Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline Connell, Editor-In-Chief of Today’s Parent magazine. (She would have my dream job, if teaching weren’t a vocation from which my heart sees no escape.)

With a Master’s degree in Journalism and a nine year old son (John Lee), Connell is well-qualified to run the most read Canadian parenting magazine, with a circulation of 215,000 and more than 1.8 million monthly readers. She graciously agreed to a naptime phone chat.

This Mom: As the Editor-In-Chief of Today’s Parent, you’ve obviously got a talented team working with you, but what are some of the daily tasks you face in your role?

Caroline Connell: Most important is the planning: the organizing of lineups, deciding on special projects and that kind of thing. Ideas, brainstorming, thinking about visual treatments. I read every story, so while the editors work one-on-one with the writers to get the stories to where we want them to be, I sign off on everything. The rest of it is sort of miscellaneous management and correspondence. I do answer every letter to the editor, which actually I really enjoy. I like to get back to readers because they raise interesting points, and even when they’re sort of taking us to task for something they didn’t like in the magazine, I like to let them know that we’ve heard their point of view.

TM: Are you able to leave your work at work, or do you bring it home with you?

CC: I do bring it home. Literally, I bring home stories I have to read and I spend an hour or two, not every night, but just what it takes to stay on top of the flow. More than that it’s sort of with me all the time, in terms of looking for story ideas, cute kids to shoot for the cover…I have actually recruited people from my son’s Tae Kwon Do class and that sort of thing. {Question to self: is there any way to get Frannie into a nine year old boy’s Toronto Tae Kwon Do class?} Just thinking about ideas, hearing other stories, listening to parents I know, always having that idea filter out there trying to pull in ideas that might appeal to readers.

TM: You’ve received some awards since taking over at Today’s Parent. {In 2009, she won Editor of the Year and Today’s Parent won Magazine of the Year from the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors.} How do you think the magazine has changed during your time at the helm?

CC: We’ve broadened out a bit by doing more lifestyle coverage; we think that’s an important part of what parents need to know – food, home decor pieces, beauty for moms. We’re doing that because readers told us they want it. Many of them say Today’s Parent is the only magazine they have time for, which is just the reality when you have little kids, so they’re looking for a range within the magazine.

I’d say we’ve also loosened up a bit, too. We have a diverse set of viewpoints, we like to include different voices, we try not to preach or tell parents what to do. That’s always been true of Today’s Parent. We like to give people the range of options, which today includes alternative and complementary medicine, whereas five or ten years ago that wouldn’t have been as big a part of what we do. Now readers are looking for ways to keep their kids healthy, and to many of them that’s part of the package they want to hear about.

The core of Today’s Parent has always remained true to its origins in 1984, which was very developmentally-oriented. We try to understand kids’ behaviour from a developmental point of view, and share that with our readers so that when your kid’s throwing a tantrum you know that it’s not just to annoy you, it’s because he’s two and the following stuff is going on in a two-year old’s brain. Really trying to help parents understand and come up with solutions to the problems they’re facing.

TM: I’m very interested in the current “Magazines: The Power of Print” campaign.With the dawn of the Internet, obviously there were some concerns about that medium taking away from print magazines. What impact do you think it has had on Today’s Parent?

CC: It has become a bigger and bigger part of what we do, and we’ll continue to move in that direction. It has presented challenges in terms of keeping up and keeping ahead of readers’ needs and meeting them where they are. I think that it has certainly increased the competition; a lot of our competition is online now, and there are some web-only parenting properties that are very popular and simply didn’t exist back when Today’s Parent started. It’s an interesting ride.

Funnily enough, I got a letter from a reader last week who was complaining about our web links that we publish in the magazine. With a lot of stories we’ll include a link in case readers want more information, or to refer them to other web resources, and this reader was complaining that she didn’t have a computer and she wasn’t going to get one in the near future, so could we please stop doing that. {Grandma? Was that you? I swear I had the exact same conversation with her a couple of weeks ago, but I’m betting the magazine she was referring to was a little less…youthful…than Today’s Parent.} I had to tell her that the reality for most of our readers is that the large majority of them are online, and using online resources a lot, and they expect us to be there with them, so that’s what we have to deliver. Unfortunately for her, that means she just doesn’t have access to some of our resources.

I think it’s a real challenge for everyone in the media to keep up with where the web and other technologies are taking us, but it’s really exciting too, and we’re going to be launching our first mobile app this fall, so it’s fun. It’s a crazy ride, coming up with ideas that are going to work online and in print. It’s a great part of what we’re doing these days.

TM: If you weren’t a mom, how would your career be different right now?

CC: I don’t think I’d be at Today’s Parent! I was lucky enough to join the magazine basically on my way back from maternity leave. I was working for Chatelaine for many years before that and I was looking for a change and the opportunity arose when I was suddenly and totally immersed in the world of parenting, so I jumped at that chance and I’ve been here ever since. It’s an incredible privilege to be able to work with this material, and I think my fellow editors would agree that we pull so many stories from our own lives. The kids we share among us span the range of ages from babies right up to teens, and our mandate covers age 0 to 14, and we’re living it, the Today’s Parent experience, every day and we bring that to our story meetings. We try to get outside of our own Toronto world as well, but living the parent life puts you in touch with the material in a way that I just wouldn’t be if I weren’t a parent myself.

TM: As a mom, have you ever found yourself ignoring or going against advice that you’ve published in the magazine?

CC: Oh, gosh, yes! Totally. My friends and relatives have called me on it. It amuses people to say ‘Oh, I see the Editor-in-Chief of Today’s Parent giving in to her son’s whining,’ or whatever the case may be, but oh yes, I am far from a perfect parent. I read a lot of experts as a result of this job, but I don’t always do what I know is the right thing. I do my best, and I feel lucky to have access to all of the material that crosses my desk every day, but oh heavens, I am not a model parent by any stretch. I still feel like a beginner; I still learn from friends and relatives who are a few years ahead of me with children a little bit older. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means!

TM: How are back-to-school preparations going at your house?

CC: Oh, gosh. It’s okay. I’ve decided not to do any back-to-school shopping; I can’t think of anything my son needs. Back-to-school shopping is a big thing for the magazine, but I looked around and I thought ‘We have mountains of school supplies, he’s got clothes…he only wears shorts and t-shirts and he’s going to be in that for the next month anyway, so why bother?’ I’m taking a rather laid-back approach to back-to-school this year. Whatever the classroom essentials are, I’ll hear about those in the first few days and if there’s anything we need we can pick them up then. {I have to pause here to tell her how my little girl is starting school this fall. Is it okay to interrupt an interview with someone else to talk about yourself? She is appropriately encouraging, and we move on.}

TM: What do you like to do when you have time to yourself?

CC: Reading fiction is where I go when I have spare moments. I always have some novel on the go. I am trying to stay fit, getting to the gym a couple of times a week and playing some tennis this summer. Keeping up with friends. I find that’s hard to do with everyone’s busy schedule, so finding time to fit in the odd glass of wine with a girlfriend is something I like to do.

TM: Do you read magazines in your free time, or does that just feel like work? Can you relax with one, or are you always reading with ‘work eyes’?

CC: I do read them. It does feel a bit like work, but I still have that bug where I pass the newsstand and I can’t resist picking something up. It is part of what I enjoy doing on my own, but I certainly find as I’m doing it my work brain kicks in to gear and I’m thinking about formatting ideas or stories that we could learn from, that kind of thing.

TM: Final question. My blog is called This Mom Loves, and I ask this of all of my interviewees: aside from your family, of course, what else do you love?

CC: One place that I love is the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. I spent a year there in my early twenties and I was a volunteer teacher and it was a very memorable experience. I think Grenada is a hidden gem, and I haven’t been back in a while, but it’s time for another visit. I also love New York, getting there when I can. Not often enough. {Of course I have to tell her that we went to New York this summer. I’m sure you haven’t missed those posts.}

I’m also just loving the peaches and tomatoes this time of year! I’m pigging out on those things. They’re here for such a short time, but I love the Ontario fruits especially.

TM: Thanks so much for speaking with me!

To learn more about Today’s Parent, or to subscribe, you can visit their website…or just pick up an issue if you don’t have a computer. Though if that were the case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. You can also follow them on Twitter.

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