Welcome to our SPOTLIGHT feature, where we highlight a journalist and ProfNet user to share their personal story and insight with you. This SPOTLIGHT belongs to Deborah Skolnik, senior editor at Parenting magazine.
We hope you find SPOTLIGHT both enjoyable and informative. Please feel free to leave a comment after the blog entry.
Deborah, when and why did you decide to become a journalist? Was it something you aimed for or something that just happened?
When I was in sixth grade, as part of an art project, I had to draw
myself in my future occupation. I created a picture in which I was
sitting at a desk with piles of papers on either side of me, and a
placard reading “EDITOR” in the middle. Sometimes you just know!
How did you become a journalist who focuses on children's issues?
I drifted into it. My earliest years were spent in women’s service
magazines. Then in the late 90’s, before I had children, I briefly
worked as managing editor of American Baby. I was less motivated by
the subject matter than by the chance to be a manager, and soon left
to be an editor at The New York Daily News. But once I became a
mother, I needed a job where the hours were more predictable. A former
American Baby coworker was at Parents magazine by then, and helped me
get a job there too. This time around, with a young child of my own, I
found the topic of childrearing to be far more personally relevant and
interesting. I remained at Parents for four years, then moved on to
my current job at Parenting, where I’ve been for almost seven happy
People sometimes ask me if I ever get tired about writing about
children. Never! I love my own and other people’s kids, and exploring
the funny and fascinating things they do in the course of learning
(hopefully!) to be happy, healthy, and less dysfunctional than mom
(well, at least this mom).
What was your first job as a journalist?
I spent six years at Woman’s Day magazine, working my way up from
editorial assistant to features editor.
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?
Each challenge always seems like the biggest! First it was getting
noticed and finding ways to move up from answering phones and licking
envelopes (remember snail mail)? Then it was figuring out how to make
beneficial career jumps. These days, it’s finding ways to stay nimble
in a digitally-driven world, and to create quality product with
So I’d say that the biggest challenge of my career is likely still
ahead of me. Give me another 20 years. Maybe it’ll be figuring out how
to write articles while simultaneously driving my flying car (which
will run on fuel made from old Justin Bieber CDs).
How has motherhood affected your career?
It’s given me tons of insight, strengthened my powers of judgment, and
provided a lot of funny material I work into stories.
This past weekend, I put on a new pair of jeans and asked my
11-year-old daughter how she liked them. She said, “They’re okay…but
your old is showing.”
See, I just worked some material in right here!
Do your kids give you ideas to take to the office? Did you ever follow
through with one that turned into a great story or feature?
Sure, all the time. Once, when my younger daughter was 2, she picked
up our phone and started walking around the house saying, “Heh-woe?
Heh-woe?” into the receiver. It gave me the idea to do a story on
“Your Baby’s Cutest Milestones.” It was one of my favorite stories I
Do you have a most memorable moment in your career so far?
About seven years ago, I got to appear on The Today Show with Matt
Lauer. All day long after that, my phone rang off the hook as
long-lost friends around the country called to say they’d see me on
TV. A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from a viewer in
Kentucky who thought my skirt had been too short. He called me a
“vacationing prostitute.” I was offended. It had been a WORKING day
for me, obviously!
Is there a "best" part to being a journalist in your specific genre?
There are almost too many bests to mention. I’ll name just two: The
chance to work with bright and good-hearted people, and the
satisfaction of knowing I’m helping to improve families’ lives.
What suggestions do you have for public relations professionals or
anyone who wants to pitch you a story?
Please e-mail me. Half our staff is based in Florida, so if I need to
show your pitch to anyone else, that gives me an easy way to circulate
What should they always do and never do?
Always try to keep it brief – I rarely have time to read someone’s CV.
Highlight the key points. If I tell you I’m forwarding your note to
someone else on our staff because your client actually isn’t within my
area of coverage, follow up with my colleague, not with me.
Never is a strong word, but I’m not a big fan of PR people trying to
press their case once I’ve told them that their product/topic isn’t a
match for my needs. I know my needs. It’s fine to e-mail me a pitch,
and a follow-up, but after that, if you don’t hear from me, it’s
normally because I’m taking a pass and unfortunately get too many
pitches to reply to each one, much as I’d like to.
Please coordinate within your own staff. Sometimes two staffers send
me the same pitches and make the same calls to me, not realizing
they’re duplicating their efforts.
If you’re sending me a sample of a product to review, if it isn’t a
very expensive item, send two of them. I may need one to test, or one
to send to Florida to show someone there. You’ll spare me the legwork
of procuring an extra from you.
If you’re inviting me to an event, please say it’s okay to bring a
plus-one if you’re at all able. I hate going alone and then standing
in a corner, feeling funny. And half the time it seems like everyone
else brought a plus-one anyway…except me!
If I ask for responses to a ProfNet query and you happen to already
know my phone number, please don’t call me, thinking you’ll jump ahead
of publicists who know me less well. I aggregate all the e-mail
responses I receive into a single large document to review. If you
call, I have to enter all that info by hand…I may not remember to
include yours at all and then we both lose out!
And please don’t use my query as a springboard to pitch something
unrelated – i.e. “Hi Deborah, not sure if this is relevant to your
article on bullying, but I have a great new yogurt bar that can put
bullies in a better mood and make them less hostile.” You’re
embarrassing yourself, dude!
How can someone in public relations develop a relationship with you?
If you meet a pressing need of mine, that’s the start of a beautiful
I get requests every week to meet somewhere for coffee, or for lunch.
I’ll do it if I can, but I don’t want to be made to feel obligated to
cover your cool new booster seat because you bought me a Skinny
Vanilla Latte. If you coax me out of my cave by saying there are no
strings attached and you just want to put a face with a name, please
don’t act otherwise later. It’s very rare, but it happens.
Do you use social media in your job?
Yes! I rely heavily on Facebook polls, among other things.
How do you use ProfNet and how has it helped you?
I use ProfNet several times a week on average. It’s transformed
information-gathering and expert-vetting as I know it. I’ll look for
anything from pediatric dermatologists to organizing experts and
community activists. The possibilities are endless.
What's your advice for someone starting their career in journalism?
Get comfortable with creating and curating both digital and
print-based content. Be nice to everyone you work with. First because
they deserve your respect and courtesy, whether they rank above or
below you on the corporate ladder. Second because you’ll almost surely
bump into them repeatedly in the course of your career. It’s that kind
How has the industry changed from when you started out?
We didn’t have computers yet, and the youth culture was dismissed by
the old guard. These are far more challenging, but also exciting,
What would you be doing if you weren't a journalist?
I’m not sure. Probably I’d be a freelance writer, but law school
might’ve been the road less taken. I also often think it would be fun
to drive a really big truck. Not the kind that’s stacked high with
live chickens in crates, splattering feathers onto the cars behind.
Maybe one that has groceries in it. I also think it would be fun to
sell perfume, or be a writing tutor.
No, no, definitely the trucking.
What do you like to do when you're not at the Parenting office?
Write funny Facebook posts, send notes to friends, work in my garden,
go swimming, drive (I have a little red Mazda Miata that I love), play
with my children, cook…I wish there were 40 hours in each day!
About Deborah Skolnik
In her role as senior editor at Parenting magazine, Deborah Skolnik is responsible for editing and writing feature stories on child development and mom-focused issues for Parenting magazine and its web site, Parenting.com.
She also serves as editor of the magazine’s School Years Ages + Stages section, and regularly appears on television on behalf of Parenting, including interviews with NBC’s Today, Good Morning America, The Early Show, CNN, CNBC and MSNBC, among others.
She joined The Parenting Group in 2005 as senior articles editor of Parenting magazine. Skolnik has also served as features editor at Woman's Day and McCall’s, managing editor at American Baby, deputy Sunday features editor of The New York Daily News, and senior editor at Parents magazine.
A magna **** laude graduate of Cornell University, Skolnik lives in Scarsdale with her husband and two children.
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