Under the Radar with Helen Beer
This week I spoke with National Trust Magazine's Assistant Editor about staying focused in a small team, learning about readers through their letters and her surprisingly on-brand engagement story...
Ellie Austin scored a job at Immediate Media as a Features Writer for Radio Times after graduating from the Magazine Journalism MA course at City University. Here she talks about working in the fast-paced world of a major weekly magazine and the power of a good coffee.
What made you want to work in the magazine industry?
I always really loved magazines from a young age, and I think they had a big influence on me growing up. I remember reading magazines like Shout and Top of the Pops throughout my teenage years. As an adult, I became more and more interested in how they’re put together. I've always really loved writing, as well as editing other people's writing, so it felt really natural to work within the magazine industry.
What have been your career highlights so far?
I started as Editorial Assistant on National Trust Magazine and I've been at the magazine for seven years. It's just been an amazing journey. I did an NCTJ course at News Associates in London a few years ago, to help me make that move to Assistant Editor. I did that part-time, around my job. It was really interesting to meet all these other people who were also in the industry, fitting the course around mostly full-time jobs.
It's one of those magazines that’s a privilege to work on because you can discover such a wide range of topics. I can be commissioning a curator to write something on furniture one day, or I can be writing something on nature the next day. It's lovely to have so much variety.
I get to visit the National Trust places as well. It’s an essential part of the job, and it’s always a real highlight. We're in an office of over 600 people with all sorts of skills – from experts on butterflies to IT and finance, all under one roof. There are so many people doing interesting jobs. It's really nice to be part of that and get to know what everyone's doing and how it all fits together.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
At the moment, I’m really liking culottes with different coloured tops. Our office is smart but fairly relaxed, and I like to have something that you don’t have to think too hard about at half past six in the morning.
How do you handle deadlines?
Definitely coffee in the afternoon, when we're getting really close to the line. Also, copious cups of tea, and people start bringing in the chocolate as well when deadline’s nearing. People will pop out at lunchtime and come back with bags of snacks! Being a member of a small team, we all pull together and make sure we’re all working really hard towards the same goal. I think that always helps.
We try and keep a calm atmosphere and just keep talking to each other, so that in between the chocolate and coffee, there’s not usually too much panic.
What’s the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?
I end up in situations that some writers or journalists might feel are quite unusual but have kind of become normal for me because of the nature of the magazine. Like finding myself out on the wildest Pembrokeshire coast interviewing a ranger. I have thought to myself that that might not be an average day's work for a lot of people, but that’s one of the best things about working within the National Trust, it’s really normal, being sent to all these far-flung places and chatting to people who are doing these really fascinating jobs. You find yourself places you've never heard of and there are lots of hidden gems.
What would people be surprised to know about your job?
That a lot of our job involves replying to readers. We get hundreds of National Trust Magazine readers writing to us every issue, and we reply to every single one.
A really big part of my job is understanding our readers and having that interaction with them is invaluable. Because I’ve worked on the National Trust Magazine for such a long time I don't know how many pieces of correspondence it’s usual for a magazine to get, but I have a feeling that maybe we get a bit more than some, because of the nature of our membership and it being so large.
You never know what's going to pop into the inbox and we get some lovely photos from members and from people who have had nice days out. I feel we’ve got a really good idea of what our readers like.
Walk me through your typical day.
As we only come out three times a year, in spring, summer and autumn, it very much depends where we are in the magazine cycle. At some points in the issue, it might be that we're all out and about, doing interviews and writing copy. Then later in the issue, we will be back at our desk pushing things through production. It really does vary.
But, I guess, a typical day for me might be to come in, have a team catch-up, fairly early in the morning, make sure we all know where each other are at with things. We’ll meet our picture researcher and touch base with our designers, who are external, to see how they're doing and get copy over to them.
Then it’s onwards to feature work or getting in touch with people we want to interview or speaking to people from other teams to progress features. Sometimes it’s taking one afternoon out to actually write or do more in-depth research. And somewhere amongst that we try and fit in bits of admin as well, so half an hour or an hour of replying to readers.
How has being a member of the PPA helped you/added value to your brand?
It has been great, and valuable for knowing what's going on in the industry. As a membership magazine working within the National Trust, which isn't a publishing company, having those industry links is particularly valuable to find out trends and see what everyone's doing and have those contacts. It’s also really nice to celebrate the work being done across the industry as a whole. I didn’t get to go to PPA Festival this year but a few of my colleagues really enjoyed the session on sustainability, especially the conversation around different types of wrapping for magazines.
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
I think I would definitely like to read more rather than the 15 minutes I do now before I fall asleep. I think I’d walk more too, which might be a little difficult if it was dark! I’d definitely try and fit in a yoga class and more exercise generally.
What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?
It’s a bit millennial, it’s actually a picture of egg and avocado on an English muffin, but I do have a specific reason for taking it! I was with my auntie and uncle and my grandparents at the weekend. My auntie keeps hens and she gave me eggs that day, so I wanted to send her a picture to show that we used them.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Salt and Vinegar Disco crisps. I don’t let myself eat them often but they’re just so good. How do they get the flavour that strong?!
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s not a piece of advice exactly, but a friend recommended Marie Kondo’s book to me a few years ago and I can honestly say it was life-changing.
What/where is your happy place?
I have a real soft spot for a National Trust place called Dyrham Park, near Bath. It’s a beautiful house and gardens and much wider parkland. There's a beautiful walk along the edge of the estate, with views across the countryside back towards Bristol. It’s also where I got engaged. It’s somewhere that my husband and I return to every few months or so, we'll go back for a walk and it’s just somewhere we both feel really relaxed and comfortable. It’s a very on-brand answer, but unintentionally, as I didn’t know I was going to get engaged there!
What would people be surprised to know about you?
People who know me would probably be surprised to know that I used to play the trumpet, until I was 18. I can be quite quiet and there seems to be a potential personality clash with the trumpet as a musical instrument to have picked up, as it’s very loud. I can't claim that I was very good, but I did enjoy it.
What would be in your Room 101?
Littering really makes my blood boil. So unnecessary!
Introvert or extrovert?
Optimist or pessimist?
Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?
Television, but I do really love films too. Over the winter months I watched the whole of the American The Office series.
Sweet or savoury?
Morning person or night owl?
Night owl but by necessity I have to be a morning person!
Tea or coffee?
Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
Cool. Crying laughing and thumbs up.