Last year was a period of transformation for Time Out New York. Terri White, who joined the publication last January as editor-in-chief, restructured the editorial staff and brought on a new award-winning art director, Chris Deacon. “I really believe the success of Time Out meant becoming a true multiplatform brand in New York. So instead of having two separate teams [print and digital], we built one big content team, and I brought in a lot of new senior staff,” said White. The result was an aesthetic change and a refresh of the content that really spoke to New Yorkers.
“Time Out’s always been a great source of information, but to me, it should also take the temperature of a city,” explained White. “So we started to do these new city identity pieces… about why we love this city so much. But also, I thought it would be interesting to delve into the good, bad and the very, very ugly of New York. We did an issue on anxiety, we did features on sleep [and] on the perils of dating.”
Here, White answers five questions on Time Out’s social success, a day in her life, her favorite NYC neighborhood and more.
FBNY: TONY recently won Folio’s Eddie & Ozzie Award for Best Use of Instagram for your Food & Drink Awards 2014 cover contest. How did that idea come about?
White: We have a lot of annual franchises at Time Out we’re famous for, and Food & Drink Awards is one of them. And my thing is they’re brilliant and they mean a lot to the reader, but how can we reinvent them each year. So we started off with a brainstorm of what’s happening with food and drinks in 2014. How can we execute it in a way that reflects that it’s 2014 and not 2004? We got talking about how some of the best food imagery you see these days is on Instagram, and we’re not talking about a photographer’s Instagram; we’re talking about your friends or somebody you know or somebody you follow. We thought it would be really interesting to capture that and bring the reader into the creation of that content. So we sent out a challenge and we said, OK, here are the finalists in the Food & Drink Awards. We want to put a reader’s photograph on the cover, our first-ever Instagram cover.
It’s no longer an us versus them sort of culture, in terms of we give you information and then you consume that information. To me it’s about how can we create a community in which we’re part of it and then the reader’s part of it. We’re a brand for New Yorkers by New Yorkers. The thing that we share with the readers is we all live in New York, we’re all experiencing New York, and so we want to bring them even closer to the brand than they ever have been before, and the Instagram contest did that really well.
FBNY: Describe your average workday.
White: It’s pretty hectic. I wanted Time Out New York to feel like a brand that people can zip into every hour, every day, every week. So for that reason we have a morning meeting about 10:15, which is just a quick standup meeting. The editors all come and they pitch ideas for digital that day, especially for the blog. So that gives us a chance to really talk about things that are happening right there and then in New York. If we hear of an amazing new opening or people talking about Taylor Swift is the ambassador for New York or Bushwick is named one of the coolest places in the city, we can start that dialog with our reader immediately.
And then I’ll have meetings with my senior editors, we’ll talk about how the website performed the day before and how we’re pacing to our target for the month, is there anything we need to do in terms of the content strategy to change how we’re doing — do we need more page reads, for example, is there something we should be running this week, next week? And then there’s obviously a natural production cycle with the actual physical print mag, which goes out on a Friday.
I spend most of my day just immersed in content. No day’s really the same, which is part of what I love about working for a brand like Time Out — it’s like an idea factory, a creation factory. We’re always brainstorming, we’re always trying to think of new and cool and exciting ways to do things. It’s pretty much the world’s greatest job.
FBNY: What are some lessons you’ve learned in your editorial career that you’re applying to your current position?
White: I’ve previously worked on teams that have had separate digital and print entities. And I’m a very firm believer — and I have to say we’ve seen success with this at Time Out — of everybody working across every platform. For a brand to really be powerful you have to execute content to such a high standard in a full 360-degree approach. What will [the reader] enjoy in print which then inspires them to go online, and then what will they see on social, which then drives them to pick up the print magazine?
FBNY: What is your favorite part of New York?
White: Well I live in Alphabet City — and it’s funny because a lot of my friends live in Brooklyn. They’re like, ‘Come and live in Brooklyn; it’s really cool.’ But I love Alphabet City. It’s got such a sense of community. There are lots of public parks out there. I came home one day, and I was looking out my window and there’s a woman rolling around on a wooden box in a leotard, and I still to this day have no idea what was going on, but I was like, ‘This is awesome.’ To me [the neighborhood] feels like real New York.
FBNY: What’s next for Time Out?
White: So 2015’s our 20th anniversary, which is super exciting. I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress on the print publication, so we just won [Min’s] Most Improved Publication award, which was great recognition for the work we’ve done. We’re about to launch a mobile responsive platform, which we’re super, super excited about. We’re going to be much more aggressive digitally, even more so than we have been. And we’re going to be rolling out a blogger network. I think we got Time Out New York back to being a talked about brand. We have people like Julian Casablancas and Karen O on the cover, Michael Cera, John Waters. It’s just been a great, great, great [past] year and I think 2015, it’s only going to get much bigger and better.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.