Magazines Take on Identity and Celebrity in March

The program's Magazine Mavens — Deborah Way of O, The Oprah Magazine, Mimi Valdes-Ryan of Latina and Anne Stockwell of The Advocate — discuss topics gracing the latest issues of their publications, including pop star Janet Jackson's latest honor.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up: A popular bookstore chain closes, but it's not necessarily a sad goodbye. The co-founder of Karibu Books shares his wisdom about building a business and knowing when to let go. But first, it's time for our monthly check-in with the Magazine Mavens, editors of some of our favorite magazines. Joining me are Deborah Way, executive articles editor for O, The Oprah Magazine, Mimi Valdes Ryan, editor-in-chief of Latina Magazine and Anne Stockwell, editor-in-chief of The Advocate. Thank you all so much for talking to us.

Ms. DEBORAH WAY (Executive Articles Editor, O Magazine): Thank you.

Ms. MIMI VALDES RYAN (Editor in Chief, Latina Magazine): Thank you.

Ms. ANNE STOCKWELL (Editor in Chief, The Advocate Magazine): Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: Now, Mimi, how we have to congratulate you that this isn't your first issue with Latina Magazine, but it's your first issue as editor-in-chief after the big redesign, right? So big ups to you.

Ms. VALDES RYAN: Exactly. Thank you.

MARTIN: What will we see that's different after we read this magazine?

Ms. VALDES RYAN: Well, what we wanted to do with the magazine is just bring in, you know, the magazine has been very successful over the past 11 years, and we just wanted to sort of take things to the next level. So we wanted to step up the photography, make the look a little bit more sophisticated, and just sort of a cleaner, all around, sort of easier-to-navigate design. So that's what we did with March.

MARTIN: They say you never forget your first anything. So is there something about this that you'll never forget?

Ms. VALDES RYAN: Well, not sleeping for the past couple of months. You know, usually, a redesign takes a couple months to put together, but we really wanted to make an impact with the March issue because beauty and fashion is something we're stepping up in the magazine, and, obviously, March is a big issue for fashion. So I wanted to do it right away. So I'm going to remember not sleeping.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. Anne, this is the first time we've been able to have you at the table. Welcome.

Ms. STOCKWELL: Yes. Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Tell us a little bit about The Advocate.

Ms. STOCKWELL: Oh, The Advocate is the first gay publication in America, really. And we are just celebrating 40 years of continuous publication. We're 41, which in gay years is 92.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STOCKWELL: And I really sympathize, because we did a thorough redesign not very long ago, and I remember the not sleeping very well.

MARTIN: Deborah, this isn't the first issue you worked on. You're kind of our senior diva at the table here. But do you remember your first article for O or your first issue with O? And what was that like?

Ms. WAY: I just remember coming into O and being so blown away by the level of talent and the resources, and just such a high level of magazine production. It was quite impressive.

MARTIN: Oh, come on, don't tell them. Then when you want to complain, they're going to be like, see? But you said - girl, we need to school you. Keep that stuff to yourself. All three of your magazines have profiles of major celebrities. O has an interview with Sally Field. Latina has one with Jessica Alba. And The Advocate has one with Janet Jackson. So, Mimi, I wanted to start with you, because you interviewed Jessica Alba yourself while she was preparing dinner for the family. First of all, we want to know, how did the editor-in-chief pull that assignment? And…

Ms. VALDES RYAN: Well, you know what's so funny? Since this was our, you know, first issue with the redesign, and I figured that any writer that I assigned this to, I was going to put way too much pressure on them to deliver a great story, so I figured I should just assign it to myself. And it was really important - you know, I don't know how many people are aware of Jessica Alba's reputation in the…

MARTIN: That was fascinating. Tell us about this. Fascinating.

Ms. VALDES RYAN: …in the Latino community, she has been, you know, has this really unfair reputation as being someone who doesn't embrace her roots. There's been a lot of quotes that have appeared on numerous blogs, and, you know, a lot of people believe them. A lot of people believe that she had said all these crazy things, everything from, you know, not wanting to embrace her roots, her grandfather - wanted to forget his Mexican heritage. Just, like, all these really crazy things. And, you know, at Latina, we were following all this, and then we were like, you know what? We really need to figure out if she said these things and let her - give her an opportunity to explain herself in a magazine article, as opposed to all these sort of sound bites. Of course, when we go and do our research, we find out that these quotes never appeared anywhere - not in a legitimate newspaper or a magazine, and we were just stunned. I mean, we just couldn't believe that this girl had got this reputation for something she didn't even say. So…

MARTIN: Mimi, quick question. I mentioned that you interviewed Jessica Alba while she was cooking dinner for her family. Did you get a taste?

Ms. VALDES RYAN: Yes, she was cooking lasagna.

MARTIN: Can she cook?

Ms. VALDES RYAN: Yes, she can cook. She is definitely someone who cooks often, and when I not only, you know, I tasted my food myself, but also talking to her family and her friends, everyone was like Jessica cooks all the time. That's why we are always over here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Deborah, Oprah interviewed Sally Field, and food was also involved. And I couldn't help but chuckle when I got to the part about Oprah carrying home some leftovers in Tupperware. That must have been some pretty good chow. But…

Ms. WAY: I think it was good chow, and it was a really good chat. I think this was really a striking interview.

MARTIN: Yeah, why? Why did you chose Sally Field?

Ms. WAY: Beyond the fact that Sally Field has had, really, an amazing career and been able to do some extraordinary work - I mean, think of the characters we're on a first name basis because of her, you know, whether it's Gidget or Sybil or Norma Rae. But also, the tone of the interview itself is so different from, I think, many other celebrity interviews. I think we've sort of come to the point today where we expect that when a celebrity sits down with the media, they're going to try pretty hard to give the impression of candor. But, in fact, they are often very, very guarded.

Sally Field was definitely not guarded when she talked to Oprah. This is a woman who admits to living with a sort of chronic existential loneliness. She talks about periods in her life where she's had, you know, she's been afraid. She's been really angry. She's had deep longing. And it's just, you know, how candid she is and how not guarded was just pretty amazing, I thought.

MARTIN: It was interesting to - all of that. But it was also interesting to see how she said that at 61 - first of all, the fact that she admitted her age as a Hollywood star, that's something…

Ms. WAY: Yes. And she's still working.

MARTIN: But people just don't talk about age. But second, that she says I finally feel like I grew up and moved out of a fog. Do you have a sense that this is something that many women struggle with, to try to figure out who they are and to really know what they feel?

Ms. WAY: Oh, I think definitely, very much so. And it's interesting reading the interview, you sort of get the sense that though she didn't plan it this way, for Sally, her whole life has really been a project of identity and sort of being able finally to meet herself and accept herself. You know, she gives the example of just now, like in the past few years, she's gotten to the point where she doesn't feel like she has to push herself to do things that she thinks that the world expects of her.

MARTIN: It's really. It was very interesting, I think revealing, because I think, so many of us see these celebrities as just being, having the perfect life, and it never occurs to us how hard they have to struggle. And The Advocate interviewed Janet Jackson and - for a regular feature that you've got called Big Gay Following.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That sounds like a fun one. So why does Janet Jackson have a big gay following?

Ms. STOCKWELL: We don't have long enough.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STOCKWELL: Let me just tell you very briefly where we got that department name. I've been here a long time, and for many years, publicists would call us and, you know, regrettably with a celebrity that kind of no one had ever heard of. And they would say, ah, but here she has a big gay following. And that was the pitch for a long, long time.

We decided that we would just turn the table, and this is the place in our magazine where celebrities that we just flat love just talk to us. I think Janet comes across as, honestly, a very nice woman. I mean, she talks about in her interview, being available to work on behalf of AIDS causes, but also about some of her friends whom she lost to AIDS. For instance, Jean Anthony Ray, one of the dancers I think from "Fame." We talk about her 2004 "Will and Grace" episodes. You know, we just chat.

MARTIN: Do you think this represents an advance, in a way? I'm wondering whether there was a time in which a major celebrity would not want to be featured as having a big gay following, which is one of the reason you got these minor celebs. I have to tell you, I some space in my heart for minor celebs, since, you know, you know, sometimes they're the only people who will talk to you. But being a relatively new program - do you know what I mean? Do you feel that this represents sort of a step forward, or not? Or is it just that…

Ms. STOCKWELL: Sure. I mean, but it's really important to be clear that we are very much dealing in a time of conflict. You know, I have to give a big shout out to Sally Field and also to Jessica Alba. These are stars that we've worked with who were very cool with our audience. But not every star is, by any means, we still struggle, just as a matter of course, with especially A-list male celebrities. Some of their people around them are really, regrettably - I think, anyway - far behind the times and worrying about what kind of effect simply being seen in our magazine would have.

The cover of the issue that we're talking about, our Janet Jackson interview, in fact, is a special Advocate memorial to Heath Ledger, who I think, he personifies the young leading man who was able to bring all his talent and all his commitment to a gay role, though he was not gay. It's all in flux. It's a very exciting time to be at The Advocate.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News, and we're having our monthly visit with magazine editors Deborah Way of O, the Oprah Magazine, Mimi Valdes-Ryan of Latina Magazine and Anne Stockwell of The Advocate. All this celebrity talk makes a perfect segue into money, because, you know, they've got it and the rest of us, well, not so much. Deborah, your magazine has a feature on money management every month. But you have a special take-out this month. Why?

Ms. WAY: We do, and we actually do one every year because, like everyone else in America, our readers are concerned about money. It's something they worry about. It's something they stress about. And our goal this year was basically just to help them make sure that they really are doing the best thing that they can be doing with their money. So we've rounded up a great group of experts, who are giving very practical, very down to earth, very useful advice, touching on everything from buying a house to saving for college to funding retirement, when do you need to get a financial planner, and how on earth do you save money when it seems you can't really save a penny?

MARTIN: Mimi, Latina also covers money matters every month. But I also want to point out that like a number of magazines, your reporting isn't limited to the printed page. You also have a robust Web site, where you cover money and business issues. Are there - do you think that there are some particular money issues that your readers are interested in that might not be the same as other people's?

Ms. VALDES RYAN: Well, I think in general, Latinas, especially, you know, if your parents were immigrants, or even if your grandparents were recent immigrants, you - there's this sort of mistrust of banking, and, you know, a lot of people are still sort of - you know, it's a lot of education that goes into not just the regular, you know, get your checking account and your savings account but 401Ks and, you know tax preparation - just all these things that are still not necessarily, you know, just generational, that people just don't have the information.

So we do a lot of education. Our new Web site is launching today, actually, at 7:00 P.M., and we're going to have a lot more information about money and career and all that sort of stuff on our Web site for our audience.

MARTIN: Okay, and Anne, the Advocate has an article on taxes, and it claims that the most quantifiable injustice of being gay may be the taxes. Why is that?

Ms. STOCKWELL: Well, tax law and, obviously, many other kinds of law discriminate against gay couples. In some ways, in a couple of ways, you actually can come out ahead. But I think the big take-away on this issue and many others is you really need to take that extra step to have a financial advisor who understands how the law really applies to gay couples, especially in terms of joint ownership and inheritance rights and all the rest of that. It's very difficult to get kind of to a level playing field in sharing your possessions and securing your future alongside heterosexual couples.

MARTIN: Okay, so finally, I always ask this, and I know it's unfair, but do you have a favorite article in this month's magazine? Anne?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STOCKWELL: Well, aside from the (unintelligible), we have a wonderful story speaking to people who are gay people who were very moved by "Brokeback Mountain" years after the film was released. Number one, we're mourning Heath Ledger in a very personal way, but also the film motivated them to make huge changes in their own lives, the story of this man, this cowboy, who never was able to acknowledge his true self, and lived his life in a very depressed, flattened state.

Some people came out. Some people moved out of relationships that they'd had for a long time. Some people lost weight. Fascinating stories of real people who were affected by this young man in this film.

MARTIN: That is interesting. Mimi, what about you?

Ms. VALDES RYAN: I think we're the most excited about the Jessica Alba article, and I think it's because we were able to raise all of these issues about identity and what that means to be a Latina.

You know, everyone has these sort of - a lot of times, people want to have a checklist of what that exactly means, and for someone like Jessica Alba, who is an A-list star, to really sort of speak so candidly about all of her issues growing up with a Mexican father, with a white mom and what that meant, and just all those things and all those struggles, I think, is just so much the story of most of our readers. And to have an A-list star talk about this I just think was really great just to sort of - just to start the discussion and continue it, because on our Web site especially, we've been getting so many -so many people just going onto those message boards and really happy that she spoke about it and she finally sort of cleared up all the rumors about what she thinks about her heritage.

MARTIN: And it's so often the case - a very distinct story, but also very universal one that I think people of a lot of different ethnic backgrounds can identify with.

Ms. VALDES RYAN: Exactly.

MARTIN: Deborah, what about you? Your favorite?

Ms. WAY: I actually have two. I'll talk about them quickly.

MARTIN: Oh, she was prepared.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WAY: One of them is from the money package of stories. It's called "31 Solid Gold Ways to Save Without Giving up Your Latte" - and as the name suggests, 31 fabulous ways to save a bundle of money, and not just a dollar here or there.

And the other one is by a write named Katie Goodman, and it's called "The 30-day Email Detox." And Katie lives in Bozeman, Montana and runs a comedy group there and is very much a type-A, very plugged-in person, busy all the time, but her email was driving her crazy. And she felt like it was the black plague in her life. So she just kind of gave it up for 30 days. And the interesting thing about it was that it was so much the anticipation of it and the process of letting people know that she was disengaging was the really horrible, scary part because, I mean, she got so much flak from people in her life. It was sort of shock and awe.

But when she actually did it, that was much easier, and it really kind of did change her life. And I think it's something that - I mean, not like anybody's going to give up e-mail, not even for 30 days, but if you can think about it consciously and sort of minimize its impact on your life, I think we might all be a little bit happier.

MARTIN: Deborah, I'm going to e-mail you and tell you how I feel about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Deborah Way of O, the Oprah magazine, Mimi Valdez-Ryan of Latina magazine and Anne Stockwell of The Advocate. Deborah and Mimi Valdez-Ryan were in our New York bureau, and Anne Stockwell joined us from her office in Los Angeles. Ladies, mavens, thank you all so much for speaking with us.

Ms. WAY: Thank you.

Ms. STOCKWELL: Thank you, Michel.

Ms. VALDEZ RYAN: Thank you.

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