Inspiring Women in Business – Jenny Mark-Bell

The next incredible woman in our Inspiring Women in Business series is Editor of Sussex Life magazine, Jenny Mark-Bell. Here Jenny chats to us about her career so far and how she feels there will always be a place for quality print media…

Tell us a little about your career and how you came to work as editor of Sussex Life?
I started out in Yorkshire, writing primarily about music for local magazines. I then moved to Brighton and got a job working for Archant across several of our titles. I’ve been with Sussex Life for 10 years now, seven of them as editor.

What does your role involve?
Planning the magazine content, commissioning features and photography, doing interviews and writing articles. Then of course there’s proof-reading and preparing the pages for print. One of the most important parts of my role is choosing the cover image, as this is Sussex Life’s ‘shop window’, our face on the world.

How do you decide which stories make the magazine?
Our remit is to celebrate the people and places that make our counties great. I suppose the criteria are similar to Reith’s vision for the BBC in that stories need to inform, educate and entertain. I’m always keen to speak to fascinating local people, and unusual ways of approaching historical subjects are always appealing.

What you look for in a PR pitch?
Familiarity with the magazine and our content is essential, it’s frustrating when people pitch for a non-existent section or about a subject we’d never cover. I like to receive a pitch by email first but I never mind a follow-up phone call – we do receive a lot of emails.

How have things changed for magazines like Sussex Life since technology has evolved so much?
Vastly – even since I have been in the editor’s chair our way of working has transformed to make us more efficient. Our archive used to consist of a dusty cellar and hundreds of back copies in leather binders – now we can search a digital archive by keyword, which has changed my life!

But there are huge challenges to the industry – it’s no secret that the publishing industry is reliant on advertising, and giants such as Facebook and Google have made life more difficult in that respect.

The technology to enable home-working and virtual meetings has been invaluable in the current crisis.

How is print media still relevant in these times?
I think the present global situation has underlined the importance of quality journalism, not only in holding leaders to account, but in fostering a sense of community. Local newspapers provide a vital public service and it’s a tragedy every time we lose one.

I don’t think anything could replace a quality magazine. At Sussex Life we choose to invest in beautiful photography and viewing it on a screen is just not the same as seeing it beautifully reproduced in print. And we spend money and time on our journalism too – that’s not to say there isn’t great writing available online, but there’s so much available the gems can be hard to find. I like to think in Sussex Life we’ve curated the best content available on our specialist subject.

Can you share some of your favourite stories in the course of your time at Sussex Life?
There are so many! I did love visiting the set of the BBC’s adaptation of the Mapp and Lucia novels, and interviewing actors including Anna Chancellor, Steve Pemberton and Miranda Richardson. Richard Wilson’s installation Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea was a brilliant story for Sussex. Other memorable ones include the Battle of Balcombe, when locals joined forces with eco-campaigners to protest fracking, and of course the announcement of the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2018 – although we couldn’t have known then how the story would develop.

How do you find juggling parenthood with work?
It certainly focuses the mind! I have compressed my week into four days while my son is tiny, which does sometimes feel quite intense, but I think it’s made me a better decision-maker as I don’t have time to dither.

Tips for anyone looking to get into the world of journalism
Read as much as you can. Familiarise yourself with the challenges and opportunities facing the industry. Make yourself a specialist in your chosen subject.

To find out more about Sussex Life click here.

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