Veronica Brown '17
Assistant News Editor
Alumna Jessanne Collins worked successfully in the magazine world since graduating from Smith with a degree in sociology in 2001. She currently works as the Editor-in-Chief of Mental Floss magazine (stylized mental floss). Before working at Out magazine and Mental Floss, she worked at Playgirl magazine and has since written a memoir, “How to Be a Playgirl,” about her experiences there.
How did you first get a job at Playgirl?
Jessanne Collins: I was working in book publishing on the marketing side, and I really wanted to be in editorial. It wasn’t happening for me in the book world, and I’d always been interested in magazines. I met an editor at Playgirl socially and ended up writing something for her freelance. Later when she had a job opening, she called me up, and of course I jumped. It seemed like a crazy opportunity.
What made you want to write “How to Be a Playgirl” about your experience at the magazine?
JC: People were fascinated by the fact that I worked at Playgirl. It was a real conversation starter. They had lots of questions. Early on working there – even in my first week – I started sending a newsletter to my friends that I called “Pornworld Weekly” where I transcribed the weird phone calls and the crazy mail and all of the other experiences that were too bizarre to be believed. I knew that I was taking notes for something that I’d write about eventually – I just didn’t know what that was. The memoir form came later. I studied fiction writing in grad school, and this experience would have made a good bizarro “Devil Wears Prada” type of novel, but in the end I’m a more natural memoirist.
How did you make the transition from working at Playgirl to working at Mental Floss?
JC: I had another job in between for several years – at Out, the gay culture magazine. It’s much more lifestyle-oriented than either Playgirl, which is about naked dudes, or Mental Floss, which is about knowledge. So really it was about learning the ropes of magazines in general – there’s a craft to putting a magazine together that I was first introduced to at Playgirl but really learned the most about at Out. And that’s a skill that I brought to Mental Floss.
What else did you take from your experience at Playgirl to Mental Floss?
JC: Making a magazine is all about making a connection with your audience – it’s about speaking in a certain tone, packaging material in a way they’ll appreciate and interacting with them. In many ways that aspect is the same no matter the publication. At Playgirl I learned how to write terrible puns and pithy copy, and those are two skills that go far in the magazine world!
How do you continue to differentiate your publication from BuzzFeed, which Mental Floss is often compared to?
JC: Mental Floss is about knowledge. We take fascinating information and package it in fun forms – that’s what we do in the magazine, on the web, in our YouTube videos. We’ve been doing content that’s highly shareable for a long, long time – that’s why we draw comparisons to BuzzFeed. But at the end of the day, I see our mission as being entirely unique: everything we create is in the service of making you smarter.