In Bed With the Editor Taking Us Away with Here Magazine
It’s not often that a branded print publication captures our attention. How many companies have tried and failed to make a statement with their own magazine? Enter Away, the luggage company with a cult following. Its magazine, Here, landed with a splash in 2017, thanks to cover star Rashida Jones plus seriously interesting travel content. In the years since, it’s continued to give us wanderlust on a quarterly basis.
Thank Ally Betker for that. The magazine’s founding editor (and editorial director for all of Away) has shepherded Here since before Day One. Prior to Away, Betker had stints at The Cut (New York Mag‘s popular fashion site), Vogue, WWD, and, most recently, W Magazine as digital editor. “This was 2016, which was an interesting time in media for a lot of reasons, not least of all because of what was happening politically,” Betker explains. “Big media companies were changing rapidly and not necessarily for the better. I needed a change.”
We sat down with the Brooklyn-based, Missouri-born journalist to learn more about Here, her favorite work trip, and the best ways to enjoy a New York City summer.
So talk to us about 2016. What got you into travel writing?
Travel was something that emerged at the top of my wishlist, for obvious personal reasons. But also, professionally, if I could encourage people to cross borders and get to know new cultures, that’s something I could feel good about. Up to that point, I’d covered everything from fashion to beauty to culture to travel, so it didn’t feel like too much of a leap in terms of the actual content I’d be producing.
And did you immediately think of Away as an opportunity?
I thought I’d become a freelance travel writer, but when I took a look at the travel media landscape, there were no publications that were speaking to millennials or doing anything innovative.
Meanwhile, Away had launched and quickly captured the audience that I thought was lacking [relevant] content. I approached [founders] Steph Korey and Jen Rubio about creating travel content their customers couldn’t find elsewhere. Little did I know, Away customers had already been reaching out to the Customer Experience team asking for travel recommendations. It was great timing!
What was the biggest hurdle in launching the new pub?
The biggest hurdle—for me and everyone else at Away in the early days—was just how much work had to be completed by a small team. I was a one-person team right up until the very first issue of Here went to print. That meant I was working with the printer, commissioning stories and photos, editing everything, doing a lot of writing myself, managing timelines, plotting our launch strategy, getting us on to social media…the list goes on. But I was so energized by the product I was creating, and excited to be working for such an innovative and creative company, that I never really stopped to consider the amount of work. It was 1000% worth it.
Your career has been a combination of writing and editing. Can you talk to us about that dynamic?
I’ve spent a lot of my career as a writer, and continue to write for Here Magazine today. I’d be very sad to transition completely away from writing. Luckily, writing and editing feed each other—doing one makes you better at the other. Both editing and writing feel like putting together a puzzle and it’s so satisfying to put the pieces into place. I particularly like editing new or young writers, and helping them understand what makes a great story and develop their voice.
How does the team from Here pick which destinations to cover next?
At the beginning of the year, we plot out which 12 cities we want to focus on in a really big way across print, digital, and social. Those destinations are a combination of the more expected cities that we know our readers are traveling to and that we want to tackle in a unique way, and unexpected destinations that have a lot to offer to our forward-thinking audience—places that we think will become really popular in the next couple years.
What’s one misconception you think people have about the life of an editor?
Like a lot of glamorous-looking jobs, there are plenty of long hours, multi-tasking, and general hard work.
What do you think is most exciting about travel right now?
I’m really interested in sustainable travel—specifically how spaces like hotels and restaurants incorporate and give back to their communities, especially in destinations with emerging tourism markets.
Do you remember your first trip? Where was it?
I don’t remember my first trip ever, but my first trip for Here Magazine was to Jaipur in India. Even coming from New York, the hustle there is awe-inspiring. You get so much stimulation just walking down the street, between the street food, colorful tuks-tuks, and the occasional lumbering elephant.
Away’s offices are in SoHo. What’s your go-to spot for a sit-down lunch in the neighborhood?
Everyone is talking about west~bourne, and that’s because it’s great. The food is healthy and delicious, and you can feel extra good about eating there because it donates 1% of all its sales to [New York-based, anti-poverty organization] the Robin Hood Foundation. For white tablecloth vibes, King is really lovely for lunch. Splurge on the whole fish.
What’s your favorite spot in all of Manhattan
Every time I walk through Washington Square Park, I get that Holy shit I can’t believe I live here feeling.
You live in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. If someone has one afternoon to spend in BK…where should they go?
Hit the Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Botanic Garden, followed by dinner and drinks at Glady’s or Chavela’s [both nearby on Franklin Avenue]. For after-hours fun, head to Friends and Lovers.
What’s your favorite part about NYC in the summer?
There’s so much to love about New York City in the summer, some highlights include: movies in Prospect Park, the New York Philharmonic concert in Central Park, drinks on the Brooklyn Barge Bar or at Pilot, taking the subway out to Rockaway Beach, dining al fresco at Loosie’s Kitchen or Olmsted (or Claro, which is on my list for this summer), etc etc etc.
Where are you heading next?
I’m going to Lisbon and Porto in Portugal with my mom for a full week in June. I’ll be surfing, eating fresh seafood, and drinking lots of Vinho Verde. I’m also excited to travel for pleasure and not business!
Head to Here Magazine to see the latest from Betker and Away, from guides to Accra, Ghana, to an interview with Aladdin live-action star Mena Massoud. And check out other recent Refinery Times In Bed With… interviews!