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Andrea Barbalich, Editor In Chief, The Week Junior US, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “There Is Something Special And Magical About Turning The Pages Of A Magazine.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

March 15, 2021

“The children save them, they’re proud of their collection. They save them in special folders. They send us pictures of themselves reading the magazine in all kinds of places. They’re on a walk or they’re reading with their dog or they’re hanging upside down on the monkey bars. They show us through these pictures and their words how much they love the physical aspect of reading the magazine.” Andrea Barbalich on the printed edition of The Week Junior… 

With eye-catching photos and engaging articles, The Week Junior US brings everything from current events to interviews with inspiring people to puzzles and activities for the child between the ages of 8 and 14 to the pages between its covers. Celebrating one year in print, the brand launched precisely at the moment the world was shutting down due to the pandemic.

Andrea Barbalich is the editor in chief of The Week Junior. I spoke with Andrea recently and we talked about the particular challenges that launching a brand new newsmagazine at the onset of a pandemic presented, especially one for children. About how the brand has to present its stories clearly and concisely for kids, bringing in that divine element that the adult version of The Week has always been known for: truth and an unbiased reporting that is both refreshing and desperately needed in today’s time of opinion journalism.

The Week Junior is subscription-based and promises to speak directly to kids ages 8-14 in a way that is truthful, clear, and age-appropriate. And if its first year of success is any indication, Andrea said the brand has approximately 80,000 subscribers, the brand is keeping that promise.

So now please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Andrea Barbalich, editor in chief, The Week Junior US.

On publishing a weekly print and digital brand during a pandemic: It’s a challenge to launch a magazine anytime and to be launching a weekly newsmagazine is another level of difficulty, and doing it during a pandemic added another layer of complexity. We launched the magazine at the precise moment that the world was shutting down due to the Coronavirus. In fact, it was declared a pandemic the week prior to our first deadline. It was definitely challenging, but the way it turned out the timing actually couldn’t have been better, because at that moment when children’s lives were changing dramatically, they needed a guide to understand what was going on around them. 

On the challenges she faced and how she overcame them: We’ve never had a slow news week at The Week Junior. We launched during the pandemic and this was a difficult story for adults to understand, so explaining it to children was a challenge. Shortly after that George Floyd was killed and the protests for racial justice began around the country. That was very difficult to explain as well. Right after that we moved into a very divisive political campaign, followed by a chaotic aftermath of the election. Then there was the riot at the capitol and there was an impeachment. So there has been no shortage of difficult stories to explain to children. I think that the way that we’ve been able to handle them is a big part of the success and a big part of the reason that we were able to gain the trust of children and their parents so quickly. 

On the role she thinks print has played in the success story of The Week Junior: Children are looking for something interesting and wonderful to read. They are not as focused on the platform as adults are. It’s our mission to engage children and we’re fulfilling that mission. But I do think there’s something very special about receiving the magazine in the mailbox every week. It is a treat for the child; it’s something special that comes to their home with their name on it. And it’s just for them.

On whether the magazine has exceeded expectations: We have exceeded expectations for the brand. We are at about 80,000 subscribers now, so we’re ahead of projection. The price as you mentioned may be considered high for a magazine, but we believe that we have quality content and command that kind of price. So far parents are willing and eager to pay for it, the pay up rate and the renewal rate. They think that it is a significant benefit to their children and that it is a value.

On what she would hope to tell someone that the brand had accomplished one year from now: 2020 was our year to launch and establish the brand. We’re looking at 2021 as a year to grow and amplify the brand. With the vaccines happening now and more people getting vaccinated and children being able to return to school, their lives are going to change again. We hope that as we look toward the end of this year that things will be going somewhat back to normal for children, even if they’re not able to be vaccinated until early next year. Teachers are being vaccinated and schools will hopefully return to something closer to what they were.

On some people wondering how a children’s magazine can make sense of the world when many adult magazines fail to do so: We actually hear from many parents. In our reader survey we found that 67 percent of parents are reading The Week Junior along with their children. They send us letters about how much they love the magazine. The Week Junior is unbiased, that’s one of our core values and pillars. We don’t take sides. We report the news, but we don’t take sides. And a lot of parents appreciate that because it’s difficult. Many other media outlets are perceived as having some kind of bias and so parents really enjoy reading The Week Junior and having their children read it for this reason.

On anything she’d like to add: I would just like to say thank you for your interest in our brand. And thank you to every child, parent and teacher in the United States who has told us how much they love this magazine. We’re very excited about what the future holds and looking forward to continuing to be the experts on this incredible generation of children.

On what makes her tick and click: I would say my passion for this brand and my responsibility to my team and to Dennis Publishing and everyone who has supported us so incredibly during the first year. And our readers. The children and their parents who make this job so rewarding. I love hearing from them. I love reading what they love about the magazine. There could be no better motivation than knowing that you’re making a difference in the life of a child.

On how she unwinds in the evenings: I love to cook a great meal while listening to music and sipping a glass of wine. I’ve also found that during the pandemic when in-person contact has been so limited, conversations have become incredibly meaningful. So a chat with my son or a friend makes my night. And now that the days are getting longer I’m looking forward to getting outside for a walk or a bike ride in the evenings too.

On what keeps her up at night: Thoughts about what more I could bring to assure that kids feel informed and appreciated and empowered. And that this magazine is something special for them during a difficult time in their lives and in history. We’ve played an important role in children’s lives. We launched at the precise moment that their lives changed.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Andrea Barbalich, editor in chief, The Week Junior US.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on the approaching first anniversary of The Week Junior US. Tell me about publishing a weekly print and digital brand during a pandemic. 

Andrea Barbalich: It’s a challenge to launch a magazine anytime and to be launching a weekly newsmagazine is another level of difficulty, and doing it during a pandemic added another layer of complexity. We launched the magazine at the precise moment that the world was shutting down due to the Coronavirus. In fact, it was declared a pandemic the week prior to our first deadline. And one day before that first deadline our office went 100 percent remote. So we have never shipped an issue of this magazine from the office. Many of our staff have never met each other in person. 

Many of our plans for the magazine had to be ripped up a few days beforehand. We had been planning a very celebratory cover and we realized that we would need to change the cover to address the Coronavirus head on in order to keep our promise to children, that we would bring them the news of the world and help them make sense of it. So we created a new cover three days before deadline. And that turned out to be an iconic cover with a red heart and the cover line “Acts of Kindness.” 

Some other things that we were planning for the magazine we also had to change. For example, we were planning on a sports section and sports were shut down. We couldn’t cover movie openings and museum exhibit openings because they were all cancelled. Some of the activities that we had planned to write about for children, even something like hosting a sleepover, they couldn’t do that anymore. 

We had to change our plans for the magazine at the same time that our readers’ lives were changing. They suddenly couldn’t go to school in person; their activities were cancelled and they couldn’t see their extended families and their friends. 

It was definitely challenging, but the way it turned out the timing actually couldn’t have been better, because at that moment when children’s lives were changing dramatically, they needed a guide to understand what was going on around them. And we were able to deliver on that promise at a time when they needed something like that more than they ever had before. 

Samir Husni: Part of what you wrote in welcoming readers to the magazine was that you wanted to keep kids turning the pages. With everything that was going on in the country in 2020, from the pandemic to the social unrest to the elections, as an editor and a curator for children, what were some of the challenges that you faced and how did you overcome them?

Andrea Barbalich: It’s our mission to deliver the news to children no matter what that news is. And we have a very specific way that we do that. We are always truthful; we are direct; we don’t talk down to children, we respect their intelligence; and we’re very sensitive and kind in how we approach our content. And you’re exactly right, we do want to keep them turning the pages. So we want to inform, entertain and delight them. And when there are difficult things to be discussed, we want to do that in a way that benefits them. 

We’ve never had a slow news week at The Week Junior. We launched during the pandemic and this was a difficult story for adults to understand, so explaining it to children was a challenge. Shortly after that George Floyd was killed and the protests for racial justice began around the country. That was very difficult to explain as well. Right after that we moved into a very divisive political campaign, followed by a chaotic aftermath of the election. Then there was the riot at the capitol and there was an impeachment. So there has been no shortage of difficult stories to explain to children. 

I think that the way that we’ve been able to handle them is a big part of the success and a big part of the reason that we were able to gain the trust of children and their parents so quickly. We’re asking a lot of parents. We’re asking them to allow us as a newsmagazine to come into their home every week. And right away they could see for themselves how honestly and sensitively we discussed difficult topics. And also that we were about  more than breaking news and politics. We were also bringing the delight and the wonder and the joy of the world to children. And we were giving them something wonderful to read. Every parent wants their child to love reading, and to be engaged and involved and knowledgeable about the world. And to learn critical thinking skills and to be able to have their own opinions. 

So we quickly became a partner to the parents in explaining difficult topics because we were able to help parents foster discussions in the home. We became a guide to the parents in talking to their children about things that have never really happened before in the world. We quickly became a companion to the children and the parents and something that they loved having in their home.

Samir Husni: What role do you think print has played in the success story of The Week Junior?

Andrea Barbalich: Children are looking for something interesting and wonderful to read. They are not as focused on the platform as adults are. It’s our mission to engage children and we’re fulfilling that mission. But I do think there’s something very special about receiving the magazine in the mailbox every week. It is a treat for the child; it’s something special that comes to their home with their name on it. And it’s just for them. 

We have heard from them and their parents that they race to the mailbox every week to get it. They can’t wait to get their hands on it. The fact that it’s print adds to the feeling that it’s something special. And there is something special and magical about turning the pages of a magazine. And the children save them, they’re proud of their collection. They save them in special folders. They send us pictures of themselves reading the magazine in all kinds of places. They’re on a walk or they’re reading with their dog or they’re hanging upside down on the monkey bars. They show us through these pictures and their words how much they love the physical aspect of reading the magazine.  

Samir Husni: The subscription price is not cheap, and I know you were forced to go subscription only because of most of the stores closing during the pandemic. Are there any plans to go to newsstands or are you happy with the subscription only level? Do you feel you have exceeded the expectations for the brand?

Andrea Barbalich: We have exceeded expectations for the brand. We are at about 80,000 subscribers now, so we’re ahead of projection. The price as you mentioned may be considered high for a magazine, but we believe that we have quality content and command that kind of price. So far parents are willing and eager to pay for it, the pay up rate and the renewal rate. They think that it is a significant benefit to their children and that it is a value. 

We do not have any plans right now to be on the newsstand. We’re happy with our subscription model. When we launched we were not counting on newsstand revenue, so we didn’t lose anything. We were always going to be primarily a subscription model. 

Samir Husni: If you and I are having this conversation one year from now, celebrating the brand’s second anniversary, what would you hope to tell me?

Andrea Barbalich: 2020 was our year to launch and establish the brand. We’re looking at 2021 as a year to grow and amplify the brand. With the vaccines happening now and more people getting vaccinated and children being able to return to school, their lives are going to change again. We hope that as we look toward the end of this year that things will be going somewhat back to normal for children, even if they’re not able to be vaccinated until early next year. Teachers are being vaccinated and schools will hopefully return to something closer to what they were. 

What we plan to do is continue bringing the news of the world to children every week as we have been, no matter what happens. We don’t know what will happen, but that’s one of our great strengths, our agility. And our ability to move quickly, make decisions quickly, and meet the needs of children  and parents and teachers no matter what those needs are. So, we’ll continue to grow and evolve in everything we do, in both editorial and marketing, to be a companion and a resource and a valued part of children’s lives. 

Samir Husni: People may wonder how a children’s magazine can make sense of the world when many adult magazines fail to do so.

Andrea Barbalich: We actually hear from many parents. In our reader survey we found that 67 percent of parents are reading The Week Junior along with their children. They send us letters about how much they love the magazine. The Week Junior is unbiased, that’s one of our core values and pillars. We don’t take sides. We report the news, but we don’t take sides. And a lot of parents appreciate that because it’s difficult. Many other media outlets are perceived as having some kind of bias and so parents really enjoy reading The Week Junior and having their children read it for this reason. 

A lot of people tell us we’d have a more informed population if everyone read The Week Junior. (Laughs) We do have a way of distilling events down to their essence and explaining things, and because it’s for an audience of children between the ages of 8 and 14, we have to explain things very clearly and very concisely. And there’s a real art to it. When a child finishes reading one of our articles, we want them to feel informed; we don’t want them to feel nuanced. We want them to feel that something they may have been confused about is now clear to them. We are able to articulate things and bring them down to their essence in a way that is extremely helpful to the child.

We have certainly been challenged on that over the past year. If you look back at the news cycle and how relentless it was and how difficult many of the things that happened were, difficult enough for even adults to understand. 

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Andrea Barbalich: I would just like to say thank you for your interest in our brand. And thank you to every child, parent and teacher in the United States who has told us how much they love this magazine. We’re very excited about what the future holds and looking forward to continuing to be the experts on this incredible generation of children. 

I’d also like to thank my very talented creative editorial team and my colleagues throughout Dennis Publishing who have been so incredibly supportive in the past year.

And I have to mention the tradition of trusted news with The Week magazine. It has been a trusted source for news in the United States for 20 years and we want to bring that same trusted news to children in a way that’s appropriate for them. 

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click and motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?

Andrea Barbalich: I would say my passion for this brand and my responsibility to my team and to Dennis Publishing and everyone who has supported us so incredibly during the first year. And our readers. The children and their parents who make this job so rewarding. I love hearing from them. I love reading what they love about the magazine. There could be no better motivation than knowing that you’re making a difference in the life of a child.

Samir Husni: How do unwind in the evenings?

Andrea Barbalich: I love to cook a great meal while listening to music and sipping a glass of wine. I’ve also found that during the pandemic when in-person contact has been so limited, conversations have become incredibly meaningful. So a chat with my son or a friend makes my night. And now that the days are getting longer I’m looking forward to getting outside for a walk or a bike ride in the evenings too.

And then, because I can’t help it, I’m always keeping an eye on the news and what’s happening in the world and thinking about what we’ll cover in that issue of The Week Junior. Working on a weekly, there’s really no time that I’m not doing that. I’m very fortunate to love what I do, so there’s a lot of joy and satisfaction in even the longest days. 

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Andrea Barbalich: Thoughts about what more I could bring to assure that kids feel informed and appreciated and empowered. And that this magazine is something special for them during a difficult time in their lives and in history. We’ve played an important role in children’s lives. We launched at the precise moment that their lives changed. 

The magazine and our staff and our readers have been following this unforeseen path together for a year now. So I’m always thinking about what more could I do to make this magazine as great as it can be. To make it a treasured part of a child’s life.

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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