Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
3 mins read

Mental Floss Editor in Chief Erin McCarthy on the title’s 20-year mission to make readers smarter

This week Mental Floss Editor in Chief Erin McCarthy tells us about how it’s celebrating its 20th anniversary, how the magazine started in a university dorm room, its mission to help people feel smarter, and how the team decides what to cover.

In the news roundup the team discuss a good week for a business-savvy Twitter, a bad week for Facebook and Snapchat, and the worst few years of all time for Yahoo & AOL.

The full transcript is live here, or see below for highlights:

The secret to Mental Floss’s success

I think our dedication to digging up weird information and fascinating stories, that’s been part of Mental Floss’s DNA from the beginning, and whether you were reading the print magazine or visiting the website, that’s just what Mental Floss does. So that has not changed.

I also think a little bit, it’s that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We take our editorial process really seriously, and we cover serious topics. But in general, I think we’re kind of looking at the world from a place of wonder and curiosity and delight, almost all the time. And I think that’s why it’s fun to read Mental Floss, and also really fun to work here.

The magazine’s origins

[William E. Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur] basically wanted to start Mental Floss because there were a bunch of things that they wanted to look into. And they were at school and they thought, what better place to start a magazine when you have access to all of these experts in all of these areas who can who can break down these things for a general audience, and kind of package something that feels like it’s a friend talking to you about cool stuff that they know, just like a smart person who knows a lot about things and can’t wait to share them with you.

And that’s hasn’t changed. I mean, that’s still our bread and butter. That’s our tone. That’s what makes us excited to come to work every day. So a lot of what ends up on Mental Floss are questions that we’re asking each other, or stories that we have found that we need to know more about.

Covering Coronavirus

One of the things that was a challenge for us last year was, obviously we had a bunch of plans, and then Coronavirus happened, and didn’t destroy all of our plans, but it threw us a curveball. And we had to figure out how to cover that. Because we do know that our readers kind of consider us a break from the horrific news cycle. So we wanted to be really conscious of that.

But at the same time, a big part of our mission is helping people lead smarter lives. And so you can’t ignore this huge thing that’s happening in the world, there’s this pandemic. So how do we cover this without overwhelming our readers?

And what we ended up doing was, we created a digest, we called it our Coronavirus Digest, very creative. And that’s where we summarized the hard news around the pandemic, so that if people wanted to know, if our readers wanted to know, they could go to that one spot.