Tanner Stransky on Journalism Within the Entertainment Industry

Tanner Stransky is a Staff Editor with Entertainment Weekly, where he previously worked for six years as a dedicated television critic. While maintaining his full time job, Tanner also authored the television-show-inspired career advice book, Find Your Inner Ugly Betty.

On the side, Tanner has provided mentoring and assistance to Ed2010, a networking group for young editors. Before transitioning full time to Entertainment Weekly, Tanner wrote articles for several magazines including Teen People, Figure Magazine, and The New York Post and worked as an editorial assistant at DirecTV.

I spoke with Tanner about his career in August, 2013. In our conversation, he shared some of the hidden elements of work as an entertainment writer and magazine editor, the primary differences between print and web content, tips on getting a job in journalism, the perks of cultivating areas of expertise, his experiences with publishing a book, and insights on branching out from journalism careers. The highlights of our call are summarized below.

The Lesser Known Work of a Journalist

Tanner StranskyGiven his professional background, Tanner is well equipped to share some elements of journalistic work- especially tasks related to entertainment writing- that aspiring journalists don’t typically consider.

The Tasks of a TV Critic

One of the benefits of working with Entertainment Weekly is that the publication still maintains a pretty pure model (in other words, writers are allowed to focus, for the most part, on their areas of expertise). During his time as a dedicated TV critic with the publication, Tanner did, indeed, spend a lot of time watching TV shows, though much of his time was also dedicated to reviewing content online and conducting interviews.

The Tasks of an Entertainment Writer

Though many would find the act of attending a red carpet event as a member of the press, Tanner reveals it might not be everything it’s racked up to be. Members of the print press are typically relegated to the end of the red carpet. Many stars pass through that section without stopping, as they may not be huge fans speaking with the media and/or feel they can get more out of a few quick TV interviews. The few interviews one might get from the end of the red carpet can also be difficult to work with, as stars tend to answer questions from the press en masse, and yet reporters are expected to provide unique content to their readers. Though a great way to get your feet wet as a fledgling entertainment writer, red carpet events may soon become a slog and struggle you will look forward to skipping.

A huge component of an entertainment writer’s work involves regular interaction with publicists. It is these professionals who offer exclusive content and act as the gatekeeper between publications and sought-after stars. Relationships with publicists are often cultivated over a series of years. In addition to coordinating with them on future events and upcoming coverage, entertainment writers must also be sure to follow up with them about coverage once it goes live.

The Tasks of a Magazine Editor

As an editor with Entertainment Weekly, Tanner spends much more time managing others and much less time actually writing. His tasks include:

  • Attending strategic planning meetings
  • Discussing with other editors and managers how to best deploy and utilize their limited resources
  • Coordinating content in the sections of the magazine he manages (making sure everything is complementary; that there is no overlap; that articles have been positioned and placed appropriately, etc.)
  • Giving direction to Entertainment Weekly’s staff writers and make sure they’re happy
  • Manage photos and art for both the magazine and its digital properties
  • Work with publicists
  • Work with fact checkers and copy editors

He also hosts a weekly radio show. Clearly being an editor requires extreme comfort with switching from one task to the next.

Online vs. Print Content

Tanner edits both web and print content for Entertainment Weekly, and highlighted the following common differences between web and print content:

Print Content

  • More succinct (Magazines have a far higher premium on space)
  • More curated and buttoned up
  • Presented with a cohesive, signature Entertainment Weekly voice
  • More controlled and filtered

Web Content

  • Better-suited for content that is optimally delivered via video
  • More likely to be bombastic or controversial
  • Can be far more lengthly
  • Can be in a more unique style or voice
  • More conversational and free flowing in terms of voice

How to Get a Job in the Journalism Industry

For many years, Tanner has been involved with Ed2010, which is designed to help fledgling journalists get established in the industry. Based on his work with the organization and personal experience getting jobs within the industry, Tanner advises:

  • Making use of organizations such as Ed2010, which offer helpful information, occasional scholarships, and useful networking events
  • Attend classes, panels, and networking events, no matter how nervous or uncomfortable they might make you feel (just be authentic and outgoing)
  • Develop genuine, long-lasting relationships with other serious aspiring journalists; they will be acting as your colleagues for years to come
  • Get information about job opportunities through people who can refer you to employers from the inside- job listings are a far less efficient means of finding work, considering how many people submit applications through them

The Perks of Cultivating Areas of Expertise

Tanner has benefited on multiple occasions from publishing frequently about specific subject areas. For example, his extensive coverage of the television show Roseanne lead to several exciting opportunities, including an invitation to interview Roseanne Barr in person and appear as an expert in an A&E Roseanne Barr  documentary. His expertise in RuPaul’s Drag Race lead to an opportunity to host a live TV event related to the show.

Even Tanner’s opportunity to write his book came through his coverage of the TV show Ugly Betty. He had been publishing reviews of the show for Entertainment Weekly for several months when a publisher at Kaplan contacted him and asked if he might be interested in pitching a book concept as they were interested in doing something career and Ugly Betty-related (to capitalize on the growing popularity of the show). Kaplan reached out to Tanner because was both well-versed in Ugly Betty lore and experienced with career development (via his experience with Ed2010).

On Publishing a Book as a Journalist

Tanner decided to accept Kaplan’s query and submitted his pitch (after having only a couple of days to assemble it). His proposal was accepted and Tanner finished Find Your Inner Ugly Betty within three months. Though meeting a tight deadline and writing an entire book while also holding down a full time job was by no means easy (Tanner shares that there were a lot of nights in with boxes of pizza), Tanner proves that it was possible.

Tanner’s experience also proves that there are still opportunities to publish niche books with mainstream publishers- and that publishers do, occasionally, reach out to writers out of the blue. What’s more, it is possible to deal with publishers in a highly efficient, no-fuss manner. In addition to finishing his book within three months, Tanner handled all the negotiations independently and set his own deadlines.

Tanner is not at all opposed to the idea of publishing another book in the future. He feels that one can gain an added advantage from publishing a book on a subject around a certain anniversary (e.g. a book about a show 25 years after it made its debut).

On Journalism and Side Jobs

Tanner is not the only journalist who has taken on side projects; many of his colleagues do freelance writing and consulting work. It is particularly common in the entertainment industry to do not only work as a freelance writer for other publications, but to also work in PR, marketing, and other niches of the entertainment industry. One of Tanner’s colleagues just transitioned from work with Entertainment Weekly to a job with the People’s Choice Awards. Another colleague left a job at a big name magazine to run Bravo.com. Beauty editors often take jobs with major cosmetics companies. Journalists accept positions within the entertainment industry or transition into work as publicists.

This goes to show that a journalist covering a specific industry is very likely to have opportunities to transition into new roles within that industry if desired. Work as a journalist typically requires one to build a large network and establish long-lasting connections with big movers and shakers. Work as a journalist also enables one to acquire a large body of knowledge about a particular field or area of focus. The more connections and experience one builds up, the more alternate prospects one might have. This “out” is a good thing to keep in mind should one want to enjoy a more stable life with higher earnings in one’s later years.