Featured image courtesy of Laura McDonough
By Jordan Unger
Cristina Cala chuckles and fades for a moment when asked about founding The YO Magazine, reflecting on everything that has happened over the past ten years.
Her career in media began as a copy editor for The Jambar during her undergraduate at Youngstown State University.
“I remember definitely enjoying copy editing because I’ve always been a fan of polishing and the proofreading process and it was a skill I had built already,” Cala says. “It was a good fit, but I remember feeling a little bit behind the scenes and I wanted to do something more.”
With some feature writing under her belt, a growing interest in magazines and this craving to
fulfill more, Cala pitched the idea for YO Magazine to Mary Beth Earnheart, who at the time was one of the newest YSU journalism professors and the faculty advisor to The Jambar.
“Mary Beth was very supportive and she loved the idea,” she says. “She gave us, as the staff and student journalists, the green light to take initiative and build an editorial vision as we saw fit.”
She says encouragement for students take initiative and to be entrepreneurial is an essential quality for the journalism program to have.
“[Being entrepreneurial] is a skill that is really going to set you up for a larger market after you graduate, especially if you want to get into freelance writing,” Cala says.
Taking these skills with her, Cala landed a staff job at The Vindicator after graduating from YSU.
She followed the growth of branded content writing to New York, where she worked for nearly five years at Condé Nast Media Group and nearly two years at Time, Inc.
The 2016 presidential election coverage reached its peak while Cala worked at Time, Inc. President Donald Trump won the election. She says it was a crazy time for media, particularly women in the field, who were trying to process Hillary Clinton’s loss both professionally and personally. She gathered with some colleagues not long after.
“We were kind of looking for a space to just sort of vent, process and eventually create,” Cala says. “Through the trauma of it, there was this need to create and storytell. That’s what we do as journalists.”
The opportunity presented itself through the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Cala traveled to the march with a small group of women–colleagues from New York, filmmakers and photographers from Los Angeles and some old friends from Ohio. They brought equipment to capture the groundbreaking event, but did not expect for it to be published or used.
“This is literally history unfolding, so let’s go capture it,” she says. “We ended up getting all of this beautiful video footage and I was already in the works, talking to a social guru who used to be my intern at [Condé Nast Media Group]. She was back home in New York before we went, setting up an Instagram account.”
Through this, Cala founded the Why Women Project, an online platform to showcase the storiesand experiences of women. She says with the voluntary help of writers, videographers, photographers and social media experts, the project was quickly lifted off the ground.
“It was amazing how we had these moving parts, women of all these different skill sets contributing to this project and it just came together in a week,” Cala says.
Within that first week, the project’s Instagram page gathered hundreds of followers. Cala says this demonstrates the power of a female network.
“Women were volunteering to be a part of this project because they were personally invested in the cause and telling these stories,” she says. “If you look at the top, the way that organizations and most industries in media are set up, position makers tend to be mostly males… What we’re giving to our audience is… stories told through the female gaze.”
In the future, Cala hopes to see the project partner with other publishers who want to reach this audience. She also does freelance editorial work for The Daily Beast, but orchestrating her independent project takes up most of her time. She says she can tie all of her accomplishments back to her earliest days working for student media.
“I wouldn’t have been able to have my career foundations to stand on and be in a position to start something ten years into my career if I wouldn’t have had that first [experience in college],” Cala says.
Looking back on the past decade, Cala feels like she has come full circle in her career.
“The first time I was a founder was The YO Magazine and now the second time I’m a founder for the Why Women Project,” Cala says. “It feels a little serendipitous, but it also feels like if it’s in you, it’s in you.”
She says it’s important for students to pursue what drives them, whatever that may be.
“If there are any students out there who feel like they have that entrepreneurial bug, I think [you should] follow it and it’ll serve you well in your career as a journalist because you will always know where to find the story.”