What Makes Raleigh Magazine Unique? We Asked Editor-in-Chief Melissa Howsam

As a student at NC State, Melissa Howsam dreamt of being editor of a Raleigh Magazine, which didn’t exist at the time. After years of hustling in different cities, she returned to Raleigh, where she’s now the editor of THE Raleigh Magazine. In this episode, hear how she achieved this goal and what the magazine is doing to tell authentic stories about our community.



Jason Gillikin: Welcome to the Earfluence podcast, which is a podcast about podcasting from a podcast production company. I’m your host, Jason Gillikin, CEO of Earfluence, and with me as always is Cee Cee Huffman, video editor, content creator, producer, social media strategist. We’ll just call her a Swiss army knife. Cee Cee, how are you?

Cee Cee Huffman: I’m good.

It’s been a long week already, and it was a long week before Monday morning even started.

Jason Gillikin: It was.

Cee Cee Huffman: Yeah. So on Sunday, we – well, I put together and we put out on Monday 10 episodes of Unstoppable with Cynthia Barnes, the podcast that we’ve been talking about, I think in the last couple of so yeah, if you want to go listen to how to be a really strong woman in sales, or just good advice for women in business in general, go listen to the first 10 ’cause they’re all out.

Jason Gillikin: Yep, absolutely. And we put out 13 episodes on Monday –

Cee Cee Huffman: Yeah.

Jason Gillikin: – but 10 of them were Cynthia’s.  But I mean, it is so great that you were able to do that, and our editors were able to put that together as well. So, shout out to Mark and Vivian, especially, for being able to do that.

So, we’ve got a, a fun activity that after this episode – so after we record this, we’re going to be doing, but once you’re hearing this, it will have already happened.

Cee Cee Huffman: You could probably still watch it if you really wanted to.

Jason Gillikin: You can probably  still watch it.

Cee Cee Huffman: If you wanted eight hours of background noise for your day.

Jason Gillikin: So, we are going to be doing, in two days as of this recording, a podcast marathon. So, from 8:30 to 5, kind of like a ribbon cutting for our Raleigh Founded studio here. And all right, so we’re doing 10 episodes, all live streamed to our channels to Raleigh Founded channels, is there any one episode that you are super excited about?

Cee Cee Huffman: Oh, is there any one episode that I’m excited about? That’s a tough question. I’m really just, I’m excited for the entire experience as a whole. I think we have a lot of really cool people coming in, and a lot of people that I’ve gotten to know over my past year of being here, but I’ve never actually gotten to meet.

So, I think that’s probably what I’m most excited about is all of the people that I’m actually going to finally be able to meet.

Jason Gillikin: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we’ve been doing this through quarantine, so to actually meet our clients in person is kind of novel.

Cee Cee Huffman: Jackie Ferguson from The Diversity Movement and I were talking the other day, and I feel like we’re pretty good friends now at this point, and I’ve never once met her before. So, I’m super excited for her to come in, even though she’ll be in at 8:30 in the morning and I won’t be quite to my shining star level yet.

Jason Gillikin: I actually ran into her at Cohen over the weekend.

Cee Cee Huffman: Oh cute.

Jason Gillikin: Yeah.

Cee Cee Huffman: I feel like you run into everybody.

Jason Gillikin: I do run into everybody. All right, so, excited about that.

If, if you happen to be listening to this and you’re like, “Hmm, what the heck was that about a podcast marathon?” Check it out at www.podcastmarathon.com.

But today, Cee Cee, we have a guest, in studio, in person. She’s actually kind of nervous. I think this might be her first podcast, but it is Melissa Howsam. She is the editor in chief at Raleigh Magazine. And we’re so excited to have her on the show. Melissa, how are you today?

Melissa Howsam:  I am good. I am nervous, but I’m also very excited to be here. So yeah, I’m ripping off the podcast band-aid as we speak.

Cee Cee Huffman: Yeah, it probably it’s your first, I’m sure it will not be your last.

Melissa Howsam: Yeah, it’s probably not, but you guys are making it chill and fun already, so I’m excited.

Jason Gillikin: Well, let, let’s do a softball, easy question for you. Tell us about your, your path to Raleigh Magazine and how you became new editor in chief.

Melissa Howsam: Yes. Well, this really is, and I know it’s cliche, but it really is a dream come true.

So when I was in grad school, I used to lay on a bench in between classes and tell my classmates and friends that I was going to be an editor of a Raleigh Magazine one day. And I won’t, you know, divulge what year that was, but they said, “Oh, but there are no Raleigh magazines for you to become editor of.” And so, the fact that we’ve gotten from there to here is just so amazing.

And it was a long path. I, I took a couple, you know, sidetracks, but I taught a university writing for awhile post-grad and then I tried to get in with the N&O, and I got some great advice from Drescher, who was the editor in chief at the time, who said, “You know, you’re either going to need to go to a small town and write, or you’re going to need to go to a big city and write, but you’re not going to just write in Raleigh.”

And at the  time, reallym the only thing that was really, you know, worth its salt and holding water was the N&O. And so, I took his advice and I moved to Chicago in 2007, with the lofty goal of writing for a magazine, but I chickened out and instead I taught, I taught freshmen writing at DePaul because that, I think mostly just cost of living was higher, and I just wanted to make sure I had a job. And so I also bartended, met a lot of great people, but I knew I wasn’t doing what I was there to do. And it’s a cliche, but it’s too cold. So back to the east coast and New York was always the dream, but New York is talking about expensive, you know, and that just really wasn’t practical for me.

So, I had always like, aligned DC with politics, and that’s not my niche, and so I dismissed it for awhile, but I started looking at Atlanta and Raleigh and then the east coast, and finally realized DC had a plethora of journalistic opportunity that wasn’t political at all. So, I moved there for only a year.

I wrote a letter to every editor in town, which is hundreds of letters and I landed quite a few freelance gigs, but I also landed a job at DC Magazine, and that was my foray into the magazine world. I left a year later because the cost of living was so high and, incidentally, what leads us into Raleigh Magazine, I also left because of a fateful trip home. My buddies were opening Issac Hunters in its original location on Fayetteville Street next to the Capitol, and it wasn’t open yet. And when I left Raleigh, Fayetteville Street was a pedestrian mall. It didn’t, it wasn’t what it is now. You know, that’s probably hard to remember.

And so, what became of Raleigh between when I left in 2007 and at this point in 2010 is just, you couldn’t have even imagined it. And so, I’m sitting outside on the patio, outside their bar that’s about to open. Fayetteville Street’s a street, and everything’s under construction. And I’m looking at the Capitol. And in my mind, I might as well be in DC.

And I was like, “This is where I need to be, and it’s where my family is, it’s where my friends is, it’s home,” friends are, it’s home, and it’s just – it became everything. I couldn’t have even imagined everything that’s happened since then, if you really go back and look, and in the meantime, here comes Raleigh Magazine. In the meantime, between my return to Raleigh in 2010 and now, I was just rising the ranks at the company I was working for, it was a national production company and they had about 80 magazines across the country, and I want to say 30 of them were city titles. And so, I was working in various capacity. I was responsible for the, the content and all of it in terms of proofing, and then I was editor and chief of one, and then I also ended up becoming national medical editor, so I was wearing a bunch of different hats for them.

And then, locally, I was freelancing for the N&O since I came back, Drescher kept his promise. So as soon as I came back, they launched triangle.com, which eventually became Triangle Today, and I wrote for them until it became defunct in 2019. So, I was the primary journalist for that, and then I was writing for the News and Observer and other, other now competitors for Raleigh Magazine, and obviously Raleigh Magazine as well.

So, I had a story last February that I wrote for Eater about a roundup for date night. And here comes COVID. And so, they were reluctant things started to shut down in Europe, and they decided not to run it because what happens? You know, if everything closes well, we all know what happened. And so, if you remember, around Memorial day of 2020, things started to reopen here to some extent. Restaurants were – you were allowed to sit outside, things like that.

So, I started working with them at that point to use the piece, but they were very uncomfortable to push anybody toward a restaurant, even if it was outside, masks, safe. So, by the time we get to November, I’ve had enough, I’ve got this completely written piece that it isn’t going anywhere. And so, they released me and said, “You can do whatever you want with it.”

And so, I called our publisher at Raleigh Magazine, Gina and said, “I’ve got it this, you know, 1500 word feature that’s all the hottest restaurants in town and bars and date night destinations.” I had to redo quite a bit of it because of COVID, but it turned out being their December feature, and then it was the parlay into me joining them as editor.

I didn’t realize at the time that the former editor has, was moving on to Indie. And so just, you know, talking about divine intervention or cosmic timing or whatever you want to call it. So, and it really was the dream. The original dream was all – no matter how many magazines I worked for across the country, no matter what I achieved, I wasn’t ever completely satisfied.

Proud? Sure, and I was happy with the work I was doing but, it’s also strange, like no one around me really cared because they didn’t connect to like, “I don’t care what’s going on in Atlanta or, you know, Hawaii.” And, and as soon as I was able to bring that knowledge to a local publication like, it’s incredible what you can do when you know the community as well with that skillset combined.

Cee Cee Huffman: Right. And now you write for not a Raleigh Magazine, but

Melissa Howsam: THE Raleigh Magazine. And it really is the Raleigh Magazine. I’m so proud of this publication. Like, it – there’s nothing like it in the city. And I would say, and I have, I think the authority to say there’s nothing like it in the country that I’ve seen.

Cee Cee Huffman: You’ve been a lot of places, you would probably know.

Melissa Howsam: I’ve work for a lot of city magazines and they are, they are local publications, but they’re not, they’re localized. You can take national content and localize it. So, you know, you might let’s say that Earfluence was like a store that was in a lot of cities, you localize that by an info line with a local address.

And maybe, maybe you insert a quote, you know? But that’s not what we are at all. Like, we’re reluctant to even cover Durham, you know, we’re like “We’re Raleigh.” And if we see a reason to go just outside of Raleigh, we will, but it’s definitely unique to the city.

Jason Gillikin: So I mean, this passion is just coming through for Raleigh.

That is awesome, and you wanted to do this from the very beginning, but I wanted to go back to the advice that you were given about going to either a small town or a major city. And, there’s some content producers that are listening to this, whether they’re podcasters or whether they’re writers, you know, maybe they have dreams of writing for a local magazine down the line, or, you know, becoming the editor like, like you have.

I don’t quite understand the advice. So walk, walk me through that. Like what did, what did he mean by, by that?

Melissa Howsam: It really was a different landscape at the time. I’m not sure that that anyone, I wouldn’t give the same advice now. I think that at the time, so this is 2006 is probably when he gave me the advice ’cause I left for Chicago and ’07, once I got brave enough to do it. And so, I think that at that point, you know, in – maybe they had competitors that I’m not really aware of, but, and I think there might’ve been some small like subcultures zines, but there wasn’t like a Raleigh Magazine obviously, or even Midtown or Walter, and or Cary Living.

And so, the N&O was really just your publication and I – they just, weren’t going to hire, you know, somebody with no by-lines.  And so he was like, “You’re going to have to go get experience. And whether that means you’re going to go get experience in a small town where…” So, I guess for reference, as soon as I graduated, I got letters from small towns in North Carolina.

North Carolina was small newspapers offering me a job, so I don’t think it’s like unheard of for small towns to take new grads.

No. I mean,

Cee Cee Huffman: as somebody who just graduated, I still have a lot of friends who did that, who went to smaller places and are writing for smaller publications right out of school.

Melissa Howsam: Exactly. So there, you get your balance that way. If you want to go to a big city like New York, Chicago, DC, I think that thinking is exactly what happened to me in DC. There are so many jobs. I had to write pro bono at first, but I had a plethora of clips from all kinds of other things I’d done. They just weren’t necessarily magazine clips, but they’re enough for people to give you a shot. And especially when – everybody thinks you need to wait for a job to be posted. I, I have never got a job I applied for in my life. Every job I’ve ever gotten has been like me seeking somebody out and being like, “This is what I can do. What do you need?”

And so with DC magazine, my skill set at the time that I knew I could bank on was copy editing. And I was an AP style expert, and I did have a resume for that in conjunction with the teaching writing. So, they just brought me on as a copy editor. But as soon as your foot’s in the door, then, you know, you can start writing blurbs and you start building and it just takes one byline to prove yourself, and then it just kind of explodes. So, yeah.

Jason Gillikin: So I want to dig in more into what makes Raleigh Magazine special, and offline,

Full Episode Transcript

The Earfluence Podcast is a production of Earfluence Media and is hosted by Jason Gillikin and Cee Cee Huffman.

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