November 4, 2014

CORNELL CLOSE-UPS | Professor Jenny Barnett, Cornell Alumni Magazine Editor, Has Roots in Industry

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An Oxford graduate, former executive editor at both Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire and now the head of Cornell Alumni Magazine, Prof. Jenny Barnett, communication, said her accomplished career in the media industry began with “no connections.”

While studying at Oxford University, Barnett said she first realized that she wanted to be in “some kind of communication field.”

Michelle Feldman / Sun Senior Editor

Michelle Feldman / Sun Senior Editor

Michelle Feldman / Sun Senior Editor

“I liked communicating and the idea of communication,” she said. “I decided toward the end of my time at Oxford that I wanted to be in the media — specifically magazines.”

At first, Barnett said she was working her way “into the [media] industry from the outside” due to the nature of the field at the time.

“It was different back then,” she said. “Internships didn’t quite exist [and there were] not a lot of journalism courses. With no connections, I was writing, contacting editors and knocking on doors — I worked for a while for nothing.”

However, Barnett was soon able to secure her first “real job” as assistant editor of the one and only edition of Grandparent Magazine. Despite the short-lived fate of the magazine, Barnett said the experience she gained from this particular position laid the groundwork for her future roles at other publications.

“I am very, very proud [of my first paid job],” she said. “I did most of everything, while the editor in chief was doing almost everything [as] an editor in chief.”

After leaving Grandparent, Barnett said she went on to work at a magazine called Over21, where she was approached to work as one of the founding editors of U.K. Marie Claire.

“I happened to be at the right place at the right time,” she said.

Though Barnett said the founding team of U.K. Marie Claire was “young” and “fairly inexperienced,” she and her team were able to deliver “hard-hitting” content, thus permanently changing the course of women’s magazines.

“Women’s magazines were not doing anything hard-hitting prior to [that],” she said. “And we did [exactly that]. We had this fashion-and-foreign-affairs thing for our magazine.”

Determined to create a magazine that carried both serious meaning and light-hearted humor for its target audience, Barnett said she persisted in the face of a great amount of skepticism.

“A lot of people said that women weren’t interested in that hard-hitting stuff,” she said. “But we said nope, we’re gonna stick with it. [And] it grew very organically and became hugely successful. We were able to say that women were interested in both [the] fun and serious stuff.”

At Marie Claire, Barnett began writing about women and AIDS, a topic which she said was not only unpopular, but also unprecedented.

“I was interested in communicating to people about what can seem to be complex health issues and help them understand them in an easy way,” she said. “I’m most proud of a lot of the big health campaigns.”

In addition to her work with publications, Barnett has worked to raise awareness for breast cancer, launched fundraising campaigns for issues pertaining to both men and women and built a successful political platform with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“[Albright and I] were working on issues such as trafficking of women and gender apartheid in Afghanistan,” she said.

When asked if she enjoys making a difference in the world, Barnett said that she did not want to “be too arrogant about it.”

“I can’t claim that I have changed peoples’ lives, but I hope that I was able to maybe introduce people to something that they haven’t thought about before,” she said.

But after 20 years of working in media and magazines, Barnett said she decided to “take a leap of faith” and move to Ithaca in order to be closer to her family.

“I loved my job, but I wanted to put my kids to bed more often than someone else [did],” she said.