Hearty “High Five” To Highlights Magazine

An Interview With Editor Christine Clark

Apparently, after all these decades, kids still clamor for the Highlights experience. In print, yet – bucking the tide of paper publications that have withered or folded altogether. The Honesdale-based editor spoke with PBJ on the future of print, reaching the young and restless, and social change.

Pocono Business Journal: How did you start your career at Highlights?

Christine Clark: I came to Highlights in 1994 bringing 15 years of experience with two other children’s publishers. Many editors “fall” into this field, but all I ever wanted to be was a children’s magazine editor. I have a vivid childhood memory of being about 12 years old and finding a new issue of my favorite children’s magazine Calling All Girls in our mailbox. I remember taking it to my bedroom and reading it from cover to cover–and stumbling upon the masthead for the first time. The editor’s name was Ruby, and I recall thinking that Ruby must surely have the best job in the world. Right then I decided that someday I would have a job like Ruby’s, and I never looked back. I devoured books as a child, but I was especially enamored of magazines. I liked the variety they offered–and how each issue was familiar with its regular features, yet full of surprises every month. When you aspire to edit a children’s magazine, naturally you want to edit the best one. So I happily joined Highlights in 1994 after spending a week at a writer’s conference in Chautauqua, New York. The conference was sponsored by the Highlights Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Highlights that supports and encourages people who want to write for children. I was struck by the high caliber of the Highlights staff–and impressed with their commitment to providing kids and families with the highest quality of children’s literature. Now I think I have the best job in the world–better than Ruby’s!

PBJ: What was your favorite feature growing up? Why?

Although my sisters and I had subscriptions to several children’s magazines growing up, we didn’t subscribe to Highlights. I was one of those kids who had to read Highlights at our dentist’s office! (I give my mother a hard time about that today). Like most people, I loved finding the “Hidden Pictures,” but I also enjoyed the fiction. Today, I’m a fan of “Gallant Kids,” a feature we started just a few years ago. A spin-off of the well-known “Goofus and Gallant” cartoon strip enjoyed by generations of readers, it profiles real kids who are doing wonderful things to help others.

PBJ: How many staffers are at the Honesdale site?

We have about 50 employees in Honesdale, which is our editorial office. Our business office is in Columbus, Ohio, where we have about 500 employees.

PBJ: What are some of the biggest changes at Highlights over the past ten years?

One of the biggest changes is our expanded product line. In 2007, we launched a second magazine called Highlights High Five, which is very similar to its big sister publication but edited for children two to six. We’ve also introduced new puzzle-themed book clubs for kids, Puzzle Buzz, Hidden Pictures Playground, and, most recently, a new Puzzlemania with a companion Web site. We also launched HighlightsKids.com–an advertising free, robust Web site with Highlights stories, games, and activities. And we’ve updated the look of our flagship publication, Highlights, adding more color and graphics, as well as new features. In 2006, we had a blast celebrating the delivery of our one-billionth copy of Highlights magazine. That’s pretty incredible!

PBJ: How is print media doing in the children’s market?

Continually rising costs make publishing a challenge. But the good news is that parents and grandparents are still buying ink-on-paper products for kids. High Five took off like a rocket in 2007 and is still flying high. Highlights and High Five have a combined circulation of more than two million. It’s still fun for kids to find a magazine in the mailbox addressed to them. It’s still fun for young kids to snuggle with adults and enjoy together the pleasure of turning the pages of a magazine. Older kids still have an intensely personal relationship with their favorite magazines just as I did when I was a child. Kids tell us this when they write to us, and they talk to us as if we are a dear friend. (We receive approximately 3,000 to 4,000 letters and emails a month from kids, and we answer every one of them.)

PBJ: How does your editorial content define the publication?

A magazine is, by definition, a package of ideas and biases. Everything we publish in Highlights reflects our belief that “children are the world’s most important people.” Everything we publish reflects our ideas about what kids need to grow up to become curious, confident, creative, and caring individuals. That’s our mission: to help kids grow to become their best selves. It’s all what we call “Fun with a Purpose.”

PBJ: Give examples of how have you have changed with the times as different social issues have arisen.

It’s interesting to look at back issues of Highlights, which was founded in 1946. Read just a few issues from each decade, and you’re reminded of just how much the world has changed. In the earliest issues, you can find references to the importance of buying war bonds. In the 60s and 70s, you can see stories and articles that depict women in roles other than that of stay-at-home mom. In the era of Civil Rights, there’s talk in Highlights about how skin color doesn’t really matter. Today, as a nod to our ever-shrinking world and the growing need for kids to become “global citizens,” you’ll find many more articles about cultures that are probably unfamiliar to most of our readers. But what’s just as interesting as you scan the issues over the decades is the realization that kids haven’t really changed that much in all these years. They like to read about many of the same things – animals, nature, and outer space, for example. They still enjoy being creative, to write and to draw. They still love to read jokes and a funny story. And they still write to us about many of the same issue, getting along with others and doing well in school.

PBJ: What are your plans for 2010 and beyond?

The platforms that deliver content to readers are ever-changing, and the pace of that change has accelerated even in the last few years. We’re committed to adapting to those changing mediums, and to reaching our readers wherever they are. In fact, we recently released our first iPhone application, “Highlights Hidden Pictures.” But the main focus for us will always be on the content itself. I think if we keep our eye focused on kids and their needs, we’ll continue to enjoy the success we have over the last six decades.