Cosmo editor Claire Hodgson: 'My dream job was in the media industry but I told myself it was impossible'
Cosmopolitan Magazine boasts the title of biggest young women’s media brand in the world. From putting plus size supermodel, Tess Holliday and non-binary activist, Jonathan Van Ness on the cover to winning multiple awards and launching a programme to help graduates into work during the pandemic, Cosmo has always been a force to be reckoned with.
Last week Manchester Metropolitan journalism students were honoured to have the chance to interview Cosmo’s Editor-in-Chief, Claire Hodgson for a magcast - one of a series of audio recordings made by the magazine journalism unit with people working in the magazine industry.
Claire opened up to Fionntan Evans and I about how she manages her mental health and provided helpful employability advice to progress into a career as a journalist. The interview was conducted through Teams with multimedia journalism lecturers, Jenna Sloan and Natalie Carragher.
Like a lot of people, Claire’s passion for journalism started in her youth when she would occupy her time reading magazines which naturally sparked her interest in writing.
“I always loved media and magazines, when I was growing up I would religiously buy magazines like Smash Hits and Top of the Pops every week,” she says.
Claire recognised the competitive nature of the industry, which is just as cut-throat today.
She says: “My dream job was in the media industry but I told myself it was impossible and that I would never get a job in journalism.”
Her supportive teachers at high school encouraged her to pursue that path and so Claire’s journey began. Her first experience of making media was editing her school magazine and she then went on to study English Language and Literature at the University of Liverpool.
Throughout the interview, Claire stressed the importance of work experience, such as writing for your university magazine, as you gain the necessary skills to exceed as a journalist.
“It’s a fantastic learning opportunity and teaches you the basics of understanding how to pitch an idea and how to tackle the commissioning process. It’s really important to see the journey through someone’s CV,” she remarks.
Claire spent her summer holidays getting work experience down in London while working a pub job until early hours of the morning to help maintain her finances.
Many students don’t live in the capital and moving to London may not be a feasible option. I asked Claire if she felt it was mandatory to move to a big city like London for a better chance of securing a job.
She says: “Working from home has become the norm and regardless of what happens with the pandemic, one of the benefits of our world becoming increasingly digital is that it has opened more opportunities outside of London than ever before.”
As a student journalist Fionntan Evans was eager to learn the best way of approaching the daunting yet inevitable step of becoming a journalist - pitching to publications.
Like many magazines, Cosmopolitan publishes stories instantaneously in keeping with the trending, hot topics on social media. Fionntan asked Claire how important is it to respond to popular culture and how can you best pitch with pace whilst carrying out adequate research.
She says: “It’s challenging. If something has happened that’s big news in popular culture we would expect to have that story up within half an hour.
“In the instance where you are curating a story that is reacting to a past event, you have a little bit more time but equally you have to pitch your idea as soon as possible and be willing to turn it round within 24 to 48 hours.”
Claire stresses how important it is to “research, research, research”.
Digital media has increased the amount of opportunities for writers
“The amount of pitches that we receive that are almost exactly the same as something we’ve already released or something that you’ve seen on ten different websites is a really high proportion.”
Cosmopolitan's website shares extensive guidelines on how to structure a pitch and what kinds of stories they are looking for.
Digital media has birthed a seemingly impossible turnaround time for a story which is intimidating for students such as myself. But on the flip side, the possibilities for what stories you can create are almost endless.
Claire says: “Digital media has increased the amount of opportunities for writers as we are no longer having to pitch for a finite amount of print pages, which were mainly reserved for more established journalists.”
Fionntan shares that Cosmopolitan's content inspired him as a teenager because it was the first time he saw the LGBT community represented in the mainstream media.
“That’s my number one priority. We’re very passionate about commissioning the people who have lived through the experience to talk about it, because it isn’t our place to write about something if we haven’t been through it.”
Claire adds that in order to submit a worthy pitch, make sure you have a strong, interesting headline and a short synopsis of your story.
I shared with Claire that my confidence was knocked last year when I published my first article outside of uni. I received some criticism as I’d included an incorrect statistic due to a lack of research (ironic). I asked Claire how she builds resilience and handles rejection without taking it to heart.
She answered: “I genuinely feel that way now, it’s rare I'll have a week where I don’t obsess over what negative feedback I may have received. It’s a very important topic in this age of social media, we’re spending more time in front of our screens so you have a lot more time to feel anxious.”
Claire gave us a very beneficial tip that she hasn’t shared with anyone before.
“I’ve made a folder on my email and any time I get a nice bit of feedback, I save it and drag it into the folder. On the days where I'm overthinking and doubting myself I read them and think ‘no, you’re being an idiot.’”
Claire acknowledges that advice like ‘focus on the good stuff’ is easier said than done, especially in a creative industry like journalism because you're opening yourself up to personal criticism.
“When I’m feeling low it’s really important to try to remind myself that it is just work. The people in your life know who you are. Remind yourself where professional you ends and where personal you begins.”
While it’s not the immediate solution we’re all desperately seeking, Claire’s vulnerability on this topic was very reassuring. Knowing that an editor in chief of a magazine deals with similar struggles, yet is successful in her career, is genuinely very inspiring.
Fionntan, Jenna, Natalie and I found the insight that Claire provided extremely helpful as well as motivating and it was a pleasure to chat with her. It feels like we’ve been let into so many exclusive industry secrets during the interview. Working for a well established and iconic magazine like Cosmo no longer feels unattainable.