From the Publisher’s Mouth: Maria Russo of Culture-ist

Maria is the co-founder of Culture-ist Magazine, an online magazine for people who are passionate about being active members of a global society. In our interview, Maria talks with me about breaking down cultural barriers through writing, the power of social media, and what she looks for in a great travel narrative. Enjoy!

How did you get your feet wet in the travel industry? What have been the “keys” to your success?

I really have to thank Matt Stabile of The Expeditioner for introducing me to the travel industry. His webzine was one of the first travel sites I ever wrote for. He was kind enough to send along invites to travel events happening in NYC, and through these opportunities, I became more involved in the industry.

The keys to our success are staying true to our original vision for the site and working with talented people who place tremendous value on what we do. Without our team of writers, experts and one brilliant designer, Culture-ist would have never received the kind of success we are fortunate enough to have today.

You co-founded the online magazine Culture-ist. Can you talk a little bit about your mission for the magazine and how it got started? Where would you like to see it go in the next few years?

Our mission for the magazine is to spread awareness about the incredible people, places and cultural aspects that make up our global society. We always try to take a local, sustainable and/or socially responsible angle on whatever it is that we cover. Our goal is to report on the aspects of culture that truly matter, and the irony, humor and hope that come with the territory.

In the next few years, we’d love to have a larger staff of writers and reporters from all across the globe, so that we can cover more of the profound issues and stories occurring in different pockets of the world. We’d also like to expand “The Market” with a carefully chosen list of artisans, local travel guides and small business, so that people have easy access to excellent goods and services from talented entrepreneurs around the world.

On Culture-ist, you mention that you’re fascinated by the way social media connects and influences our global community. Can you talk a little bit more about that? What is the role of social media in the kind of work that writers do in our global economy?

Social media is one of the most powerful and influential tools mankind has ever known. It has made a once fragmented world a connected global society. It has facilitated revolutions and helped friends and loved ones reconnect after many years apart. It can make or break someone’s career and it has the power to give ordinary people a chance to spread their messages, whether it be positive or negative, among millions.

Social Media is an important tool for writers because it allows us to connect with the larger world. Just last week, I needed to find someone in Nairobi to help us complete a travel guide. I was able to easily connect with this person who was kind enough to answer some questions for us.

It also must be said that writers can now share their work with people around the world with the simple click of a few buttons.

As an editor, what kinds of stories get you excited? What have you published that you were really proud to publish?

Nothing can replace a literary travelogue about an aspect of a foreign culture unknown by many. I also love articles that feature cool, innovative small business doing revolutionary things.

I’m proud to publish anything written by Shawn Moksvold, a rare talent who, I’m convinced, will soon be regarded as one of the greatest travel writers of our time; and many of our pieces on women’s issues including this riveting interview with Anna Therese Day.

If someone wanted to pitch to your magazine, what advice would you give him/her?

Send a specific idea that fits Culture-ist’s voice and style. We are an e-mag with several sections rather than a traditional blog covering one topic, so it’s best to check out our articles over the course of a few days to see what we’re really all about before sending a query letter.

Lastly, Maria, I am amazed at all the different roles you have! How do you balance freelance writing, editing for Culture-ist, and going to graduate school? What is the secret to handling the world of multi-tasking?

“Balance” is an interesting way of putting it! It’s more like toppling over everyday! I do my best to prioritize and complete whatever is urgent. I always communicate with people if I am lagging on something, so that they don’t think I have forgotten, or that I have deemed their request unimportant. Everything is important to me – whether it’s getting back to someone on a pitch that doesn’t quite fit with the site, or following up with a high-profile marketing firm – I am grateful to have these correspondences. Unfortunately there’s no secret to multi-tasking, it’s really all about being honest with people when you simply can’t fit all that needs to be done in a day’s time.

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Maria Russo is a freelance writer who has worked in print and broadcast media at companies such as: MTV Networks, Harper’s Bazaar, Warner Bros. and WOR News Talk Radio. She received her BA in Print Journalism from American University in Washington D.C., and currently attends New York University pursuing postgraduate studies in Journalism/Editing. Her work has appeared on National Geographic, The Huffington Post, People, Sylist and USA Today among others. Russo is a philanthropy buff and avid traveler who loves natural wonders, cultural food experiences and finding the remaining places on earth left undisturbed. Follow Maria on Twitter @MariaCultureist

Interview conducted in September, 2012 by Kristin Mock.

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