Ator (BSJ ‘08) forges her own career at Women’s Health Magazine
By Hannah Wintucky
When Jen Ator (BSJ ‘08) sat down with athletes Natalie Coughlin, Allyson Felix and Nastia Liukin for a special series on the London Olympics, she knew that she had found a home at Women’s Health Magazine.
“It’s crazy to say, sitting here now, that I’m doing my dream job,” Ator said. “I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do (when I was in college).”
Jen Ator (right) leads AOL BUILD discussion on health and wellness.
Ator graduated from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism in 2008 and started working two weeks after graduation. She said her time at Ohio University as a student-athlete shaped her career into what it is today.
An athlete as a young girl and in high school, Ator knew she wanted to play sports in college. “But, I also knew I wanted to be a writer and wanted to go to journalism school,” Ator said. “I was just lucky enough that OU was the perfect storm of a great journalism school and a place that I can go and play lacrosse.”
The D1 athlete Ator found it hard to balance sports, academics and the “competitive” nature of Scripps.
“I remember it being really challenging at the beginning of my Scripps career to feel like I was fitting in and making a name for myself inside of the journalism school,” Ator said. “It’s very competitive, and people are super involved. I couldn’t be as involved, or work on the paper, or things like that because my schedule was so restrictive.”
But, Ator found her niche in a blog she had to write for one of her classes. She called it “Jen’s Daily Serving.”
The blog’s style was similar to what she saw in health magazines: “little short write-ups that took studies and made them feel more digestible and relatable to everyday people,” she recalled. “I think this was one of the really big pieces that made me connect to the outside world. I feel like sometimes a lot of things in college really pertain to our school and our campus, and it’s hard to get that general clip experience for when you get out of school.”
Ator started her post-grad career in an internship at Rodale Inc., a publishing company that focuses on health and wellness. She worked on numerous stories, many related to health and fitness. After her internship, knowing she wanted to stay at Rodale, she applied for an assistant fitness editor position at Women’s Health Magazine.
“At the time, (Woman’s Health) was a couple of years old and had formerly been skewed to older women and skewed a little bit more towards the outdoors,” Ator said. “(Women’s Health was) not really new and young. They were bringing in a new editor-in-chief and changing some things, and had a need for an assistant fitness editor.”
Ator got the job in March of 2009 and quickly advanced to new positions at the magazine. She was promoted to fitness director in April of 2014.
“I got really lucky,” Ator said. “Normally, you come into places and have people that are above you, and you can only really work up to a certain limit. She credited her advancement to her willingness to “hunker down” and work extra hard during her first few years in the city. “I think there is this idea that you’re going to do all these glamorous things and are going to have a bunch of great bylines--which is true, and there are those things. But, I was willing to sacrifice a lot of the fun stuff to make that climb and carve my own path early on.”
An early highlight of Ator’s career came when she pitched a multiplatform story about the athletes of the 2012 London Olympics to her editor-in-chief, and it was approved. The project included a 16-page special section in Women’s Health, with numerous interviews with top athletes. Ator said that she was most proud of how the spread was relatable to everyday people.
“Everywhere else across the board you saw stories like ‘Workout Like an Olympian’ or ‘Train to Look Like an Olympian’ and they sounded like very contrived magazine stories that no one would go out and do,” Ator said. “If you’re not Kerri Walsh and 6’1” with legs for days, I can’t tell you how to get her legs. Unless you’re training like her or eating like her, I can’t tell you how to get her abs either.”
Instead, one piece focused on the pillars of success all athletes try to follow and achieve.
“We had Allyson Felix, Nastia Liukin and Natalie Coughlin as our anchor athletes,” Ator said. “There were these tenets of success that they all followed: prioritizing recovery and sleep, or focusing on their nutrition, or staying optimistic. These kind of ‘big tent pole’ ideas that anyone could read, and be like ‘Oh, wow! If I did that in my everyday life, I’d probably be a little bit more successful at the goal I’m going towards.’”
Her success and passion ultimately comes down to her experience as an athlete.
“It’s always been a huge thing for me--being an athlete and admiring these people for what they can do physically,” Ator said. “But, I also have such admiration for who they are as people, because obviously you don’t get to that level of success without being a really hardworking and great person.”
As for the future of magazines, Ator doesn’t know what is in store but plans to embrace whatever happens.
“It’s a really exciting time to be in magazines, and it’s also a really uncertain time to be in magazines,” Ator said. “In the next five years, I don’t think we’re going to see the traditional magazine editor job be the same as it was five to 10 years ago when I started. I think you’re going to have to be across all mediums and have to be thinking of how stories live everywhere. It makes it really exciting.”
But, Ator believes in print and the future of media.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think print is going anywhere for good,” Ator said. “I think that we’re seeing that, in terms of revenues, print is still comparative.” Noting that the industry will see many changes as the emphasis on digital increases, she is “always going to be a print person first.”
Regardless of what is going on in the media world, Ator continues to stay optimistic.
“I thought I’d be here someday, but I can’t picture where I will be in five years,” Ator said. “Hopefully, I’ll be here (at Women’s Health) or at another big brand creating content that resonates with people.”