Editors / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Andrea Barbalich, Editor in Chief, The Week Junior at Dennis

Andrea Barbalich is the Editor in Chief of The Week Junior, a weekly newsmagazine for children ages 8 to 14, a brand extension of The Week, the most trusted newsweekly in America.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’m the Editor in Chief of The Week Junior, a weekly newsmagazine for children ages 8 to 14. We launched in March, the first weekly newsmagazine to launch in 20 years. Our mission is to bring the news of the world to children and help them make sense of it.

I’ve worked in publishing for more than 20 years. Prior to joining The Week Junior in October 2019, my previous positions included executive editor at Prevention, executive editor at Scholastic, executive editor at Child magazine, and deputy editor at Reader’s Digest.

Outside my magazine work, I’m the author of numerous articles and essays and the editor of several books, including Feeling Safe: Talking to Children About War and Terrorism. I’ve focused my career on children and families.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I’m up by 6am, often earlier, for two reasons. One, our company is based in the UK and they are five hours ahead of us. So this allows me to check email and Slack and respond to anything that has come to me overnight.

Two, the pace of a weekly newsmagazine is extremely fast, and I’ve found that having two-plus uninterrupted hours every morning helps me stay on top of the news and also think about the bigger picture of our brand.

I also do my editorial planning during those hours. My most important job is to decide what goes into the magazine every week, and I make many of those decisions early in the morning when things are quiet.

My deputy editor is also an early riser, so twice a week I have a 7:30 meeting with her to look ahead to future issues, which is hard to do when you’re 100% focused on finishing the current issue. Then I have a status meeting with my full team every morning at 8:30. We spend 30 minutes reviewing what we accomplished the day before and setting our goals for the day.

There is a real rhythm to a weekly magazine, and certain pages need to be finished every day in order to get each issue to the printer on time. Our deadline is on Tuesday, so I think of Wednesday as the start of the week and Tuesday as the end.

After that initial staff meeting, the day is a combination of calls with individuals or smaller groups of my editorial team to discuss stories and solve problems, meetings with sales, marketing, PR, and other teams we work with throughout the company, and hands-on work on the issue that is shipping that week.

I talk through, make suggestions on, and ultimately approve every idea, article, photograph, and layout to make sure the text and visuals for every story are accurate, age-appropriate, intriguing, and exciting for our readers. I also work hand-in-hand with our art director on each week’s cover. My days end late.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

The entire staff of The Week Junior has been working remotely since mid-March, due to the coronavirus. In fact, we went fully remote one day before we shipped the first issue to the printer.

We’ve been able to do this due to the excellent tech systems that were set up by our production director prior to the launch. Some of our current systems have developed specifically because we’re working remotely.

I wouldn’t be having 7:30 am meetings if we were going into an office, for example. But we’re adjusting to the reality we’re living in and taking advantage of time we otherwise would’ve spent commuting.

We use Google docs, Google hangouts, and Slack to stay connected. We’ve also had a Google hangout happy hour with our entire staff and the family members they’re currently sharing their homes with so we could all feel connected.

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4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I will admit that my work-life balance right now is not optimal. My near-total focus is on work, which is to be expected given that we’re launching a weekly magazine during a pandemic. But the amazing thing is that my family is with me every day because their lives have changed as well. We’re in a cocoon here in our home, and I’m grateful for that.

Some things have become sacred. Our deadline on the magazine is Tuesdays at 6pm, and I have a tradition with my son that we cook together that night. I’ve been cooking with him since he was 5 years old.

But he’s a college student now and otherwise wouldn’t be at home, so this is special. In the afternoon on Tuesdays he starts asking me what we’ll make, and that lets me know he looks forward to it and is counting on it.

Many of the things I formerly did to maintain balance—getting together with friends and family, going to movies, plays, and restaurants, traveling, taking four classes a week at the gym, entertaining people in my home, even haircuts and manicures—have fallen by the wayside for obvious reasons.

But I’m trying to incorporate as much of that into our new reality as I can. I’ve made a point of taking walks through our town on the weekends to see our neighbors and friends from a safe distance and having FaceTime calls with our family and friends who live far from us.

This has helped us maintain a feeling of connectedness despite the separation. We watch movies at home and are experimenting with new recipes.

Cycling is a passion of mine, and I do a long-distance charity ride every year. I cycled 100 miles last summer in Maine. I don’t think that’s happening this year, but I have a stationary bike at home and try to ride that for 30 minutes a few times a week.

Now that the weather is warming up, I’m eager to get out on my road bike to do a long ride once a week. I also love gardening and have built a bit of a sanctuary in my backyard through the years. It takes maintenance, and I look forward to working on that over the next several weeks.

I also find that being the editor of The Week Junior keeps me positive and grounded. We’re producing a newsmagazine for children during an unprecedented time, and every day we receive mail from kids who tell us how much they love the magazine. The fact that we can bring them excitement and joy in turn brings me incredible joy and satisfaction. There’s no better feeling than making a difference in the life of a child.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

My number one strategy for success is to hire smart, creative, hard-working people and to draw on the wisdom of the people who did my job before me. I couldn’t do anything I’m doing without the brilliant people around me.

I also try to keep in the forefront of my mind something I learned from my family at a young age. My aunt and uncle owned a grocery store for 40 years, remaining successful even when larger stores became competitors.

When my uncle retired he was asked the secret to his success in the face of this kind of intense competition. He said, “Fractions of cents mean nothing without quality.” I’ve taken that to heart and tried to focus my efforts on providing the best quality no matter the competition. That is what ultimately earns loyal customers and, in my case, readers.

6) Do you have any favorite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Being the editor of The Week Junior requires me to read constantly. I read numerous newspapers a day online, and I also love the delivery of my New York Times on paper.

I’ve had the Times delivered all my adult life, but right now it feels like a special treat. I also rely on the newsletters from The Week for a daily digest of what’s happening.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

My iPhone and my laptop are currently my most important tools. Venmo comes in handy for paying people I can’t see in person. I love accessing Popjam to see what the kids who read our magazine have to say.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a Supreme Court Justice, she’s obviously reached the pinnacle that anyone could aim for in a career. But she also achieved balance in other areas of her life, from her egalitarian marriage of more than 50 years to her legendary workouts. She’s an idol of mine.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

When my son was young, I tried to keep in mind the words of Jackie Kennedy. She once said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” That’s my idea of perspective.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.