For our final At Work With of the year we speak to Anna Bassi, editor-in-chief of The Week Junior. This spin-off from the successful weekly news magazine has been a surprise success itself, building a significant readership since its 2015 launch. Anna was recently voted Editors’ Editor at the BSME Awards.
Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
My Monday begins like any other week day – I have big cup of coffee, make packed lunches and take my younger daughter to school and then jump on the train for the journey into central London.
I usually use the commuting time to catch up on the news online and gather my thoughts for the forthcoming issue in preparation for our Monday morning team meeting. I’ll try to deal with any urgent emails and – if I’m lucky – I might see a friend and spend some of the journey having a natter. I rarely make it to the office without grabbing a coffee on the way.
Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office
My desk is usually pretty tidy as the company I work for (Dennis) has a clear desk policy! It is not my natural state – I am generally a bit of a piler, I need to see everything that I am working on and worry that I will forget something if it is out of sight. Now, the desktop on my laptop is the home of all my piles – I have multiple browser windows open at any time and only close them when the job is done.
The Week Junior office is on the 5th floor, so the office is very light and bright with a lovely view down onto Alfred Place. The street is in the process of being landscaped – it is set to become central London’s first new park in over 100 years, so the view will eventually be even lovelier. I’m lucky to be able to work from home a couple of days a week so most Thursdays and Fridays I am often found tapping away at my kitchen table or at a makeshift desk in the bedroom.
Which magazine do you first remember?
LookIn, Smash Hits and Tammy were three of my favourite magazines when I was growing up. I vividly remember the Sapphire and Steel comic strip in LookIn, the giant poster of Haircut 100 that came free with an issue of Smash Hits, and how much I wanted to have long blonde hair and trendy clothes like Tammy!
A few years ago, I worked at Egmont magazines and the editorial director at the time was Colin Shelbourne – who had been the editor of LookIn when I was young. He is such a lovely man and it was funny to hear his stories about his days at the helm of the title – I seem to remember one of his highlights being a ride with Rod Stewart in the back of his limo!
Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
I really love reading travel magazines and a long-term favourite is Conde Nast Traveller. I love the photography and the sheer escapism that it offers. I also take great pleasure in planning holidays based on the places I read about – but on a slightly smaller budget…
Can you describe your magazine in three words?
Engaging, informing, empowering
The Week has been a hugely successful project; how did the idea for a children’s edition come about?
I can’t take any of the credit for its inception – it was the brainwave of Kerin O’Connor, who has been with The Week since its very early days and is now the brand’s CEO. Knowing that The Week was used in many secondary schools, he realised that there was an opportunity to create something similar for a younger audience. He spent a year or so developing the idea with a few different editorial consultants and then I came on board to refine the concept, recruit a team and launch the magazine in 2015.
It seems to have been a truth universally acknowledged at that time that children weren’t interested in news and had no appetite for print in the age of digital devices, but I think our success (we now have over 58,000 subscribers) proves that if the product is right, people will read it. The magazine is information-rich and really accessible. We speak to our young readers (not down to them) with the respect they deserve by anticipating their questions and concerns, particularly when it comes to serious news stories.
It is also designed to be read – the layouts are deliberately quite simple, so they are easy to navigate. We’ve found this to be particularly important for children who struggle with reading. Plus, there is something quite novel for young people about receiving something through the post each week that is addressed to them. One of my favourite anecdotes came from a parent who told me that her son literally punches the air when he gets home from school on a Friday to find his copy waiting for him!
The other great thing to have resulted from the success of The Week Junior is that we have launched another magazine this year. Our reader research told us that they were particularly interested in the science and animal pages of the weekly magazine – so we saw an opportunity to give them more of what they like in a slightly longer monthly offering (60 pages). The spin-off title, Science+Nature launched in September and has been really well received.
Your recent BSME Award (Editors’ Editor) is a clear professional endorsement; what feedback have you had back from readers?
I am truly stunned by this award – it is a huge honour! However, I don’t think our readers care too much about our awards, but they are really engaged with the magazine and we receive plenty of feedback from them – and from their parents and teachers too.
One of the really gratifying things has been how many adults have told us of the positive effect the magazine has had on children who were previously reluctant to read. What I hadn’t really anticipated when we started out was the impact our work would have in terms of creating a new generation of current affairs consumers. The other thing we always enjoy hearing is how many children now start conversations with parents about politics – it’s fantastic that they feel well-informed and confident enough to express their own opinions.
What are the key differences between the main magazine and the Junior edition?
The biggest distinction between the two is that while The Week is a really cleverly curated and artfully woven collection of news, ideas and opinions from a huge variety of media sources, every report in The Week Junior is written entirely from scratch. We have a lot more pictures too – every single story is accompanied by an eye-catching image (we hope!) to attract the attention of our young readers and encourage them to delve a bit deeper.
We also include what we call ‘playground currency’ on every page – bitesize bits of information and fascinating facts that children will read, remember, and possibly share with their friends.
The other key difference is our covers. While The Week’s is always illustrated and usually on a political theme, we have a lot more freedom to experiment with different styles and topics. We’ve had straight photographic covers, illustrations, typographic and collage. We even had a picture drawn by a reader on one early issue. We try to mix it up a bit so you’re unlikely to see two political covers in a row… unless something very big (like a general election) is happening. This week’s issue features the Mars InSight mission, last week it was a baby gorilla, next week… who knows!
What’s going to be the highlight of the week for you?
I have the day off tomorrow and will be spending it with my husband, having a birthday brunch and hopefully spending a bit more time than usual with my children when they get home from school.
What will you be doing after this chat?
Going home! I started writing this on my way in to work on the train this morning but had various meetings through the afternoon meaning that I didn’t get to finish it until 6pm.