-eighties?
No, I was Brandon by then.

What did you look like circa college?

My hair had blue tips. I wore this T shirt that said “four-wheelers eat more bush,” cutoffs, and engineering boots. I was a pretty tough customer.

Did you shop much?
I was really into vintage fashion, and I’d wear outfits that looked like costumes.

What’s a particularly memorable outfit?
A bright orange, double-breasted, miniskirted suit from the sixties made from this plasticized wetsuit material, with crazy, terribly-colored tights.

Any other standout getups?
I’d wear this marching band jacket with zebra-print pants, and Jean Paul Gaultier rubber “flatform” platforms. All of these looks sound normal now!

What was your coed scene?
I was the drummer in a band, and I lived off-campus with my friend Mac McCaughan, who was in Superchunk and now runs Merge Records. We were music outcasts.

What did an average Saturday night consist of?
We’d grab some 40s and play soccer in front of the library, with a bunch of hilarious indie rock people who would end up being in bands like Lambchop. We’d just run around and get muddy. We were terrible at soccer—although I did play soccer for the school. 

How well-rounded!
Indeed. I was on the Columbia soccer team for the first two years of school, until I hurt my knee. 

Was there any Greek life in the mix?
Nooooo! No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. 

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