Coffee N5 - Atoosa Rubenstein

Episode 79 – Coffee N.5 –  What’s Missing in Content Today with Atoosa Rubenstein

Welcome to another episode of the Coffee Number 5 Podcast! Today on the show, we have with us Atoosa Rubenstein, former editor-in-chief of Seventeen and founder and editor-in-chief of CosmoGIRL!, to talk about how to create content with intention.

Atoosa started her career in 1993 as a fashion assistant at Cosmopolitan, and five years later, she was promoted to senior fashion editor. This led to Hearst Magazine’s president, Cathleen Black, asking Rubenstein to develop a concept for a new magazine. Forty-eight hours later, Rubenstein presented the idea of CosmoGIRL! and was offered the position of editor-in-chief, making Atoosa, who was 26 at the time, the youngest editor-in-chief.

In 2003, she went on to become editor-in-chief at Seventeen Magazine, where she reversed a five-year decline in Seventeen’s newsstand sales and delivered total newsstand growth of 23% by the end of 2005.

Today, she runs her own media platform, Atoosa Unedited

 Since we live in a digital media world, Atoosa shares great insight into how digital media avenues can create better quality content as opposed to the unplanned and fast-paced content that flies around.

In today’s world, digital media has grown to become more powerful than print media. The result is fast-paced, unedited content being shoved down our throats by the second – but what can the digital media era learn from the way content was being pushed at the time when print media was in vogue? How exactly can we start creating content with intention and not just for the sake of filling a space on people’s timelines? Dive into the podcast to find out!

What you’ll learn:

  • How to create quality content that drives engagement.
  • The importance of editing and proofreading content before publishing. 
  • What are the qualities that digital media can adapt from print media?

Connect with Atoosa through her Instagram and check her platform Atoosa Unedited.

Follow our host Lara Schmoisman on social media:

 Instagram: @laraschmoisman

Facebook: @LaraSchmoisman

LinkedIn: @laraschmoisman

Twitter: @LaraSchmoisman

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Lara Schmoisman  0:05  

This is Coffee N5. I’m your host, Lara Schmoisman. Hi, everyone. Welcome back to Coffee N5. Today, I was thinking of those days when I was a teenager, oh my god, I will never go back to those days. I hate them. I hated high school. Finally, I was able to find my place in college because I think that everyone was kind of an outsider, I was that girl that was overweight and always wanted something else. I was a doer, I didn’t like it, and it was so hard to try to fit in. And at some point in my life, I just say, Screw it. And I am where I am today, I think because I said that I will never fit in. And I will never force myself to fit in anymore. But I have it in my blood to get things done. So today, I brought up someone who has  knowledge about being a teen, and what teens go through. But I also learned something that I learned as I grew as a mother and I had to get into all these roles. Because not only you’ll become your mother responsible, the safety and well being and education of your child, you also become  the mother of, and you need to become, oh, I have a playdate with that kid. But it’s not the play that with the kids, the parents need to be there. And you want to be involved in your kids’ school. And so it’s like it was calling all over again, being a teenager, and I just don’t do that. I don’t not click. I just get things done. So welcome. Atoosa Rubenstein. I’m so happy you’re hearing coffee. Number five. Teresa is Iranian American. And you were born here or in Iran.


Atoosa Rubenstein  2:10  

First of all, thank you for having me. And I was born in Tehran. Yep.


Lara Schmoisman  2:16  

Oh, wow. Okay, so you’re like me. It’s amazing, because I think that we have maybe a different mindset because we have a cultural background that gives us different values as well. And then we learn the values from the US and then we mix them up. You were the editor in chief of Seventeen


Atoosa Rubenstein  2:37  

 Yes, and Cosmo girl as well.


Lara Schmoisman  2:41  

Cosmo girl. And I mean,  be thinking, as I say,  for content for a teenager. It’s like how because there is tuff age


Atoosa Rubenstein  2:53  

Well, you know, at the time, it was kind of easy, because I was the youngest editor in chief and the Hearst history of Hearst. So it wasn’t many of the other editor in chief at the other magazines for the teens, for the age I am today. So they were full grownups with children. I was 26. So to me, having been a teen was just almost like it felt like yesterday. And I felt more like a big sister. And I knew more than I did as I was a team. Then when I was a teen, I had more perspective, but I still understood what it was like. And so for me, it was actually super fun.


Lara Schmoisman  3:36  

So like I was saying in the intro, did you also feel that we go back to different stages of our life to try to be 18. Somehow I fit in because I felt like I had to do that as a mother. But also, as a business owner, we always try to fit in in certain contexts and try to connect with individuals that are similar to us, for example, me being and having a company made me, I don’t know, to lose friendships, because I still value and love those people. But I have a very different place to connect that my life is my business. My kids, I have so much going on that I cannot be in a day to day of little things.


Atoosa Rubenstein  4:22  

Yeah, well, I think one of the things that I always felt very strongly about is that that adolescent time, is, you know, a lot of times people just want to be like, Oh, teenager, like that’s for kids or that’s that stuff is silly. But I actually think it’s a very important time and it’s a very rich time that we can draw on like you said, Go even as adults like will fall into those same themes of like you said, fitting in, or, you know, feeling deficient or wanting to be better wanting to get better and stronger at different things. So I think that to sort of look at that At time of life a little bit seriously, I think is good. And that was one of the things I did when I was back at the magazines. Rather than sort of doing a bunch of goofy articles we would bring in people like Don Miguel Ruiz or Marianne Williamson, you know, just really interesting authors that took the things that the readers were going through very seriously. And, and even for me as a grown up, when I would read those articles, they were relevant to my own life as well, because we all deal with, whether it’s drama or ups and downs, you know, it’s not that dissimilar,


Lara Schmoisman  5:36  

because there is this perception about women’s magazines in Gurkha magazine that is all about the quizzes and giving tips. And I mean, we’ve seen so many rom coms about people working in mind, their scenes and the life of the magazine, that’s not real, what we’re seeing in the movies, what’s the life of the magazine? Tell us a little bit about


Atoosa Rubenstein  5:59  

real? Yeah, like there was, there are certainly things about Devil Wears Prada that were very real. I mean, when I, excuse me, when I was working at the magazines, my best friend, as a big guy, in the music business. And when I was working, he used to call me Clap, clap, girl. Because I would just whatever I wanted, I would just click off and somebody, some minions would get it done, you know, or that I would, wherever I wanted to go, my assistant would just like, sort of point me in a direction, tell me to walk and I just go to my driver and he would drive me places. There are clothing allowances, you know, it was a very over the top time. There was a lot of spending, you know, whether it was I remember, I remember there was a celebrity publicist, that’s very powerful. That was very angry with me because I bumped her, her celebrity for somebody else on a cover. And the way that I apologized was sending her like a Prada bag, you know, with all the bells and whistles. So it is kind of over the top. Not necessarily exactly what you see in the movies, honestly, because it’s probably more over the top and more elegant than you.


Lara Schmoisman  7:09  

What I I want to ask is like the real work because there’s really real work done.


Atoosa Rubenstein  7:15  

You’re also really working. Yeah,


Lara Schmoisman  7:17  

there is not only about I mean, I get all the glamour of working in a magazine and work in the fashion industry. I do get that. But my question is, because I see that there is this perception that, Oh, someone is going to make up a silly quiz. And it’s not about that.


Atoosa Rubenstein  7:33  

Yeah, no. And especially, I mean, I guess it depends, of course, on any magazine, right? Like, how they run things. But for us, and that’s one of the big issues with content today on digital media, digital media, because I have a teenager myself, and she’ll get let’s say, a recipe off of Tik Tok. And then she’ll go to her kitchen, and she will do exactly what she sees on the TIk tok video, and it doesn’t come out, right? And she’ll look at me and say, Well, when you were a magazine, you used to do recipes. Why don’t we do what? Why isn’t it the same? Well, because when we were at magazines, we had copy editors, we had fact checkers, we had really smart people that were combing through every recipe and every article and making sure every fact is exactly right. They’re not going to do the recipe once, they’re going to do it three times to make sure that when our beloved reader is trying to do it in her kitchen, that it makes perfect sense. And it works. So yeah, no, there’s a tremendous amount of hard work from every single person on staff. I mean, I used to work often until 11 o’clock at night. I’ve had days where there were a couple of days where I did 48 hours in a row, and maybe I would nap on my couch. So you know, depending on deadlines and whatnot, I used to


Lara Schmoisman  8:50  

I work in the entertainment industry and it is exactly the same thing. People don’t know that you see the red carpet, but you don’t know how much work goes behind the coverage of the red carpet that will need to be there so loudly and then stay much longer than the after parties. And then you need to go and edit the footage.


Atoosa Rubenstein  9:09  

That’s right, so you’re not there. It’s sort of like you kind of look good because you’re wearing a nice dress or whatever. But you probably are sweaty, smelly, rushing. Oh my putting do


Lara Schmoisman  9:23  

i like bumping into it. No, it’s not so much like that. I understand but you’re like trying to get enough space in there in the carpet to get that vibe from someone and yelling and come back up to that from the event without no voice. I mean, you’re hurt.


Atoosa Rubenstein  9:41  

Yeah, and you mean you’re not like actually creating content like like you were and your colleagues work for me like I would be having to rush because I’m still working on a deadline literally in the car service, putting on deodorant going to the Met Ball and then looking at my Watch knowing that my team is waiting for me and I would leave early in order to get the work done. So, you know, there are definitely moments that you’re like, Oh, this is kind of cool. But you don’t even get to experience this is cool. Because you’re, you know, you have


Lara Schmoisman  10:18  

part of your job description, it becomes part of your job description. I love that you were talking about the digital world, because I feel like the digital world affected a lot of the mediums that we know from before, but how are you besides what you told us? How do you feel about magazines and things magazines, so a woman’s magazine was affected by the digital world and how they meet if they met somewhere in between, and how to be they do that all and still creating incredible, relevant content.


Atoosa Rubenstein  10:58  

I mean, I don’t think they really exist anymore. So I would say the digital world kind of annihilated it not because necessarily the content was better, but because the delivery system was better. And you know, one of the things that has happened as a result of digital, and it’s interesting to me, you know, when I was an editor, and prior editors and chief of magazines were really it was like a very coveted role. And they were in some ways, celebrities. And as digital has become more powerful with so much interest rather than the print media sort of, I don’t know better arming their print brands, to do more interesting and innovative stuff in the digital world, they’ve kind of done the opposite. And so now the editors, I’m sure they work just as hard. But they have a much lower profile. Nobody knows who the editor of any magazine is anymore, and much less looking to them for any sort of thought leadership. And the content sites of the magazines are just meant, just like another website, full of blah, blah. And it’s unfortunate, because I think the curated content is really not in a good place right now. You know, there are platforms like Instagram and Twitter and you know, others like it that I think people are gathering at and looking to, but there isn’t, I mean, it’s very democratic. It feels to me, like when I go on tick tock or I go on Instagram, it just feels like I’m eating Pirate’s Booty, like just junk, junk, junk junk. And it almost feels addictive. Like, I’m just doing this because I have nothing else to do. As opposed to, I remember, call it 20 years ago, my friends and I in the industry would have a stack like this of magazines from Europe, and we would spend the weekend just like tearing things out. And it was so inspiring. That just doesn’t. Yeah,


Lara Schmoisman  13:17  

I never thought about that. And now that we were talking and I started thinking like, I don’t have my subscriptions of magazines anymore. And not because I didn’t love the magazine, I just feel like the content wasn’t as relevant anymore. And it’s not that I replace that content for something that I found online. I just stopped consuming certain content.


Atoosa Rubenstein  13:41  

Yeah, because it’s not, it’s really not relevant. Their budgets have been cut. You know, there used to be, you know, there was a moment when I was working at my old company where they were interested in talking to me about another brand at the company that was like a very big brand. And what I had heard from inside that brand, was they were cutting like the budgets for messengers and like cutting from all these different places that would make it hard to make a beautiful piece of art that people would really want to get their hands on once a month. And that was just the trajectory our business was going and we


Lara Schmoisman  14:17  

need to explain to the audience that this is not because they want to cut corners, it is also because the sponsor started putting a lot of money in digital and they started cutting their budget from magazines. So either these magazines, how to start cutting this, these expenses are lower, this is expensive to try to keep maintaining the magazine.


Atoosa Rubenstein  14:40  

That’s right. That’s right. And so in order to make the business work, you know, it’s just they’ve had to make these changes that I think also get in the way of creating really incredible incredible photographs and creative just incredible content. Um, so I do think, you know, we’re really ripe for something exciting. Hopefully that something exciting is digital, but but but curated as opposed to sort of curated by, you know, influencers and being curated by regular people. Because I think that we’re missing the editor’s eye.


Lara Schmoisman  15:23  

That’s an absolutely upside down opinion. I love that you were bringing it up by curating the point of view because I truly believe that content drives action. The right content drives the right action. And I will say that you need to be content with the intention that what we want from an article is Mitchell, we want to feature a person, we want to feature a collection we want. There’s so many points of view of what we might want to do with an article and I feel like lately it is just content with pushing content. Yeah, so just


Atoosa Rubenstein  16:05  

Yeah, almost just an algorithm based and not there. I just don’t remember when I, for some reason, when you were just talking, I remembered Martha Stewart as a curator for weddings. And, she had a young woman who worked for her back when I was planning my wedding. I think she was there for a long time, she probably still works there. I think her name is Darcy. And I remember like, just waiting for every issue of Martha Stewart’s wedding. Because the curation was so impeccable, and the flowers she chose and just everything and I remember like that’s I, I just was waiting with bated breath for every issue as I was planning my wedding. And that kind of excitement. I don’t feel that way about anything. I kind of feel dread. Social media fills me with dread not because it makes me feel bad. It just feels like a bunch of garbage. I mean, nice to hear from friends. But outside of that, like in terms of like the content.


Lara Schmoisman  17:11  

It’s hard. I mean, it’s something that I have groups on social media, I don’t have much time even to do social media, but I’m on social media on research all the time. And it’s very hard to create good content that you want to say, Okay, I mean, the motto of my agents is to raise the bar. And it’s, it’s easy to raise the bar for whatever it is they are, but it’s not necessarily what it works at the same time. Right? Because as you said, we need to be thinking about algorithms, and we need to think about what people want. And I think that we really lower the bar of what people want, and we get them to use or to have amateur content.


Atoosa Rubenstein  17:57  

Yeah, and it’s just, it’s just an addiction at this point. It’s just swiping, swiping, swiping, swiping, even, like, believe it or not, dating apps have kind of turned into just shitty content. Right? It’s just like, I’m a woman who is single. And I’m looking for a man right? And so like, I’ll just go on hinge and it’s almost like bad. The opposite of Maxim, like, like, not cute. Not cute. Not cute. Not cute. Not cute. And like, like, how is that serving me? Any in any way. But I feel like I do the same on Tik Tok. I do the same on Instagram. It’s pretty


Lara Schmoisman  18:36  

bad. Okay, so from your experience being the experience of having a real magazine, and also you were working in the times that you started to, mutated into the digital world? How can we create or curate better content for social media? Yes, I love to see fashion content, I love to see beauty content, but Well, content that they are informative, that they’re engaging, that they’re entertaining, and, and it’s hard to find. So what elements are we missing that we can add to create better content?


Atoosa Rubenstein  19:15  

Well, I mean, to me, I think right now the opportunity is to bring back curation somehow. So to bring like that experience to editors I too and it could be even working with influencers. So rather than you know, in the past, right fashion departments would be made of you know, usually it was young women and men who were coming to New York to work at magazines. And I think you can take still that experienced editor, apply it in the direction of influencers and create some sort of a curated version of Instagram, right so like let’s say you have inserted grand fashion, Instagram beauty, Instagram, you know, Instagram to me is prime any of the big platforms Instagram, maybe Twitter substack to create a curated divisions that maybe take some of take the editor’s eye and put it towards some of their more influential content creators, and also give those people a little direction. So that so that it can be a little bit more like you said exciting and like, create that feeling of like waiting with bated breath for something new


Lara Schmoisman  20:50  

to come back. I mean, yeah. It’s really hard to find a counselor that wants to follow that I say, Oh, what are you gonna come up with today?


Atoosa Rubenstein  20:58  

Cuz you’re just a person like that person ever. I’ll never forget what one of my writers once said to me, and this is someone who’s a very well known and very well respected writer. She said, everybody needs an editor. And I think that’s kind of what’s missing in content is there’s no editor. You know, every Jackass wakes up. And it’s like, this is cool. And yes, some days it is cool. But other days,


Lara Schmoisman  21:24  

you’ll be surprised like one of the roles in my agency, I have a proofreader and editor, and nothing needs to go out without being preferred. unedited,


Atoosa Rubenstein  21:35  

right, which is great. And but I think when we’re talking about having a media content that gets a lot of eyeballs, it’s a different level of editing, right? It’s a different kind of editor that can curate these kinds of big picture ideas. And, you know, when we’re talking about magazines, today, they’re not doing it, right. They don’t have the level of editor because they don’t have the budgets to pay those editors. And a lot of those editors like Graydon Carter have their own thing. Now, a lot of those editors are doing their own smaller, their own smaller projects, including me,


Lara Schmoisman  22:21  

There is something else that I think we’re not for you we’re forgetting to not mention the quality of the people that the new generations are different, and they don’t want to be edited.


Atoosa Rubenstein  22:34  

Yeah, and that’s up to them. I mean, to me, the onus is on the big media companies to come up with a better idea to just see that there is this opportunity. People want curated content. I don’t think forever, we can stay in this swipe, swipe, swipe bullshit media environment, I just, I just don’t. And so the question is, who’s it going to be? Is it going to be substack? Is it going to be Instagram? Who is going to step in and be the next Conde Nast? Because they have the


Lara Schmoisman  23:09  

I think that they will try. I think that MSN and Yahoo, they try to curate content for the verticals and they fail. The industry show them that they didn’t want vertical, so whatever


Atoosa Rubenstein  23:21  

it is, but it was crap to me, like there, I didn’t think their content was particularly compelling. I think Instagram likes the Instagrams and the sub stacks and maybe even Twitter’s of the world. I just think that there’s more of an opportunity there then Yahoo, like Yahoo feels stodgy, like the brand that I like, that doesn’t feel exciting to me. And I felt like their attempt at it felt very Walmart. I don’t know, it didn’t feel sexy and, and hot. And I feel that if Instagram did it, or substack that to me feels much sexier.


Lara Schmoisman  24:04  

So before we go, I want to ask you a question. When you have an incredible career, a lot of experience, but I’m sure that you also made that mistake, or that thing happened to you that you learn so much out of it that if you would have gone smooth, they would never learn that lesson. Tell us a story about what by the word you learn.


Atoosa Rubenstein  24:29  

Yeah. Um, first of all, I only learned by making mistakes. I’m one of those people that always learns by making mistakes. I’ll tell you a very, very early mistake. And when I first became editor in chief as Cosmo girl, because I was the youngest and you know, all this stuff was there. They made a really big deal about me. I just had never been in a leadership position before. Like it happened overnight. I just wasn’t really prepared for it. And I just was kind of just like a little kid just like taking in all the praise. And I remember I was kind of toasted at this, at this event at hearse celebrating the first issue of Cosmo girl. And I remember Helen Gurley Brown gave me a diamond ring, an eternity ring as a gift. And I got all these gifts and all these sort of accolades and all of this stuff. And I just was like, and you don’t I didn’t do I didn’t thank my team. And I didn’t it didn’t occur to me, because I’ve never been a leader before. And it was like my first moment as a leader, and I felt so ashamed. Afterward, when my boss told me, hey, like, you could have thanked your team. Of course, I could have thanked my team. I’m so embarrassed. And, you know, from there on, I just knew like, like, you know, maybe the media will make it about me because I’m like, the figurehead or whatever. But really every single thing I’ve ever done is about the team and even today, like as a mom. I can’t do it without my team, whether that’s our caregiver, you know, my co parent, like it is all about TM and and I learned that in a kind of creation in a cringe moment. But, you know, I’m glad I learned it.


Lara Schmoisman  26:44  

Thank you so much for sharing. Yeah. Lovely. And thank you so much for Being on Coffee N5


Atoosa Rubenstein  26:51  

Thanks for having me.


Lara Schmoisman  26:53  

Was so good to have you here today. See you next time. Catch you on the flip side. Ciao, ciao.


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