NMAF: Today’s Parent had a banner year at the 2015 National Magazine Awards—8 nominations and 4 Gold Medals including Best Single Issue, Best Web Editorial Package, Single Service Article Package, and Tablet Magazine of the Year. Can you describe the feeling that you and your team experienced that night of the awards gala?
Sasha Emmons: It’s such a cliché but we were just so giddy to be nominated. I’m new to the Canadian publishing scene but I understood that parenting publications rarely get nominated, much less win. So it was pretty surreal to hear our name not just once but four times, especially considering the quality of work from all the nominees. I wish I’d spent more time working on speeches — I really thought there was no way I’d be up there.
NMAF: What has been the significance to you, your team and your readers from winning the National Magazine Awards?
Sasha Emmons: I think for us it was incredible validation that our digital-driven but platform-agnostic approach to creating content was working. We regularly get caught up in excitement for our projects, and sometimes we lose objectivity and wonder if what we’re working on is as cool as we think it is. Seeing our risks pay off, both with awards but also with audience engagement and amazing feedback, has also given us motivation to keep pushing ourselves to try new, bold things.
The awards have certainly made the industry take notice of us, and that’s led to really talented editors, designers and new partners knocking on our door, wanting to work with or be part of our incredible team.
NMAF: Winning the award for Tablet Magazine of the Year must have been particularly special. How has Today’s Parent developed its presence on the tablet magazine platform, what challenges have you faced in delivering digital content, and how has it been successful?
Sasha Emmons: I really wanted to win for tablet. After we close our print issue, the editors get a bit of reprieve but not our art team, who work long hours on a platform where we have fewer readers than print.
For our busy parents, there’s not a lot of Sunday morning long-reads lounging, and many can’t take out the iPad without their kids clamouring for it. The phone is more our device, and we actually create an iPhone edition each month as well. But despite a huge digital audience that’s largely mobile, the idea of consuming an issue on a phone or tablet hasn’t quite caught on in a big way yet. But it’s growing, and we’re hopeful it will continue to grow.
Our art director Sun Ngo has incredibly high standards but she also promotes a culture of playful experimentation. Her leadership and her team’s hard work are the reason our tablet edition is so great, and I was beyond thrilled to see her be acknowledged for that.
Her philosophy is both simple and complex. She’s laser-focused on making the content readable, with clear text and directional icons. We never want to get so enamoured of bells and whistles that we forget about usability. But then she and her designers go the extra mile, creating gorgeous animated covers, making food and crafts pinnable, integrating video and playing with stop animation.
I really believe our tablet edition is the best, richest way to read Today’s Parent.
NMAF: The package called “30 Awesome Cupcakes” (Gold Medal winner in Single Service Article Package) has been the most tweeted, most viewed article in our awards archive since June, doubtless because it’s just about the most attractive cover line imaginable, and also because the layout is so eye-catching, so much fun. How is that piece exemplary of the editorial mission of Today’s Parent? (And did you get to try all the cupcakes?)
Sasha Emmons: I didn’t know that, and it’s so great to hear. It is one of the great professional regrets of my life I was not on set that day. However, I have to give credit where it’s due and say that this story was already in the works when I started at Today’s Parent, so really Karine Ewart and Alicia Kowalewski, the editor-in-chief and art director at the time, deserve the credit. I did write the line though!
Overall, we aim for a mix of daring, zeitgeisty content, and smart, creative bread-and-butter service. This piece falls into the latter — after all, every parent has to figure out how to pull off their kid’s birthday.
— Magazine Awards (@MagAwards) June 6, 2015
NMAF: You’ve called raising two kids “the most humbling thing” you’ve ever done. (“There are moments where I feel like I’ve nailed it, but there are still so many moments where I have no idea what I’m doing.”) How does your daily experience as a parent help guide your leadership of the magazine, and your understanding of what your readers want you to deliver?
Sasha Emmons: I feel like the parents on staff have the best scam going. One of us has an issue with our kid, and we get to talk to leading experts on exactly how to handle it! Seriously, it’s such a privilege that my professional life is centred around what interests me most personally as well.
It’s hugely useful to be a parent and have many moms and dads on staff to gut-check everything we write. Believe me, I’m struggling with everything our readers are struggling with. Overall, I think there are a lot of ways to get parenting right, and only a few ways to get it wrong, and that laughing about its challenges makes the whole thing easier.
I hope that comes through in our content.
Check out more of our Off the Page interviews with NMA winners, including editors like:
Patrick Walsh of Outdoor Canada
Judith Pereira of Report on Business
Mark Reid of Canada’s History
Curtis Gillespie of Eighteen Bridges
The Call for Entries for the 2016 National Magazine Awards will be announced on December 8.