A Rodale Refugee Reunion; Christine Lahti Penning a Memoir?

As faithful readers of this column know, in the meta media universe that is Wednesdays at Michael’s, there is no end to the way fellow diners are connected. I was joined today by Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief and chief content officer of Reader’s Digest and the author of New York Times‘ best sellers The Digest Diet and The Digest Diet Cookbook. Minutes after Liz sat down, David Zinczenko arrived and the two Rodale refugees exchanged a big hug and chatted while I made the rounds in the dining room. When things settled down, Liz explained that both she and Dave got to know each other during “The Steve Murphy Era” at Rodale when she was Prevention‘s EIC.  “It was Dave who paved the way for so many editors to write books — including me,” she added. During those halcyon days at Rodale, Liz penned Flat Belly Diet!, which sold a million copies, and the equally successful Flat Belly Diet! 400 Calorie Fix and became an in-demand health and fitness expert on television, securing a spot as a regular guest host on The Doctors and appearing regularly on Good Morning America, which she still does for Reader’s Digest. She’s even logged two seasons on The Biggest Loser.

Liz left Prevention to helm Every Day with Rachael Ray and, in 2011, landed her “dream job” at Reader’s Digest, which has even taken her to the Oval Office. In an interview she scored with President Barack Obama, he told her that his grandfather would have been proud to see him featured in the magazine’s pages since he tore out the jokes in his issues to save for his grandson. It’s easy to see why the stunning and energetic mother of twin eight-year-old daughters, Sophia and Olivia, finds the EIC job at the iconic publication (which as a 99 percent brand awareness rating among Americans) a perfect fit. Between bites of her kale chicken Caesar salad, she enthused about the “positive, life-affirming” stories that have been RD‘s signature throughout its long history. In fact, she told me that she had plans to bring more of that signature all-American optimism into the mix by “returning [the brand] to its roots.” But make no mistake about it — while  features like its well-loved jokes, “Quotable Quotes” and “Word Power,” are an enduring part of the mix, this is not your grandmother’s Reader’s Digest.

Liz Vaccariello and Diane Clehane

I was fascinated to learn that the magazine was the first publication to be available on Kindle and one of the first to offer readers an app. In December of last year, digital sales overtook newsstand sales, and the magazine now has over 1.2 million Facebook fans. All this bodes very well for Liz’s plans to unveil both a print and digital redesign of the magazine next year where, she says, there will be even more opportunities for readers to share and engage with the magazine and with each other.

“Our readers are readers and I want to engage them at all different levels,” says Liz. “What I love is being able to go through the best of the best of the most uplifting stories out there and bring them to our readers in print and online.” The content team “leverages all our resources,” says Liz, to fill “the three emotional buckets” of storytelling: funny, FYI and fuzzy (as in warm). “People want to feel something,” she explains of the categorization. “The magazine is an oasis from the politics, celebrity (obsession) and snarkiness” that permeates today’s media. Celebrities are welcome in RD, explains Liz, but only if their story has resonance with readers who want to be inspired by their optimism and courage.

The June issue’s cover featured the much buzzed about “Most Trusted People in America” with cover gal Robin Roberts named as the most trusted woman in television. (Liz told me the beloved GMA host broke down at the news she’d earned the title.) The survey, conducted by The Wagner Group, polled 1,000 Americans and found that Tom Hanks ranked No. 1 with the magazine’s readers followed by Sandra Bullock. Others on the list included Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. Liz told me exclusively that she is planning to turn the feature into an annual event. “It will be interesting to see how people track as the years go on,” she said. The July issue offers the terrific cover story “50 Surprising Reasons We Love America” with Olympian Missy Franklin‘s decision to turn down millions in endorsements to finish her senior year in high school topping the list.