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.

 

Transcript

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,

we’ve talked about that, but before that, like what do you recommend for people now. Let’s say, Cee Cee’s age that you know, her, her friends just graduated a couple of years ago and are –

Cee Cee Huffman: Last year. Don’t age me more than I need to be.

Jason Gillikin: A year ago, then. There, there’s so many different venues now for producing content, right? So there’s, there’s podcasting that people could make their own podcast. There’s, there’s blogs, there’s social media posts. You know, they could start trying to, you know, write things and sell them to other publications, or whatever it might be.

Like, what kind of advice do you have as the editor of Raleigh Magazine now? Like what are you looking for? Like what kind of content are you looking for from, from prospective talent?

Melissa Howsam: That’s actually a great question. I’m so glad you asked that. So two things, I would recommend one, internships. I can not put an emphasis on that enough. When I was in undergrad, internships weren’t a thing that everybody did. They, they existed, but they weren’t some, they weren’t the norm that they are now, and I did two of them. And, they were both PR because there weren’t magazines, but that’s where some of those clips came from that I was able to later supply to magazines to show just writing outside of academic writing.

I have an intern right now that actually graduated in May, and she decided to intern with us, and she’s off the top of my head in the July, August issue, probably got five or six bylines. She showed us with our first story what she could do, and now, you know, she’s still there. So we have her doing some September by-lines and probably we’ll bring her on as a freelance writer.

And I think that the opportunity that opens just for her, to have the by-lines alone, not to mention what her relationship could continue to be with us, is really important. Beyond that, it might surprise a lot of people to know that most publications are willing to consider most people as writers, which is something that didn’t exist for me back when there was just one, you know, mammoth newspaper. They had in-house writers and they, that was, that was it.

Whereas ultimately, I was able to freelance for the N&O, so things changed a lot. So, but now we actually have a write for us link on our website. It gives you a very specific challenge. Like, please provide your resume or LinkedIn, please provide two or three clips and please pitch two or three stories that you think we would be interested in publishing.

And the, the latter is probably the most significant to me because you could take the same story and you could put it in our magazine, you could put it in the Atlantic, you could put it in the N&O, you could put it in, you know, Parent Magazine, and all four of those stories would read totally different, even with the same facts.

And so, what we’re looking for is writers that understand our voice and our brand. And if they, if they are pitching us a topic we wouldn’t cover or voice, you know, in a voice that we wouldn’t be interested in, then they haven’t done their homework. So, I think when you go into a situation like that, I know for a fact that some of my former colleagues have pitched huge magazines like Southern Living, Bon Appetit and they went into these blind, like not expecting the editors to pick up their work and they did, but they did their homework first. They knew exactly what kind of story they would run, and then they pitched that. And so, and I actually just did that with a national publication.

They were doing a call for pitches. And so I just read their previous magazine, pitched something and they picked it up. So, it’s – I think it’s just about ambition, but it’s also about knowing the content and knowing the voice. And so, we welcome writers. We would love to have people, you know accept our call for pitches and pitch to us, so.

Jason Gillikin: That’s great. And that feels like next level writing right there, where you can switch up the voice, where you know who the audience is and what the publication is, and you can figure out, “OK, well, I need to shift up what I’m saying based on this is Raleigh Magazine. This is Parent Magazine. This is my paper for UNC that I’m writing.

Melissa Howsam: Right.

Jason Gillikin: Like, it’s totally different. And I don’t think that everybody has that ability, at least at the start, to be able to do that. And so, it feels like that, that’s next level.

And that’s so important for us to know, Cee Cee, because when we’re trying to pitch something to Raleigh Magazine, let’s say. Let’s say we have a great episode of one of our podcasts and it has to do with Raleigh.

You know, we need to know, “OK well, what would they be looking for here?”

Cee Cee Huffman:  Right.

Jason Gillikin: You know, is this, is this the right fit for what they’re looking for? And if we can give them a summary that’s essentially in their voice, you know, they’re much more likely to pick it up.

Cee Cee Huffman: Yeah.

Jason Gillikin: Yeah. And, and that’s, that’s something that when, when I started pitching to Raleigh Magazine and whatever other magazines in this area, you know, some were, were picked up. Like y’all did a feature on Slice Pie Company, you know, that, that we did the Start-up Stage podcast, and she was featured on the on Start-up Stage podcast, Kristen was.

And so we gave that to, to Raleigh Magazine, right? And great article, but that was perfect for, for y’all, you know, too, ’cause it fit your voice. You know, other things haven’t been the right fit, and I understand that, but we – to learn that in, to know that you’re looking for certain voice is so important for when podcasters in general are reaching out and saying, “Hey, I’ve got a great story. I think this could be a fit for your magazine.”

Melissa Howsam: Yeah, absolutely. And I think there’s two things there. One, I talked, you know, just recently with the interns about a lot of writing, in my opinion, is parody. And so, if I were going to pitch The New York Times and, and I would be very focused on their reporter style, and I would make sure if I wrote for them that it matched that, you know, very much mirrored the style you would see on every page.

So for us, you know, we do have kind of, well, not kind of, we definitely have a fun, smart, I think, clever style, but it’s not necessarily in all of our sections. So, our magazine is divided across buzz, stuff, eat, do – not necessarily in that order, features. And the buzz sections, more harder news, edgier, and by the time you get to stuff and do, we’re having fun, you know, we’re, we’re in. So the, the tone, I would say that there’s definitely a tone that’s ours, and it resonates throughout the entire magazine, but you can also find that the tone also always matches the content, and you don’t ever want something to make something seem flippant or, you know, just because you’re trying to have fun with it. If it’s a serious news story, it needs to be serious. So, yeah.

Jason Gillikin: So you mentioned the different types of content there and you get to the, the very serious, down to the, the fun. One thing I noticed in your magazine that you don’t have is like, advertorials like that, that some magazines have, am I missing it?

Like, do you –

Melissa Howsam: I’m glad that you brought that up. So, we talked about how I got started. I would love to talk a little bit about how Raleigh Magazine got started. So our publisher, Gina Stevens, was actually the original founder of Midtown Magazine. I don’t know if that’s something everybody knows. And Midtown Magazine was created as a very, you know, at the time that she created it, the only cranes in the sky were in North Hills.

And, it was created as a vehicle for sales, in my estimation, at least to be quite frank, and it was very successful. It still is. And so, you have this model, which is very commonnow in like post-modern journalism, I would say. There’s this  trend toward pay-to-play, or advertorial. And what that means is that, in advertorial stories, somebody actually paid for you to tell their story. Or, another way that it might go, you know, pay-to-play is kind of the same thing. What can also happen, which I, one of the magazines I was an editor for in I think 2017, was the way our editorial worked was that everybody who bought an ad was promised editorial.

So, there wasn’t a single editorial page that wasn’t attached to an ad, and it was pretty obvious in my opinion, but I, you know, I don’t know how savvy that readers are, you know, or how much it bothers them or doesn’t, but, but as time came on in about, or went on and at about the same time that I’m visiting Raleigh, you know, in 2010 and seeing downtown rise up and become something and everything everywhere is exploding, you know, which is so weird to even think about now ’cause it’s still going. But, around that time, around Gina starts to realize that, you know, the cranes aren’t just in North Hills and she has a broader vision, and there’s a wide open lane for a magazine like Raleigh Magazine to tell the story of the whole city, and not just Midtown, and so she sold Midtown in 2012.

And then there was a, a length of time between that and when Raleigh Magazine started. Raleigh Magazine was born in, I believe September of 2015, so we’re about to turn six. And-

Cee Cee Huffman: First grade.

Melissa Howsam: I know. So COVID ruined our big 5-year anniversary party, you know, we’ll, we’ll make it up this year, but, and she created it with, she created Midtown with that vision, and so she created Raleigh Magazine with the very opposite vision: real stories, real people, not as single editorial page is connected to ad dollars. Period. And that’s on purpose. And what Gina and I have in common is that we’ve both worked for – worked for, or created or whatever it was, editor – she was publisher of previous magazines where they were sales vehicles and every ad that was the most crucial component, and then the editorial came second. Raleigh Magazine’s the exact opposite. Every, every – like a blank slate every month is filled up exclusively with editorial, and we just believe it, like if you build it, they will come. So if you’re telling good stories, then people will want to advertise, or they’ll want to like connect with you and partner with you and have events.

And so, I think that’s been, we had a funny conversation about it this week, actually. It’s something, it’s a line you can’t cross, so we have to stay authentic to that. Don’t have an agenda. We want people to know that it’s true editorial, it’s old fashioned, old school stories, and like you mentioned earlier, you know, if it speaks to our brand, that part’s important to us, you know, the core, the inside of our magazine.

So, you know, it has to speak to our brand and our voice, but beyond that, you know, it doesn’t have anything to do with anything else. And so we are, we take it so seriously that we joked that crossing that boundary just once would be like losing your virginity. You can’t get it back. And once you lose that, it’s gone.

And so, and it’s so true because we both worked for magazines where they tried to reverse the course and they tried to take it from advertorial back to editorial, and there was a backlash and, you know, you can imagine, so.

Cee Cee Huffman: I mean, it builds a level of trust with like your audience, for them to know that “I’m going to look at this and it’s not going to be an ad.”

Like you can watch a, like a YouTube video and somebody like maybe using a hair tool or something like that, and maybe it is an ad, maybe it’s not, but why is all of a sudden are they using it? And you start to question. You know, “Well, are they showing this because they want me to buy it?” Because I feel like, nowadays, everywhere you look, somebody is trying to sell you something, which can be super exhausting.

Melissa Howsam: Yeah.

Cee Cee Huffman: So I think having a, a publication that you know is just trying to give you good things and tell you good stories. I think that makes you really reputable.

Melissa Howsam: Yeah. Well, I appreciate that. It’s been it’s it’s people don’t know, you know, I actually, Jason and I talked about this before, actually I think we all talked about it collectively, but I had this story that I was, I was, I was actually going to end up in the September issue now, but I was vetting.

Probably – when was that, May? June? And so, I got in touch with the source, and it’s fashion related and, and so there’s products involved and I’m like, “We just, you know, I just want to meet, I just want to meet you. I want to tell your story.” And she’s very reluctant and I couldn’t quite figure out like, “Who doesn’t want to be in a magazine? Like why, what’s the concern?” And finally she says, “Listen, you know, we don’t have any products to give you. We don’t have time for this. We haven’t been able to benefit from any previous coverage like this,” and I quickly realized because of my previous background –

Cee Cee Huffman: You just think somebody is trying to take your money.

Melissa Howsam: Yep. She thought that we wanted, you know, products and ad money and she wasn’t interested. And as soon as I, I just was so flabbergasted and I, you know, it all came kind of screaming back and I was like, “Oh no, we just got a tip about what you do, and we don’t know anything about you, so we thought the community might care,” and there’s just crickets.

And then she’s like, “You just want to tell my story, you don’t want any money?” And I was, “It’s true.”

So yeah, stay tuned for September, but, yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s not something I’ve run into a lot. I feel like people that know the magazine well understand that we’re not asking, but clearly there are people that don’t know the magazine well, who’ve had experiences with other publications and expect us to want their money, so.

Jason Gillikin: Sure. Yeah. I think the advertorials can do a couple of things. One, it can water down the entire publication, right, where there’s only so much space and you’re, you’re losing the space of actual great content when it’s advertorial content. But then two, it could possibly lead to some backlash where there’s confusion about, you know, “Wait a minute, is this Raleigh Magazine saying this? Or is this the advertisers saying this? Or what is this exactly?” And I saw this was a month or two ago, but this was, I don’t know if anybody saw this, but USA Today had a headline on, I don’t know if it was the main headline or one of the headlines, but it says “Hybrid babies born across the U.S. World reacts to new generation of half human, half animal children with both awe and concern.”

Yeah. And Cee Cee, if you want you’re, you’re a journalism major, describe that, that picture there.

Cee Cee Huffman: It’s like baby yoda, but an actual baby.

Jason Gillikin: Yeah.

Cee Cee Huffman: Yeah. Yeah. That’s kind of, I mean, it gets my attention.

Melissa Howsam: Well, right?

Jason Gillikin: The, the headline of USA today, in the print magazine. And everybody was like, “What is this?” And like very subtly, no, not April fool’s day, very subtly, it said advertorial or advertisement on there, so you can see right there advertising. Oh yeah, very subtly.

Cee Cee Huffman: What are they advertising?

Jason Gillikin: It was a Netflix show. It was for a Netflix show that they were advertising.

Cee Cee Huffman: Honestly, I got to give it to ’em on one. That’s kind of a good ad.

It’s kind of a great – as somebody who always went into advertising, kind of a great ad. As somebody who graduated with a journalism degree, I am slightly concerned.

Jason Gillikin: That’s, that’s the thing. So like, great for Netflix and buzz and everything. But for USA today, it’s like, wait a minute.

Is this just a sham public tomorrow?

Melissa Howsam: Right, right. Shocking for that.

Jason Gillikin: But so for the first one, you know, I said it could possibly water down the conent. Does not taking advertorials allow you to take deeper dives into, whatever you want to write in, in Raleigh?

Melissa Howsam: Yeah, absolutely. So, that’s sort of the other part of the original vision of the magazine that we continue to work on everyday.

And, in my estimation, personally, it gets harder every day, but it’s a challenge that I love waking up to tackle. So, beyond just telling authentic stories, the other thing that we really want to accomplish is to be the true insider’s guide to Raleigh, and that means telling people things they don’t know, which there are plenty of people in Raleigh who know pretty much everything there is to know about where to go and what to do.

The thing we run into is I get a lot of, I mean, if I had a nickel, I get a lot of pitches about transplant stories or transplants asking me to do like a hair salon roundup or something like that because they want to know where to go and that’s, and that’s great, but it’s a good example of what we don’t want to do because if you are from here, or at least you’ve lived here for some time and you consider yourself an insider, me telling you where to go get your haircut is immediately off-putting, right? And so, what we try to do is figure out how to cover the city in a way that will still teach transplants what’s cool, what to know, what to do, where to go, but then also not bore the insiders and still challenge them, even, to know something they didn’t already know.

So it’s, an impossible task, but we actually have a rule that every time we get pitched, the first thing that we ask is, did you pitch this to anybody else? We want the exclusive. And what that means is like, maybe that doesn’t always mean somebody else doesn’t already know, but at least it means it’s not also going to show up in Walter, Midtown or N&O or WRAL.

And you know, we’ve gotten burned a couple of times, but we try our best to take, to take these stories that we don’t think are going to show up anywhere else, which for a, depending on the issue for an 88 to 100 page issue, is a big challenge. But beyond that, we also realized there are places that people will have heard of and they will know.

And so, if we want to cover them, then we challenge ourselves to cover them in a way that hasn’t been covered. So what’s the unique angle angle for, you know, some story that everybody’s talking about, but what can we tell them that they don’t already know?

Cee Cee Huffman: Right.

Jason Gillikin: Well, that, that is awesome.

And so you’re able to do that and you’re, you’ve got the exclusives on these stories. And so, Raleigh Magazine, you’re getting something different – the reader of Raleigh Magazine is getting something that they don’t already know. For sure.

Like there’s nobody building community within the Raleigh area. That is something that, that you are doing.

Absolutely. What are some of the other things that you’re doing in this community to kind of tie everybody together and, you know, do good for, for, for Raleigh?

Melissa Howsam: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you for asking that. Like, I think beyond just telling stories, we really do want to connect the community and make it a better place to live and help it grow.

And so one, of the things we do, like we love to get involved when there’s, especially now that things are starting to open, to get involved with the community. And I know that’s actually, as a side note, been our MO, proudly, in my opinion, as things started to evolve, we definitely encouraged, you know, to be safe and do what the governor was recommending.

But as things started to open, we really encourage that push. We got some pushback, in February, when did our best bars issue from just insider friends. Like, “Oh, are you sure?” ‘Cause we had an event. Like, event feels like a bad word, but we had an all outdoor event, with masks, with social distancing, in February, I know this is shocking to give their best bars winners their awards. And it was all outside, all social distance, all masks, but people that knew us and knew we were doing it, they were nervous. They were nervous because it ended up in our be seen pages in the March issue. And they were like, “Oh, the community’s really going to push back against us.:

And this was our moment of reckoning where we could say like, we want Raleigh to reopen. We want people to get their businesses back. We want people to safely go out and, and do and live and be, and, and we’ve just kind of like, as soon as we had that moment of reckoning, we just went, you know?

Jason Gillikin: Yeah. It’s so hard.

Melissa Howsam: Full on.

Jason Gillikin: Yeah. It’s so hard to, to figure out where that line is and, you know, you want everybody to be safe and to feel safe.

Melissa Howsam: Right, absolutely.

And you don’t

Jason Gillikin: want to push somebody to their like, past their comfort zone by any means, so you have it outside. It’s invitations. It’s not like you’re forcing anybody to be there.

Melissa Howsam: Right.

Cool.

We also had serious limits like, one or two people from each winning bar. Whereas like before, this would have been a massive blowout, you know? And let me tell you, it was raining and like 30 degrees that night. We obviously took our responsibilities very seriously.

Jason Gillikin: Like we’re having this outside.

Melissa Howsam: Right. But things continue to open, and as the limitations continue to release, we just, we encourage people to do what they’re  comfortable with inside what’s legal and safe, and we encourage vaccinations.

And our newsletter was born out of COVID. And for the first year, spent a lot of emphasis on relatively COVID related information. So, at the top you had COVID stats, ultimately vaccine stats, but also just what you needed to know at that time, whether it was where to get a cocktail or what the governor said.

Since March or April, the newsletters really started to take shape of its own and started to create it’s – an identity because it’s not about COVID anymore, which is how you realize that we really are coming out of it. I heard you say that on your episode with the Raleigh Founded crew, you start to look around when you’re making some of these choices and realize like you’re not defined exclusively by COVID anymore.

And so, that part’s interesting, but, beyond that, to get back to your question, how we partner with the community. Our staff was rocked by three losses to ALS within a two week period. One of them was my aunt Brenda, and the other two were friends, close friends of our publisher, Gina.

All of them ranged in age from early fifties to mid sixties and their, their diagnosis, right, their diagnosis to death range from I believe, 11 months to maybe 30 months. So, it’s a horrific disease that I can tell you watching firsthand is absolutely devastating. So, time, time-wise when this is happening to us.

My aunt passed at the end of April and Gina’s loved ones passed at the beginning of May, like I said, all within, you know, maybe a two-week period, the Triangle Walk to Defeat ALS was coming up. And this year, because of COVID protocols, they decided to do walk where you are.

So they were having the walk, but it was a create your own team and walk where you are as opposed to the normal walk which they will do next year. They’ve already announced, the normal  walkout of I think Halifax mall, I think? Downtown, and then it’s just this massive people walking, right? But this year was create your own team.

So Raleigh Magazine created a team, and we took it upon ourselves to raise as much money as we possibly could to defeat this horrific disease, and we ended up raising over $16,000 and counting. I know, I’m so proud. We won the homestretch fundraising challenge for the walk this year.

Jason Gillikin: Awesome. Yeah. Great job in raising the money for ALS there. $16,000 is a significant amount of money, and as you think about legacy, and I know you do because you’re a writer and editor and all those things like you’re thinking about “Where am I leaving my mark?” And part of that is what the work that you’re doing, but then part of it is, you know, what can you do for the community? And so, you know, kudos to you for, for taking the reins in doing that and raising all this money and leaving that legacy.

Melissa, this has been amazing as we wind our time down. Do you have time for a, a few fun questions? Sure. Okay. So, actually this isn’t a fun one, but I wrote it.

I wrote it down anyway.

There’s mostly funny questions, but I, I wrote this one down. I thought it’d be interesting. What’s the, what’s the toughest article that you’ve written or edited?

Cee Cee Huffman: That’s kind of fun.

Melissa Howsam: Yes. And I have an immediate answer. So, I wrote, this is the June issue. I wrote the kind of like fond farewell to Police Chief Casandra Deck-Brown, and we originally, Gina and I both, went and interviewed her in person, and she quickly became one of my heroes. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen her speak but she’s so kind, she’s very methodical. She’s very, like, she thinks about what she’s saying, and my favorite quirk about her was that if you try to interject to like move the interview forward, she would let you, but then she would go back to exactly what she was.  actually went to her retirement party and people made similar statements about her, but, but she’s so beloved.

She’s such a kind soul. In that interview, she exhibited a lot of joy for things that she was able to do beyond what people know like programs for young girls and, and youth and things like that, and we originally interviewed her in like, April, I believe because of I mean, March or April, because of when her retirement date was set and then it was extended until June.

And so, we ended up holding this story. And so, this was a really long time for me to know that I was going to write this, and it kind of just sat there, kind of like that. I don’t know. I like the thesis you’re going to at it. Yeah. Yeah. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to, you know, I come from a background of lifestyle magazines, and so I do truly challenge myself to be able to write about anything and anyone, but certainly some things come easier than others, and I haven’t done a lot of coverage of – done a ton of profiles, but I haven’t done a lot of coverage of the police. And so, I felt this tremendous responsibility to – this was the piece that was going to be written about her on her way out.

And how could I honor her? How could I do it, obviously there was a lot of controversy over the last year. How do you mention those things without creating new controversy? And it was  terrifying and, ultimately, it was very well received and she wanted 15 copies of it.

That’s great.

I loved getting to know her, and her main message was that like, we’re all people. You know, you think back to like being in elementary school and like, not thinking your teacher was anything other than a teacher.

Cee Cee Huffman: She slept in the classroom, yeah.

Melissa Howsam: Yeah. And she couldn’t possibly have had like a favorite TV show, a hobby.

Cee Cee Huffman: That’s all she does is care about us.

Melissa Howsam: Exactly.

And know the ABCs.

Exactly. And so that that’s like, for me, it’s a basic metaphor, but it’s so much what she was saying. Like, when you see her, you might just see the uniform or the badge, but she’s all these things. She’s a grandmother and a mother, and she makes gift baskets and, you know, she listens to music.

Every once

Cee Cee Huffman: in a while you might see her in a, Walmart, which is also a scenario with your teachers from

Melissa Howsam: elementary school.

Exactly. And that she really, really, I can’t emphasize enough how much she cared about the community and the youth and how much that came through. Like, she would beam when she would talk about it.

So yeah, it felt like a hard thing for me to do in that it was outside of my niche, but it also felt like a tremendous weight to write the sendoff for somebody’s storied career, and she was on RPD for 33 years, and she was police chief for almost a decade and it felt like a, you know, a big responsibility.

So I, I think that easily was the hardest story of my life, but also ends up being the one you’re most proud of ultimately.

Cee Cee Huffman: Right.

Jason Gillikin: That’s awesome. What’s the weirdest story that you can remember? Oh God. When we were like, how did I get involved in this?

Melissa Howsam: I don’t know if I, I don’t know if I can think of a weird one off the top of my head, but I remember the first, the very first like cover feature I was asked to do was in Atlanta, and it was a 12 page cover feature on a round-up of well, quote unquote wellness, but it was really like Brotox and, yeah, and like non-surgical nose jobs and all the trends, the new trends and plastic surgery, but they didn’t want to call it plastic surgery.

Cee Cee Huffman: Right.

Melissa Howsam: And that was so hard for me because on the one hand, here’s your dream coming true. You’re getting a cover spread.

It’s 12 pages, but at the same time, I wanted to tell no one that I was writing it because it’s so shallow, you know. Look, if you get Botox, knock yourself out, but like, I just didn’t want to write about it. Look, I get Botox. I’ll tell you that. It’s fine. Yeah, no judgment. Let’s talk about, yeah. I mean, absolutely no judgment, but like you’re not sitting in grad school thinking like my first feature is going to be on Brotox. Like, emphasis bro, like, yeah.

So, I mean, ultimately I just tried to have fun with it and make a lot of jokes, you know, puns. That’s my go to. But, yeah, that was probably the weirdest one to have to do 12 pages of and try to take serious. Yeah.

Jason Gillikin: Well, yeah. And if you went the other way of not taking it seriously, that’s probably exactly what they were looking for

Melissa Howsam: Which is probably what I did.

Yeah,

Jason Gillikin: exactly. Last question. What, what’s a podcast that you’re listening to?

Melissa Howsam: Okay. So, typically my favorite is the NCF&B, Max and Matt. Yeah, yeah. Max and Matt are hilarious, but I have to tell you right now, I’m working my way through which won’t take long NC State Stuff.

As an NC State grad, and a avid Wolfpack fan, I definitely am feeling the NC State Stuff all the time, especially after the recent world series with baseball, the way that ended. And so that podcast actually is archived, was originally archived, I think, in 2017, but she just added a fifth episode after we got sent home. She said she thought she would do an epilogue episode once something great happened to NC State, but instead this fifth episode after we got sent home from the world series. But, the whole podcast is fascinating. It’s like the psychology of why NC State, in my word, maybe just sucks. But really, really we don’t suck. It’s just like when we rise up, we don’t finish or when we’re supposed to be bad, we’re good.

You know, and there were a couple of theories in there. I don’t want to ruin it for anybody that wants to listen to it, but there were a couple of theories about, so, you know, like the Cubs curse? Yeah. There were a couple similar NC State curse theories I hadn’t heard before. Wow. Yes.

Jason Gillikin: All right. I’ll encourage everybody to listen to that.

Melissa Howsam, how can people reach you?

Melissa Howsam: Oh, well I’m on Instagram, and also at Raleigh Magazine or my email is melissa@raleighmag.com And yeah, I’m happy entertain any of your ideas doesn’t promise.

Jason Gillikin: And of course, got to www.raleighmag.com and where can people get the magazine?

Melissa Howsam: Okay. So this is my Magnum Opus, we just added last week at the bottom on where to find every place in this city that you can find the magazine, but I also highly recommend a subscription. It’s literally just $10 for 10 issues, that’s a dollar issue. It shows up in your mailbox like you might, I mean, the gas you’d spend to find them the right.

You know, you might as well –

The time, the energy.

Cee Cee Huffman:  Exactly,

Melissa Howsam: exactly. When it can just show up at your door. Oh, and people don’t know this, but there’s a peel off. So if you subscribe, when you get it, you just peel the label off and it’s no damage and it’s just a pristine mag.

Beautiful.

Awesome.

Jason Gillikin: Well, Melissa Howsam, thank you so much for joining us on the Earfluence Podcast. It’s been a pleasure.

Melissa Howsam: It’s been so fun.

Jason Gillikin: All right. Well, thanks for listening everybody. If you are looking for full service podcast production, anything related to podcasting, be sure to visit www.earfluence.com. For Cee Cee Huffman, I’m Jason Gillikin, and we’ll see you next time on the Earfluence podcast.

Cee Cee Huffman: Bye everybody.

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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