June 29, 2022

NYU Summer Publishing Institute: Back in Person!

By Emma Kolakowski, SPI ‘22

The inimitable Simone Oliver, Global Editor in Chief at Refinery29, was  our first introduction to NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute (SPI). On Monday, June 13th, we gathered in person (for the first time in two years!) at the historic Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan to hear her keynote address. Oliver explained her duties and advised us about the world of contemporary media, where businesses serve as content creators and there exists what Oliver calls “the phenom of the second screen”.

Simone Oliver

Simone Oliver, Global Editor-in-Chief at Refinery29

After Oliver’s address, we met for the first time with our project teams, which were charged with creating a digital brand in the sectors of Entertainment and Culture; General Lifestyle; Business and Tech; and News, Politics, and the Environment. This complex project was a throughline for the Media Strategy Session, teaching students how to imagine and optimize a brand. Having so many brilliant minds in a room at the same time meant that we quickly learned how to compromise and communicate with other subgroups and our group as a whole.

Over the next two weeks, we learned the ins and outs of the industry. Vanity Fair’s Claire Howorth detailed the process of constructing a feature article; a panel of experts, including Hearst’s Senior Vice President of Content Brooke Siegel, explained what constituted digital content strategy; and Leila Milgrim and Asiah James of Condé Nast deciphered integrated marketing. Interspersed among sessions were office hours, group meetings, and lunch breaks in the neighboring City Hall Park. (And many trips to the local coffee joint Pret A Manger, which we referred to simply as “Pret”). 

After a crash introduction to the edit test, we took a three-part exam from Prevention magazine. We also challenged ourselves daily to come up with the best questions to ask our speakers — everyone wanted to sound smart and thought-provoking in front of Cosmopolitan Editor in Chief Jessica Pels and other media leaders! But even if we stumbled over a question that was perfect in our minds, it’s as Will Lee of NPR told us: “win or learn, not win or lose”. 

Will Lee, Chief Operating Officer at NPR

Brooke Siegel, Senior Vice President of Content at Hearst

While some lectures investigated the climate of the publishing industry, other lectures addressed how to secure a job in the industry, which is extremely practical information for us, a class filled with aspiring media professionals. Talks on “The Art of Networking,” “Presentation Skills,” “Shaping the Interview,” and more, gave us ample opportunity to prepare for our lives after SPI. We even had the opportunity to sit down with recruiters from Vox, HarperCollins, Hachette, Scholastic, and Hearst and review our resumes. 

On the final day of the Media Strategy Session, we heard top recruiters share strategies for the job search and then watched a few brave classmates be interviewed by the recruiters. I had the pleasure of being one of those brave interviewees, and the experience was invaluable. No matter how many times you practice fielding interview questions, nothing prepares you so well as being quizzed by a hiring manager sitting opposite you. 

Jessica Pels

Andrea Chambers, Executive Director of the Center for Publishing (left) and Jessica Pels, Editor-in-Chief, Cosmopolitan (right)

The Media Session concluded with our project teams pitching our concepts for a digital brand to a group of industry professionals. The night before our presentations, everyone was crowded in the dorm lounge, timing their presentations, taking notes, and reminding each other of forgotten details (I practiced with the rest, because I love public speaking). While I was quick to volunteer myself as the lead for our group, I felt a twinge of unaccustomed nervousness — everyone has put so much passion into our projects, and every group of high-achieving students was gunning for the coveted bragging rights of “most viable brand”. 

Now, with minds filled with audience growth strategy, digital brand extensions, audiovisual content, and more, SPI students are entering the book publishing half of the program. We’re turning from the rapidly evolving and technologically complex world of digital media to the world of print, e-books and audio. As Scott Omelianuk of Inc. noted during his talk in the media session, “Anyone can put up a website. Not everyone can run a printing press”. By the end of these next two weeks, SPI students will be able to masterfully do both.”

Emma Kolakowski, SPI class of 2022, is a graduate of Michigan State University currently seeking a position in the publishing field. Emma enjoys reading memoir, nonfiction, and world news. 

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