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Jillian Holness_Wideshot

Jillian Holness_Wideshot

Jillian Holness

Imagine living in a city where either dreams are crushed or made with five other strangers, and interning at a publication whose magazines you can’t find at your local drugstores or supermarkets. Sounds like a challenging summer, right? Luckily, I’ve learned in my 21 years of life that challenge is best dealt with using determination, optimism and a little sass. As a new intern at Smart + Strong publishing, my initial hurdle was figuring out how to produce intelligent and important content for communities I didn’t know much about.  


Smart + Strong produces niche health magazines including HEP for people living with hepatitis and POZ for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. As a student journalist, I have writing clips that range from fashion and lifestyle to race and gender. However, I never tried my hand at health writing, especially for a marginalized audience.


On my first day at Smart + Strong, I was immediately thrown into work. While I was transcribing an interview for POZ magazine, I had to stop the recording every few minutes to look up words like “antiretroviral”, “pre-exposure prophylaxis” and “seroconversions.”  Those terms were definitely not covered in my chemistry or biology classes. So, I decided to do my homework and study the magazine.


During the ASME orientation, editors from different magazines would stress the importance of knowing the publication’s voice. For my first two weeks at the office, I would grab different copies of POZ and read them during my down time and back at my dorm, trying to study the publication’s voice and understand HIV/AIDS jargon. Before coming to New York, I read stories on POZ’s website, but it’s not the same as holding the magazine and turning the pages.


As the summer progressed, understanding POZ’s voice became easier as I wrote more. Every day, I would write newsfeed articles, which are brief articles about HIV/AIDS current events. Writing the newsfeed articles helped me to improve my writing skills by summarizing lengthy press releases and articles from other websites and turning them into easy to read and interesting articles. It also helped that since Smart + Strong is such a small staff with less than 30 people on the sales and editorial side, the copy editor and deputy editor gave me feedback on each article I wrote and let me see their edits.


When I look back at the past eleven weeks, I’m proud to say, I conquered all the challenges that came my way like navigating the subway system and reporting on a big event at the LGBT center. However, the challenges I faced are nowhere near as exhausting as the ones people in the HIV positive community deal with.  


My internship at Smart + Strong publishing has made me realize the impact journalism can have on a community. For many POZ readers, the magazine was a lifeboat that rescued them from their darkest times. This has made me even more motivated to return to New York City and find stories that need to be told.


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