By Debbie Nelson. This story was originally published in the 2015-2016 issue of the Meek School Magazine.
Newell Turner was raised to be a rebel, an Ole Miss Rebel.
“It was exciting to come to Ole Miss,” Turner said. “It was a part of my family and a part of my cultural experience growing up. In fact, there was really never any option other than Ole Miss. It’s a good thing I liked it!”
Completing his double major in Journalism and Southern Studies a semester ahead of his class in December 1982, Turner remained in Mississippi, accepting a public relations position with Hospital Corporation of America, a company newly managing King’s Daughters Hospital in Yazoo City.
Ever the rebel, he decided to quit public relations and head for law school in 1984, but he found it to be very difficult.
“It’s what I felt everyone thought I should do,” Turner said. “I hadn’t started living my life, didn’t know what I wanted.
“I studied, banging my head against the wall, just to do OK,” Turner said. “I don’t regret the experience of the year and a half of legal training. What ended up being not right for me helped me find my right path.”
Dean Will Norton remembered, “He was going to law school, didn’t like it, so he came over here and asked about our magazine program. I introduced him to Samir.”
The Service Journalism emphasis had just been created in the Department of Journalism.
“My first impression of Newell was in Journalism 273, the editing by design class which combined the art of design with the art of journalism,” Husni said. “After assigned to design a spread — two facing pages of the magazine — one just jumped out at me. I was stunned by the quality of the art, the design, the neatness. Even the drawing of the picture was like, ‘Wow!’ Needless to say that assignment was Newell Turner’s.”
Turner explained, “I was taking Samir’s magazine design class when I realized I had really found my place, I found the thing that came so naturally to me. I’d grown up loving magazines. It was like I wasn’t even working. ”
Turner experienced a defining moment shortly after Dorothy Kalins, founding editor of Metropolitan Home magazine, came to speak to Husni’s class.
“Newell asked very sharp questions that showed his knowledge, talent and passion for this industry,” Husni said. “You know, any smart editor does not let that go by. Ms. Kalins called me and said, ‘Samir, I have an opening for an editorial assistant. I want to offer it to Newell Turner.’”
Like an athlete recruited directly to the NFL, Turner was urged to grab the opportunity. Husni told Turner, “Those knocks don’t come often. A graduate degree is not going to add anything. If I were you, I would take the job. Quit your graduate program. Go!”
“You’ll learn everything you’ll need on the job,” Turner recalls Husni saying. “I’m very proud I made an A in Samir’s magazine class.” He felt validated in his choice to focus on magazines.
Clearly proud of Turner’s decision, Husni said, “He was courageous enough to listen to the advice, quit the graduate program and go. The rest, of course, is history.”
Though Turner now wishes he earned his master’s degree, Norton echoed Husni’s wise counsel. Today he is a top executive in the magazine industry.
“He did so well, he immediately got the position,” Norton said. “He might not have gotten where he is had he waited to graduate. He knew so much by that time. Clearly, he obtained a graduate education by working for Dorothy Kalin.”
In the summer of 1985, Turner joined the staff of Metropolitan Home magazine. After five years, Turner moved to New Orleans, then to Dallas doing freelance work, but maintaining a connection to Metropolitan Home. A few years later, Turner remembers, “I woke up one morning and said, ‘I love publishing. Why did I leave NY?’” He reached out to the new editor in chief and quickly resumed his position with Metropolitan Home for two more years. He then served four years as style director, helping to revive Conde Nast’s House & Garden, which had been closed for a period of time.
During the first Internet bubble, Turner left print publishing to work for a digital incubator firm on a travel website called Room 12. There he found the company reinvented the business plan every week, because of competition from newly launched Expedia and Travelocity. After a year the website shut down. His take-away from the experience was discovering the power of collaboration between editorial and business in publishing.
Turner’s pivotal choice was to return to magazines, founding a local, high-quality home and design magazine for a micro-audience — specifically the resort communities of the Hamptons on Long Island. It was a busy four years, launching two more magazines, spin-offs from the first, in three years.
“I’m very proud to say those magazines still exist,” Turner said.
The look and style of the work he was doing caught the attention of House Beautiful. In 2006, Turner was hired as style director to resuscitate the ailing publication.
“It took just two years to turn the business around to a profitable state, and House Beautiful turns 120 next year,” Turner said.
In 2010, he was promoted to editor-in-chief.
Looking at the fluid movement in Turner’s career, Norton observed, “He advanced from one position to the next, and now he’s a major player at the Hearst Corporation. His gift is graphics and visuals. He’s just so astute. He learned the whole business. And yet, when you talk to him, he’s just like he was as a student. You’d never know he was a major player in the magazine business. A humble guy. Comes from a distinguished Delta family in Belzoni, Mississippi, the Catfish Capital.
It’s really neat to see somebody become a leader in his profession by hard work and by being really smart. Didn’t get there just by being somebody’s friend. Here’s a guy who remembers his roots, cares about his roots, and yet has achieved a great deal, but doesn’t act like he’s a hotshot.”
Husni recalled, “When House Beautiful won the General Excellence Award under Newell’s leadership, I got a text message as he walked toward the stage. ‘Thank you, Dr. Husni. It all started in your class.’ I don’t think there’s a more rewarding moment than that.”
Turner has paid it forward by offering opportunities to Ole Miss students.
“We’ve had some wonderful interns from Ole Miss in the last few years here in my editorial group, some really terrific students,” Turner said. “I will say very proudly they have impressed, if not blown away, my staff with their commitment, diligence and professionalism.”
“He’s mentored a lot of Ole Miss students who have come after him,” Husni said. “In fact, his latest hire was Clint Smith, editor-in-chief of Veranda, who also was one of my students.”
After orchestrating a core reorganization at Hearst, Turner now serves as group editorial director overseeing House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Veranda, Country Living, and this year, relaunching Metropolitan Home magazine, which had been closed for five years.
Turner’s world has come full circle.
“It’s exciting because I really love that creative collaboration between the editorial side and the business side and making what we do — treating it like a business, but also treating it like an art form which is what I believe magazine-making is. There’s a way to do the two things together that can be very successful, and I like to think that’s where we are today.”
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