Jennie Phipps, Editor & Publisher, Freelance Success, Farmington Hills, Mich.
What was your first job out of college and how did you get into this business?
I was hired by WBNS-TV, the Columbus CBS affiliate, after talking to the recruiter when he came to the Ohio State J School. I worked there for about five months, and I despised it—I was young, stupid and impatient and none of what I was getting to do seemed at all exciting. They wanted to put me in a division called “cable,” and I thought “what a stupid idea that is.” My adviser at OSU got a call from the city editor at the Fort Lauderdale News (now late-lamented) and its sister paper, the Sun Sentinel. He needed a general assignment reporter. My adviser referred him to me, and the city editor hired me sight unseen—things were different then. I threw everything I owned in the used Mustang my father had given me as a graduation present, drove to Florida on Saturday and started work on Monday.
Has there been a defining moment in your career? Perhaps when you knew you were on the right road.
I spent 10 years editing mid-sized newspapers for the Gannett Co. Back then, at least, they assigned an editor to a newspaper and left you alone as long as you didn’t screw up too badly. Or as Al Neuharth, the former CEO and founder of USA Today said, “We believe in local autonomy as long as you do the right thing.” My first assignment was in suburban Pittsburgh toward the end of the meltdown of the steel industry. The management team really clicked—we were too green to know what worked and what didn’t. A priest and a nun at a local Catholic church said they believed they saw the wooden carving of Christ cry. There was a lot of interest in their story and some people believed it was a miracle. We published a special section about this incident and what it takes to confirm a miracle in the church hierarchy. We sold thousands of ads and a 200,000 overrun purchased by the Diocese of Pittsburgh. It didn’t turn out to be a religious miracle, but it was an economic one for all of us. We made the newspaper’s financial plan for the first time at that site. I was one of the three people Gannett recognized as editors of the year. And most miraculous—we all got huge bonuses.
In brief, describe your business/company?
For the last 11 years, I’ve published a subscription newsletter and online community for freelancers. I have about 700 subscribers, most of them former newspaper and magazine staffers who now freelance for a living. I also freelance myself as a writer/editor/project manager. One of my long-time customers is Bankrate.com. For the last year, I’ve been writing a daily blog for them on retirement.
What are two or three important concepts or rules that have helped you to succeed in business?
– Work hard;
– Do what you say you’ll do;
– Treat people well.
What is the single-most successful thing that your company is doing now?
Last fall, we published a collection of essays about relationships written by subscribers. We held a contest to select the essays to be published. We paid some of our most experienced subscribers to polish the book and hired a designer for layout and cover. We’ve sold enough copies to pay all our bills and given the participants a firsthand view of what it takes to publish and market a book in today’s market.
Do you see a trend or path that you have to lock onto for 2011?
I see greater recognition that if you give people something they want, they will pay. I think that points to more custom content of all sorts and smarter packaging of a broader mixture of media.
What are the key benefits of SIPA membership for you and your team?
I’ve been a member for several years, but I went to my first conference last year and came away with a huge bag of new ideas about what other people are doing to make money, including a host of suggestions that I shared with subscribers who were able to translate them into opportunities for themselves.
Where did you grow up? What college did you attend? Is there a moment from that time that stands out?
I grew up in Ohio and graduated from Ohio State. I was one of the team who covered the Rose Bowl for the Ohio State Lantern, the student daily. I interviewed Mrs. Woody Hayes—and I was star struck. It didn’t take much then. (She told me she zipped up Woody’s pants for luck before every game—but that wasn’t published because the faculty adviser thought it was lewd, and he was probably right).
Are you married? Do you have children?
I’m married to a CPA who has spent most of his career in the insurance business—between us we have four grown sons.
What is your favorite hobby and how did it develop in your life?
We’re serious boaters. Last year, we bought an old Chris Craft 410. This year, we’re building a house on Lake Erie with a gorgeous view.
Is there a book you recently read or movie you saw that you would recommend?
My husband and I have been devouring “The Investor’s Manifesto” by William J. Bernstein, trying to figure out how to retire and afford gas for the boat in this economic upheaval.
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