Maria StreshinskyMaria Streshinsky‘s move from Managing Editor at The Atlantic to her new role as Editor in Chief at Pacific Standard represents a welcome return to her West Coast roots and the start of a new challenge.

When Streshinsky joined Pacific Standard last year, the staff started in on plans for a name change, a rebranding effort, and a shift in focus, in hopes that the magazine will end up in the same camp as revered publications like The Atlantic and New Yorker.

Streshinsky spoke with Technology for Publishing Founder and CEO Margot Knorr Mancini this week about the role of women in media, and the challenges and opportunities that the industry has to offer for aspiring journalists.

Tell me about your current role.
I’m the Editor in Chief of Pacific Standard. When I got here, we launched into doing a redesign and a rebranding. The magazine was founded by [Sara Miller McCune], who’s the chairwoman of Sage Publications, a major privately held academic publisher. Sage is known for their work in the social sciences. Sara published journal after journal and book after book of ideas that she felt were important and compelling but often didn’t make it into the mainstream media. She and her husband long had the goal of starting a publication that would get this primary-source research into the mainstream vernacular.

One of the things we are trying to do is really look at human behavior—how we tick, why we tick, why do what we do—the things we do as individuals or as an organization that drives us toward either bettering the world or finding solutions to some of our intractable problems. We’re focusing the magazine on those stories in the realm of political science, economy, education, and how we can use that knowledge to look at where we’re going as a society and what’s coming next.

What are some of the big hurdles or changes you’ve had to deal with since you came on board?
We are very small. At The Atlantic, there were a good 20-plus editors and writers on staff. Here, all told, including my publisher and my executive director and executive assistant, there are 12 of us. We put out a daily website, we put out six magazines a year, but it’s a very small group of people trying to do a large thing. But we’re chipping away at it, and it’s enormously rewarding work.

Also, it’s always hard when a new person comes in, with the culture shift of a place. I’m trying to get out and about across California because there are great journalists editors across the state, which is great and fun, but it’s another challenge to get used to. We have a core office in Santa Barbara and then we are up and down the coast.

I couldn’t believe that this opportunity came along, because there just aren’t many magazines out on the West Coast. There are maybe three or four trying to do this level of [journalism] versus the numbers on the East Coast. That includes Mother Jones, Wired, and hopefully, in another year we’ll be classed into that group.

So, how did you get started in this industry?
I came out of college and there was a travel magazine in San Francisco [called Via], and I took a job compiling an events column in the back of the magazine. And then I really wanted to try to do as much news reporting as I could. It was run by AAA, so I looked at safety and insurance and regulatory issues, as best I could. I stayed there a lot of years because the editor turned into a wonderful friend and mentor and kept on moving me up the masthead, and she would send me off to travel and write a story about it—it was kind of hard to say no to that!

I finally realized that I was doing this really fun, wonderful work, but I didn’t want to stay in travel. I wanted to broaden, so I left there and became a freelancer. I went to New York for a little bit, and bounced around and got good experience. Then I went to the government [as a Program Analyst for the Department of the Interior] for two years, which took me to Washington, D.C., And that put me in the right place when the Atlantic job came up. I had been a managing editor for a short time at Mother Jones, so it was an unbelievable stroke of luck because [The Atlantic] was a dream job for me, and I loved it—just like this job is a dream job. It’s been a great progression.

When you look at the journey to where you are today, is there anything unique about your path?
I took a job at the government where a woman I knew called me and said, “You might think about applying for this.” I had been a magazine person—an editor and a writer—but that translated nicely into working for the Department of the Interior for two years. It was a really strange leap for me, but it was one of the best lessons in journalism, because I had a real inside look at how the government system works administratively, from the inside. I feel like I got a master’s degree in public policy, but they paid me instead of me having to pay them.

I feel like that’s a really important thing that happened to me, because I was willing to take this job that took me out of my profession, but it helped me in my profession more than I can say.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge the industry faces right now?
Web traffic and web numbers. I think that there is a role to play for real quality journalism, and quality can mean simply asking the right questions, but it’s best when all three—great journalism great, reporting, and great craftsmanship—come together. Our website has small numbers in terms of web traffic, and that is something we are focused on now, we are investing in trying to get more and more readers. What ultimately becomes important is the time spent on the site, but we need to show advertisers that we have X amount of unique viewers. It’s a real challenge, because it makes you think about what kind of journalism is going to be shared through Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and Digg and Instagram and the like so that you get more unique viewers. Every day, we’re trying to live in that world of traffic. We are working on how to say something really smart that will bring people back time and again, and doing that in a way that we’re getting those numbers. There are a lot of tactics that are being changed daily to get those numbers. Today, in so many ways, this becomes what journalism is about.

What advice would you give to other women, just starting out or established, about how to be successful in this industry?
Find an editor that you work well with and trust them. Everybody needs an editor—somebody who will help you craft your work. People who are new to the business will hold on to their own wording more tightly than people who have been doing this for quite a long time. Sometimes it’s for good reasons—and you should know when you should do that. But working with an editor is paramount. And be willing to dig deep into a subject. That’s hard today because writers are trying to move fast and churn out so many words to simply keep up with the voracious world of the web, but the people who are going to rise to the top are the people who are willing to read the studies, and make sure they find out who is making the counterargument to the point they’re trying to make. Become a subject-matter expert, and you will impress your editors.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I paddle an outrigger canoe. And I love it! But I just haven’t been able to do it in a year and half because I’ve been so busy.

What’s on your iPod?
Right now, a lot of books on tape, because I drive between Santa Barbara and San Francisco a lot. I listened to Christopher Buckley’s Losing Mum and Pup. I edited him very briefly at The Atlantic, so I felt like I was listening to a friend tell me stories. I’ve also finally just listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

What are your thoughts on women in the publishing world today?
Not long ago, at a conference I was on a panel about women who have been successful and how. It’s not something I had ever really identified with—as being a feminist or as being an anomaly as a woman in this business. It had crossed my mind from time to time, but mostly I felt like it was just a no-brainer—that there isn’t a difference and that we all should be just pushing forward. But then sitting on that panel, I actually found myself much more interested in the fact that it just hasn’t been the same, in recent times.

When my mother was a magazine editor in San Francisco, she found out her [male] assistant was making more money, and she was told, “Well, you are making the most a woman makes.” And I realized that wasn’t that long ago.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to other women who are starting out in the media industry?
I think that journalism is a tough world to do well in, and to make a living in. But magazines are looking for women who are real experts in big subjects, like Lisa Margonelli in energy and the environment, or like Hanna Rosin or Emily Bazelon and a number of others. Because I think there really is a place for women who can craft, report really well, and structure a story, and I want to encourage those women to keep at it.

Technology for Publishing’s Women in Media blog highlights the news and achievements of female leaders and role models in the publishing and media industry. Look for our monthly in-depth profiles and interviews of top women to watch. Is there someone you’d like to nominate for an upcoming Q&A? Drop us a note!

Posted by: Margot Knorr Mancini

A thought leader in the publishing industry, Margot Knorr Mancini has helped numerous publishers redefine their missions to become nimble content generators with the ability to repurpose content easily and efficiently. As Founder & CEO of Technology for Publishing, her analytical mind allows her to remain a step ahead of the industry, recognizing early trends and developing pivotal best practices.