Interview with Outdoor Enthusiast, OE Retailer and Mountain Pro Magazine Editor Phil Turner

This is the final interview with an Editor of a specialist magazine. Outdoor Enthusiast Editor Phil Turner talks about his role and gives advice to budding adventure editors.


1.How did you get into the industry?

I had a fairly unconventional career progression – I started a  hillwalking/backpacking blog which was noticed by a publisher and effectively ‘bought’. I worked on their new website as Online Editor before becoming Gear Editor, and ultimately ended up as Editor of a group of three magazines.


2.Describe your role?

I work as editor for three magazines – one consumer and two trade – on a freelance basis. I work closely with the sales team to come up with a strategy for the magazines, appoint and liaise with freelance contributors to commission articles and work with the in-house design team to  formulate the overall look of the magazines. I also have an assistant who is a staff member within the publishing company and I’m responsible for setting her to work and critiquing her efforts!


3. What does your day to day work schedule involve?

The three magazines are currently quarterly, with slightly different schedules, so there’s quite a bit of time between issues. This allows me to pursue other freelance activities like guidebook writing or actually getting outdoors, only devoting significant time to the magazines when deadlines are approaching. There’s no typical day, but I work from home so on a ‘normal’ day I walk into my office at around 9am, working through to around 5pm answering emails or writing the odd article. Magazines are sales-driven – in the outdoor industry we almost totally rely on gear companies advertising , so I spend a lot of time talking to PR companies about new gear. I also go to trade shows, festivals and press trips. There are days when I’ll start later and only need to spend an hour or so in front of the computer, or even have a day off. I prefer to work over the weekend as I get far fewer emails, and the hills are quieter midweek!


4.What skills do you think are required to do your job?

Subject knowledge is essential in a specialist magazine. As an editor I need good organisational skills to be able to set and meet deadlines and keep track of what I’ve commissioned. I need to manage a budget and field complaints from freelancers who haven’t been paid for some reason. There’s a fair amount of leadership required – magazines are collaborative efforts so I need to keep  a subeditor, designer, assistant editor , marketing and sales team happy and deal with any issues that arise. As I work remotely and 99% of the production work flow is computerised, IT skills are essential. We do a lot of planning via collaborative documents like Google Drive/Docs which we can access from wherever we happen to be.


5.Do you think a journalism degree or work experience/internships are more important?

I don’t have a journalism degree and never did any work experience or internships. From my experience of working with journalism graduates I’d prefer someone who can write well! I guess a journalism degree might teach some of the industry knowledge that I had to learn through trial and error when I started?


6.Best part of the job?

It’s the dream, isn’t it? Making a (small) living from something that you enjoy doing. As a freelance editor I can work from home, set my own hours and do other work on the side. If it’s sunny I can usually drop everything and head outside. There are opportunities to travel all over the world on press trips. I also never need to buy equipment as I get mountains of samples sent to me.


7.Worst part of the job?

Like most jobs that are fun, there are plenty of amateurs and hobbyists that are happy to work for very little money, meaning professionals can’t attract the money that they should. As a freelancer I also have little job security – I can be out of work almost instantly. Also see my answer to question 10…


8.How would you describe the job market for this area of work in the UK?

Limited for an editor– there aren’t many outdoor magazines around, and there can only be one editor for each. I’m not really a feature writer – I don’t really write that much content myself – but I know that freelance writers and photographers are having a tough time at the moment. But as an editor I’m lazy – I prefer to work with writers that I know are good, so if a writer performs well consistently they’ll generally get more work.


9.Any advice for people wanting to break into the industry?

Editors like at least two characteristics from the following: Good, Punctual, Friendly. If you’re getting copy in on time and you’re nice to work with I’ll tolerate a lot more than if you’re always late and grumpy!

I got to my position at a relatively early age (I’m 29) by saying “yes” a lot – I took any opportunity that came up rather than holding out for a better offer. But don’t work for free – that upsets the rest of the industry, and if you get a reputation for selling yourself short you’ll get screwed over forever. So temper your “yes” with the ability to say “no” if someone is undervaluing you.


10. Does working in an area that you love and was once perhaps your favourite hobby, take some of the magic away from the outdoors, because your surrounded by it all the time.? As in you can no longer use it as an escape? (It’s just something I worry about.)

YES! This is a real issue. Getting a free trip abroad to write about climbing a particular mountain only to find its clagged-in for the week can cause a lot of stress. It’s hard to switch off, as you’re always looking for an angle, wondering if it’ll make a good article, slowing down to take the perfect photo, choosing  holiday locations around research needs – you get the picture. I write guidebooks, and find myself rushing around trying to cover as much ground as possible rather than lingering to enjoy the walk.

It’s important to be able to strike a work/life balance, and that becomes hard if your hobby is also your work. But compared to a normal 9-5 job I can’t really complain, can I?

For more information check out the magazines website or follow Phil on Twitter.


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