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Weekly Lunches: Meeting the People at PEOPLE

Dotdash Meredith entrance of Brookfield Place, where the PEOPLE office is. Credit: Emma Becker, PEOPLE intern

By Bellamy Richardson

According to the people at PEOPLE magazine, being a good intern is all about saying “yes” to whatever gets thrown your way — whether that’s fact-checking a story for print, covering an event you know nothing about, or interviewing one of your favorite actors.

The PEOPLE office in Brookfield Place sits in the westernmost part of New York City’s Financial District right next to the Hudson River. On sunny summer days, it can feel as though you aren’t in NYC at all but rather in California or a city on the other side of the world.

For the editors at PEOPLE, being everywhere all at once is just part of the job. If a celebrity is awake somewhere in the world, then someone at PEOPLE is awake and ready to put up a digital story on a 40-minute turnaround. Prince George wears a suit and tie to Wimbledon? The royals editors are on it. Eminem announces a new greatest hits album? The music editors are on it. Cardi B goes out in a $25 Target outfit and jokes it’s Chanel? The fashion editors are on it.

But whatever the story is — whether it’s as big as the death of a world leader or as small as a celebrity’s latest Instagram post — you just have to say yes and run with it. This point is one of the main takeaways we got from our lunch at PEOPLE with Deputy Editor Wendy Naugle (and former ASME intern), Editorial Manager Kalina Ollinger, Digital Movies Editor Nigel Smith, and Staff Editor Jeff Nelson (and former ASME intern).

Naugle grew up in Colorado and got her start at parenting magazines; Smith was an aspiring actor who shifted his career path to film journalism after college; and Nelson grew up on a dairy farm in rural Minnesota but always loved pop culture and landed an internship at PEOPLE, where he still works, more than eight years later. Though they all come from different backgrounds and interests, they all ended up at the same place, which just goes to show the breadth and variety of content that PEOPLE covers.

While Smith keeps an eye out for exciting news in the world of Hollywood, Nelson works on putting together the Scoop spread in the front of each print issue, which includes a bunch of recent celebrity news stories from weddings to tragedies to health to real estate. And behind the scenes, Naugle is liaising between the business and editorial teams to make sure that the magazine has the right number and variety of ads all the while helping Editor-in-Chief Liz Vaccariello execute her vision for the brand.

Though they each serve different parts of the magazine and website, they all agree that the most important thing besides saying yes to everything is staying curious. If you, as a writer, are familiar with a story but still have questions about it, then your reader will surely share those same questions, Nelson explains.

Follow every breadcrumb, Naugle encourages. If something is interesting to you, it’s probably also interesting to your reader.

Make sure to ask follow-up questions, Smith adds, and listen to the person you’re interviewing when they answer you — there might be a golden nugget in there that could lead to a more interesting question than anything you already prepared.

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