For the April/June issue of EBONY magazine, I dove into the history of hair ornaments and how the look came back strong, from what beaded braids signify in South Africa to the role celebrities such as Miriam Makeba and Solange played in modernizing beaded braids in popular culture. In this particular piece, I spoke with Tanisha C. Ford, author of Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul.
With headlines like “5 Sex Positions to Maximize His Size” and “4 Women Get Real About How They Orgasm,” it’s not surprising that people have come to associate Cosmopolitan with mind-blowing sex tips and tricks.
Cosmo‘s Special Projects Director Laura Brounstein was well aware of that when she accepted the position nearly three years ago. Long before her days at Cosmo, Laura spent the first five years of her 21-year-long career (Seventeen, Ladies’ Home Journal, Self, etc.) producing segments for some of America’s favorite television shows. Think The View and Extra. And because everything in life comes full circle, Laura’s television background proved to be helpful when it came time for Cosmo‘s first-ever Fun Fearless Life weekend, a new live event series jam-packed with distinguished panelists aimed to inspire women to live fearlessly.
In case you’re wondering, part of Cosmo‘s revitalization a couple years ago – a significant increase in the amount of substantial, in-depth, well-reported stories – was made possible largely through Laura’s efforts. So yes, while Cosmo may always be associated with its sexier content, Laura and her colleagues are working nonstop to make sure their readers don’t sleep on everything else the 50-year-old publication has to offer.
While Laura has what many consider to be a dream job in an industry that can be incredibly tough to crack, she sees her latest gig as a way to help women everywhere (Cosmo prints in 35 languages and is available in more than 100 countries) realize and accomplish their dreams and take control of their lives while having a blast, which is Cosmo‘s mission in a nutshell.
Here, we pick the brain of the woman who Folio magazine named as one of its “Thirty under 30” back in 2000. Nearly 16 years later, Laura’s still making waves in the media world. In a nearly 40-minute conversation with Laura, the self-proclaimed pop culture and political junkie dishes on why she traded in television for magazines and what it’s like reporting to Cosmo‘s Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles.
A Royal Point of View: You worked as a producer for many well-known television shows, such as Good Morning America, Extra and The View. What made you switch from producing segments for television to writing and editing stories for magazines?
Laura Brounstein: My last job in television was for a magazine show that had gotten really tabloidy. I spent two years there and learned how to produce and track down any stories and get comfortable with interviewing anybody. It was amazing, but again, it had gotten really tabloidly. More and more, I found myself spending my days standing outside places that somebody might walk out of because we had to grab them for an interview. I was just like, “I don’t want to be doing this. These are not the kind of stories I want to tell and this is not how I want to be engaging with people. This is the not the kind of journalism I want to be doing.” It didn’t feel like a good thing. For people who do that kind of journalism successfully and find a way to tell good stories and find it satisfying, that is great and I respect that, but it wasn’t what felt comfortable for me at that time.
So, I kind of stepped back and asked myself, “What kind of change do I want to make?” and I thought there was something attractive in that moment about going from a nightly show to a monthly publication, where you had a little more time to tell a story. I started looking at media that I thought had a positive voice. Right at that time, I heard that Seventeen Magazine was looking for a new entertainment editor and I thought, “I can’t think of anything that feels more positive and that I have more memories and connections to than Seventeen Magazine.”
A Royal Point of View: You’ve been at Cosmo for nearly three years now. How do most people react when you tell them you work at Cosmo?
Laura Brounstein: I think it depends on who it is. Those who haven’t picked up the magazine in a while associate Cosmo with its sexier content, so I get some fun responses regarding that. A lot of people do know about the legacy and how Helen Gurley Brown changed the media world and the possibilities for modern women’s magazines. It was one of the first magazines to talk about all the avenues of possibilities for women in an unapologetic way and in a way that nobody else was really doing it.
Today, I think people, especially in the media world, know that in addition to our sexy content, Cosmo has some really strong work in terms of women empowerment, career, money and health and we are unapologetically feminist. It’s the first magazine I’ve ever worked at that takes a strong stance on things and I love that. Most magazines are very set on, “Well, let’s look at both sides of the argument,” whereas Cosmo is like, “Of course, we’re pro-choice. Of course, we need access to affordable birth control and medicine and of course, women need to be paid the same as men.” That’s exciting and I think people in the media world know that.
A Royal Point of View: You are Cosmo’s special project director – how is that different than being an editor?
Laura Brounstein: One of the great things about working at Cosmo and working with Joanna Coles is that you can be really entrepreneurial in your job and find lots of different places to contribute. One of the central parts of my job as special projects director is creating the programming and concepts for our editorial events. The biggest one is, of course, Cosmo‘s Fun Fearless Life and that is a live-reader event. We just announced that this year’s Fun Fearless Life event will be on Nov. 20 and it will be at the Hearst Tower. So, I get to come up with the programming and that means finding speakers that I think will be most interesting, inspiring and helpful to women in their 20s, who want to spend their weekend with us and walk away feeling better equipped and inspired to achieve what they are dreaming of. I love that I get to draw on my past as a producer and think about what’s going to make a great show and what’s going to have the most impact. That’s a big part of what I do. Additionally, I edit and write stories for the magazine that are like projects in and of themselves.
A Royal Point of View: Is there a memorable experience that stands out during your time at Cosmo so far?
Laura Brounstein: Definitely. Last year, after all the work of creating Fun Fearless Life out of nothing, there was a moment when Joanna Coles first came out on the stage at Lincoln Center and I looked out and the audience was filled with about 2,000 people cheering and just so happy to be there. That was a huge thrill because it took months of work trying to figure out what this was supposed to be and how to make it valuable and how to make it something people wanted to attend. Seeing everyone enjoying it and getting out of it what we all hoped they would was an incredible moment.
Another one is being able to meet Hillary Clinton and work with her team at the No Ceilings initiative for a story last year. That was amazing.
A Royal Point of View: What advice do you have for up-and-coming journalists who still have the desire to write and work for print when the industry is constantly moving toward the digital side?
Laura Brounstein: People still love magazines. There is a moment in your day where sitting down with a magazine or a newspaper is fantastic and then there are times when you just want to look at Twitter and click through stories. I think a lot of people enjoy getting information and engaging with media both ways. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.
There are lot of ways to get to the job or career you’re dreaming of and for me, it was television and PR. More now than ever, especially because we’re so multi-platform, the more different experiences in different areas you have, the richer you’re experience will be and the more you’ll bring to the table. I think worrying too much about taking a straight path to your goals distracts from you great opportunities and moments.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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