medianet meets: Karen Barnes, editor, delicious. magazine

In the second installment of our new series getting to know Christians working in the media, we interview Karen Barnes, who’s editor of delicious. magazine… 

How did you get into the media?

I was fresh out of university and I needed a job! I applied for a position as a PA to the head of a training and research organisation, which (at the time) also had a publishing division. Despite the fact that I couldn’t type and had no training whatsoever apart from an English degree, I got the job, learned to speed-type (a skill that saves me hours of time per week now) and managed to skip sideways into the publishing division within a few months. There I was trained in editing. When the publishing division was sold off (not before I had to entertain Elvis Presley’s stepbrother over a weekend in London, mind you – we’d commissioned him to write a book), I was made redundant and got a job sub-editing on a computer magazine. I earned my stripes in sub-editing for nine months in an office filled with chain-smokers, then moved to broader consumer magazines. That set me on my path.

What’s an average week like for you?

There’s no such thing as an average week. The common factor is that I get up at 6am and try to get to my desk by 7.45am as that magic peace before anyone else arrives is the only way I can keep on top of the email mountain. I might spend the day at my desk editing features and reading proofs, or I might have an issue planning meeting, or I might be out and about meeting clients and sponsors, or planning our Produce Awards, or recording an episode of our podcast, or going to a lunchtime launch event. In the evenings, I’m out three weekday evenings out of five, at anything from a book launch to a restaurant review to a drink with a writer or PR. But Fridays are sacrosanct: no meetings during the day; nothing work-related in the evening.

Complete this sentence. My day starts with…

Pressing the snooze button once, listening to the Today programme as I get ready, a cup of tea and an omelette.

If I ruled the world, I would… pass a law that every person had to have training in how to listen and the art of conversation. It amazes me how many people have the ability to talk for hours about themselves, yet never ask a question or listen to a word anyone else says. Listening – and being interested – makes negotiation easier and it forges strong relationships.

What’s the one thing you wish the Church knew about the media?

That it’s not ‘us and them’. The Church is full of brilliant people and also flawed people; the media is full of brilliant people and also flawed people. The Church is sometimes smug and judgemental about its version of morality and the media can be dismissive about people with religious beliefs; I wish neither were the case.

If you didn’t work in the media, what would you do?

I’d be a cellist.

Which three media personalities – living or dead – would you love to have as dinner party guests?

Glenda Bailey (founding editor of Marie Claire, back in 1988; it was a ground-breaking magazine); Ruth Reichl (former editor-in-chief of the US magazine Gourmet and restaurant critic for the New York Times); BBC correspondent John Simpson.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

Admit your mistakes, apologise, then come up with a plan for how it will never happen again.

Who mentors you?

At work, it used to be my former editor Lindsay Nicholson, who taught me a huge amount about editing a magazine and understanding your reader. Now I’d say I have two mentors. One is a long-standing friend, Nicky Welsh, who has great ethics, fierce views and politics I admire. She used to run housing departments, now lives in South Africa and works for two charities there (including one she founded, for which I’m a trustee). She’s an authority on HIV counselling and training and is a brilliant example of a strong, wise woman in the workplace. She is also a great friend and likes a glass of wine. My other mentor probably doesn’t know she is. She’s called Liz Holden – another wise and wonderful woman, who has a shining faith, a heart for people and is my biggest encourager.

What advice would you give to people who want to break into the media?

Be there first, have a strong work ethic, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty or make a cup of tea, have a ready smile – and be BOLD: however junior your are, if you have an idea, don’t be afraid to put it forward. And if you don’t agree with something, say so (but learn to pick your moment!).

What’s the most difficult work situation you’ve faced as a Christian?

Being asked to lie about something I completely disagreed with. I refused.

How can we pray for you?

For wisdom, more hours in the day and more brain space.