“There are very few times you have editors running around the newsroom excited about a story and this was one of them because historically, this is something that hasn’t happened in a long time or hasn’t happened before.”
People’s EIC Dan Wakeford is talking, of course, about the recent news flurry around His and Her Highnesses’ exit from royal life. In an interview with Kathryn Hopkins of WWD, Wakeford describes the recent excitement and gives a fresh perspective on celebrity journalism.
“We have a team of three dedicated royal reporters in London, who talk to all of the palaces all of the time,” Wakeford continued. “People is the number-one outlet for the royals in the world because we probably have more resources and more expertise than anyone else. We have a royal editor in America, we have reporters in America and then we have a team of three reporters in England.”
All of this inside information, however, still left them as shocked as the rest of us when the news came down. On a personal level, it was by far the biggest story that broke in his less-than-one-year-old tenure as EIC or in his four years previous as Deputy Editor.
He calls it “history in the making,” not something you can often say about the usual celebrity news. Yet for Wakeford, the most interesting stories are the ones that capture a truly human experience told in a compelling way. He’s taken this human interest angle and expanded it since taking the helm, creating a new section called “stories that make you smile.”
“… just realizing that life is hard and particularly in this current political climate you just want to come to the magazine to escape and have a positive uplift,” Wakeford said. “So, everything I’ve done is thinking about positivity, whether it’s the imagery we use, headlines we do, story arcs and even with a crime story honoring the victims and trying to find some positivity and some kindness there.”
It’s a shift the audience seems to resonate with judging from feedback and letters. Although overall audience figures slipped 3.8 percent last year, the magazine is still a massive profit maker for Meredith, who acquired the title when it bought the Time Inc. catalog.
In spite of editorial leadership changes and a growing emphasis on the “human” side of celebrity news, Wakeford insists they remain a trusted authority for their readers.
“They don’t know if something’s true until it’s in People,” he said. “We’re The New York Times of entertainment. That reputation and that trust between our readers has been established over 46 years. They know that they believe things that are written in People.”
And thanks in large part to that trust, print is still the anchor to the brand.
“We make so much money from print and it’s super successful. I probably spend 70 percent of my time in print, 20 percent on digital and 10 percent on television and video and different platforms. Print does take up a lot of my time,” he explains.
Considering how much competition they have via social media platforms, this speaks well to the power of the brand to engage in print. As they expand into more channels with new content, Wakeford is committed to leading an editorial team focused on keeping reader trust, a complicated proposition in the current media climate.