Life after Meredith: 5 perspectives from Birmingham publishing alumni, including Greg Schumann of Markstein

Birmingham, Alabama, Meredith Corp., Cooking Light, Coastal Living, Oxmoor House
Birmingham, Alabama, Meredith Corp., Cooking Light, Coastal Living, Oxmoor House
Meredith Corp.’s Birmingham offices. Photo by Terri Robertson for Bham Now

Meredith Corp.’s business move last Wednesday was a major hit to Coastal Living, Cooking Light and Oxmoor House—three publishing brands with some twenty, thirty and forty years of Birmingham history, respectively. Here are the facts, plus words of encouragement from five Birmingham publishing alumni who have gone on to great things, near and far.

First, The Facts

  • Of roughly 200 jobs eliminated corporate-wide by Meredith’s latest round of cuts, about 25 people in Birmingham lost their jobs.
  • About 200 Meredith employees remain in Birmingham. 
  • Cooking Light magazine is merging with EatingWell magazine, creating a new circulation rate base of 1.775 million. However, it’s the EatingWell name, based in Vermont, that walks away with the subscribers.
Birmingham, Alabama, Meredith Corp., Cooking Light, Coastal Living, Oxmoor House
Meredith’s Birmingham offices are located in the third building of the former Southern Progress Corp./Time Inc. Birmingham campus. With natural stone, glass walls and ample greenery, the buildings are meant to disappear into the natural landscape. Photo by Terri Robertson for Bham Now
  • The move ends regular print subscription issues of Cooking Light magazine, which has been in circulation since 1987. 
  • Coastal Living magazine, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, meets the same fate.
  • Cooking Light and Coastal Living continue as digital and social brands. Meredith will continue to print special interest publications (SIPs) under the brand names. 
Birmingham, Alabama, Meredith Corp., Southern Living, SIP. Special Interest Publication
An example of a SIP. Photo by Terri Robertson for Bham Now

Sidebar for those who just thought, what’s a SIP? It’s industry jargon. SIPs are themed, stand-alone, newsstand-only editions with few ads and a premium price (about $13 versus $5 for a regular monthly magazine issue). Synonyms for SIP are special edition, SE and bookazine. Pictured above is a SIP from Southern Living (live long and prosper). Southern Living is another Birmingham magazine acquired by Meredith when it purchased Time Inc. last year.

The work of Oxmoor House, a nearly 40-year-old book publishing division, will be outsourced to a third party. Oxmoor House is where I started my career fresh out of college in 2003, and I stayed through 2010. The division published books for its sister magazine brands, such as the annual series Christmas with Southern Living, among many others. In 2015, it released “My Southern Journey” by Rick Bragg.

Birmingham, Alabama, Meredith Corp., Cooking Light, Coastal Living, Oxmoor House
The former Southern Progress Corp./Time Inc. Birmingham campus is now owned by Samford University, the original landowner. Samford rents offices to Meredith. Photo by Terri Robertson for Bham Now

What’s not affected by the latest Meredith shakeup in Birmingham: the central test kitchens and photo/video studios, the editorial teams of Food & Wine and Southern Living magazines and MyRecipes, among others.

On Sunday, Meredith dropped the other shoe, but not in Birmingham. It’s selling the iconic Time magazine to Marc and Lynne Benioff.

What now?

To find out, I asked five Time Inc. Birmingham (aka Southern Progress Corp.) publishing alumni. The success of Greg Schumann, Jason Burnett, Shaun Chavis, Tanner Latham and Ashley Strickland Freeman is a testament to the talent and creativity of Birmingham publishing professionals.

Greg Schumann

Birmingham, Alabama, Markstein, Greg Schumann
Greg Schumann. Photo via markstein.co
  • Birmingham publishing alumni credentials: 5 years combined as Southern Living Publisher and Group Publisher for Southern Living, Sunset and Coastal Living
  • Current status: Vice President at Markstein, a leading local marketing communications agency
  • Home base: Birmingham

Q. What are you doing now?

A. I am vice president of Markstein. I have three core areas of focus: business development, the long-term planning of the agency and the overall marketing of the company. On the business development front, I am getting involved in everything from public affairs to crisis management—it’s been really interesting and invigorating.

Birmingham, Alabama, McWane Science Center, downtown
The secret’s out. Birmingham is a great place to live. Photo by Terri Robertson for Bham Now

Q. Why did you decide to stay in Birmingham? 

A. A number of reasons—first and foremost my kids. As they’ve gotten older, time with them has become more precious and fleeting. Birmingham offers an optimal quality of life while still being able to have a challenging career.

Greg Schumann

I had spent over 10-plus years in NYC and was really fatigued of getting on an airplane every Sunday to go up for the week. I wanted to re-establish roots here. I think this is an incredibly exciting time to be in Birmingham—which I know is referenced often these days and is perhaps becoming a bit cliché—but it’s fact. The new administration, the ongoing downtown development and expanding business scene have created a sense of greater optimism and civic pride.

Q. What’s your advice to those at Cooking Light, Coastal Living and Oxmoor House affected by the most recent downsizing by Meredith?

A. As you know, Time Inc. had (and still has as Meredith) a number of talented people. I would say to all of them, don’t limit your thinking to how your skills and experience can translate to other businesses and industry. Strategic thinking and business acumen are always in demand.

Greg Schumann

Jason Burnett

Birmingham, Alabama, Jason Burnett
Jason Burnett. Photo via jasonburnett.com
  • Birmingham publishing alumni credentials: 20+ years at Southern Progress Corp. and Time Inc. 
  • Current status: Artist, Digital Media Director at Flower magazine, Founder of Oyster Obsession
  • Home base: Birmingham

Q. How did your years at Time Inc. Birmingham shape you?

A. Within one company, I was given opportunities to write for multiple magazines, work with teams on new titles and advertising strategies, and even launch and lead a national food brand at MyRecipes. Management looked to the success of the company and individual employees. It was a special place and time to develop a career. 

Birmingham, Alabama, original SPC campus, Samford University, pond
Tucked away off Lakeshore Drive in Homewood, this land is a special place for many Birmingham publishing professionals who got their start here. Photo Terri Robertson for Bham Now

Q. What are you doing now?

A. Currently, I am the digital media director at Flower magazine, where I work with a handful of former SPC (Southern Progress Corp.) alum. Under their guidance, the magazine has undergone a remarkable visual (and business) transformation while staying true to the readers’ wants and founder Margot Shaw’s original vision.

Additionally, I launched Oyster Obsession in 2015, and it quickly became the largest community of oyster enthusiasts online. We share a daily recipe from favorite chefs, magazines, cookbooks and food blogs, plus oyster news, raw-bar discoveries and products. Our primary goal is helping home cooks enjoy this delicious, sustainable seafood with confidence. A wildly engaged and ever-growing audience (35,000+) enjoys Oyster Obsession on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Flipboard, YouTube and at OysterObsession.com.

Jason Burnett
Birmingham, Alabama, Meredith Corp., Cooking Light, Coastal Living, Oxmoor House
Flowers in bloom at Meredith Corp., formerly Time Inc., in Birmingham. Photo by Terri Robertson for Bham Now

Q. What’s your advice to those at Cooking Light, Coastal Living and Oxmoor House affected by the most recent downsizing by Meredith?

A. The folks leaving the Lakeshore office now should know that their experience with the Southern Progress/Time Inc. brands sets them apart in the marketplace. Their attention to quality, focus on consumer experiences and ability to adapt in a rapidly changing industry sets them up for success wherever they land. And they may not land in publishing. Birmingham’s banks, utilities, colleges, and nonprofits are benefiting from your former colleagues’ skills.

Jason Burnett

Shaun Chavis

Birmingham, Alabama, Meredith Corp., Saltshaker Marketing and Media, Shaun Chavis
Shaun Chavis. Photo via saltshakermm.com
  • Birmingham publishing alumni credentials: 8 years combined at Health magazine and Oxmoor House
  • Current status: Founder and Principal at Saltshaker Marketing and Media
  • Home base: Atlanta

Q. How did your years at Time Inc. Birmingham shape you?

I did not know how much I would love editing cookbooks. When I was at Time Inc., I started out at Health magazine as a section editor. Then I got the chance to move to a cookbook publishing position. At the time, I thought, I’ll just do this for a year or two because I was engaged to someone, and he wanted eventually to go to New York.

That relationship didn’t work out, but I fell in love with editing cookbooks. It’s basically what my business is built around. So, I love it. It changed my life.

Shaun Chavis
Saltshaker Marketing and Media, Shaun Chavis
Honeysuckle Gelato. Photo via Saltshaker Marketing and Media

Q. What are you doing now?

A. My company’s called Saltshaker Marketing and Media. We started out doing content marketing focusing on food companies, wellness and tourism. So we can do digital and print content marketing, but we really focus on books and branded magazines. One of our clients is Traeger Grills. They give away a cookbook with every grill, so we help them do their cookbooks.

Another example is a company in California called School Nutrition Plus. They’re a school meal catering company. They make all of their food for kids from scratch, so they wanted a cookbook to help establish their thought leadership and help parents cook from scratch at home for their kids. So we met them at the conceptual stage, and got them all the way to print. That book has really helped that company.

Saltshaker Marketing and Media, Shaun Chavis
School Nutrition Plus. Photo via Saltshaker Marketing and Media

Q. What’s your advice to those at Cooking Light, Coastal Living and Oxmoor House affected by the most recent downsizing by Meredith?

A. Start your own business. It’s the only way to control your own destiny. I’m an entrepreneur, and I’m the daughter of an entrepreneur. My dad got laid off when he was working for an oil company back in the ’80s as an accountant. He was in his 50s. No one was going to hire him, so he started his own business. He kept it going for 25 years, until he was 78 years old. At his peak he was doing several million dollars worth of business every year.

So, I think for the people who have been laid off, it’s an opportunity to do your own thing and be your own boss. It is hard to start your own business, but it’s also super rewarding. It’s a great way to write your own destiny and your own paycheck if you become successful.

Shaun Chavis

Author’s note: there’s an incubator for women entrepreneurs called launchpad2x, based in Atlanta, which serves women throughout the U.S. Last year, Chavis got to pitch her services to Delta Airlines thanks to the support of launchpad2x. Other startup resources in Birmingham and Alabama include REV BirminghamCreate Birmingham and Alabama Launchpad, a program of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

Tanner Latham 

Tanner Latham. Photo by Jennifer Davick
  • Birmingham publishing alumni credentials: 10 years at Southern Living
  • Current status: Content Strategist
  • Home base: San Francisco Bay Area, California

Q. How did your years at Time Inc. Birmingham shape you?

A. I’m coming up on 20 years of working in the professional world, and my first 10 were at Southern Living. I’m most grateful for the mentors who guided me. I listened to what they said, watched what they did, read what they wrote and then took those lessons and used them to find my own voice, take my own actions and tell my own stories. When I sit down today with a CEO to interview her and understand the narrative of her company, I use the same techniques and approach I learned when I was interviewing a BBQ pit master in his off-road, cinder block shack.

Tanner Latham

Q. What are you doing now?

A. Essentially, I work with brands to help them tell their stories through video, audio and messaging. I’ve had a wonderfully fulfilling post-Time Inc. life. After leaving, I worked as a reporter for NPR and then as a content director with Branding and PR agencies. I recently struck out on my own. My roots will always be back in Alabama, but since leaving in 2010, I’ve been able to successfully sprout and grow elsewhere.

Birmingham, Alabama, Meredith Corp., Cooking Light, Coastal Living, Oxmoor House
Many creative professionals began their path right here in Birmingham, at the publishing hub now owned by Meredith. Photo by Terri Robertson by Bham Now

Q. What’s your advice to those at Cooking Light, Coastal Living and Oxmoor House affected by the most recent downsizing by Meredith?

A. First, get really honest with yourself (and your gut instinct) about what you’re truly good at doing. Then translate that into broad terms as you position yourself. Example: You’re a damn good magazine editor. Got it. Now, think bigger than magazines. You’re actually great at leading a team with diverse talents toward a common goal. You’re a master collaborator. You can set a big picture theme and hover above it, but you’ll still be able to dip into the minutia when necessary. Those skills are industry-agnostic.

Tanner Latham

Second, learn something new every day. Identify the knowledge you need to make yourself competitive and go get it. Every industry is evolving daily, so you’ve got to as well. I’ve treated every job since leaving Time Inc. like it was a Masters program. I’m still always asking, “What can this gig teach me that I’ll use in the next one?” 

Third, view this as an opportunity. To jump off to something bigger. To jump off to something entirely different. Just be sure you’re jumping. 

Ashley Strickland Freeman

Birmingham, Alabama, Ashley Strickland Freeman, Oxmoor House, Coastal Living, Time Inc., Alabama, Ashley Strickland Freeman
Ashley Strickland Freeman. Photo via ashleystricklandfreeman.com
  • Birmingham publishing alumni credentials: 12+ years combined on staff and as a freelancer
  • Current status:  Freelance Recipe Developer, Tester, Editor, Writer and Food Stylist (and a 2017 International Association of Culinary Professionals award-winning food stylist at that)
  • Home base: Charleston, South Carolina
Birmingham, Alabama, Ashley Strickland Freeman, Oxmoor House, Coastal Living, Time Inc.
As a freelance food stylist, Freeman worked on “The Beach House Cookbook” by Mary Kay Andrews. Photo by Mary Britton Senseney via ashleystricklandfreeman.com

Q. How did your years at Time Inc. Birmingham shape you?

A. I am where I am in my career today because of both Coastal Living and Oxmoor House. An internship right out of college with Coastal Living introduced me to the world of food journalism and inspired me to go to culinary school. My first job out of culinary school was in the test kitchen at Oxmoor House. I learned the art of recipe testing, recipe development and food styling.

Ashley Strickland Freeman
Birmingham, Alabama, Ashley Strickland Freeman, Oxmoor House, Coastal Living, Time Inc.
As a freelancer, Freeman also develops recipes, such as Mediterranean Farro Salad. Photo via ashleystricklandfreeman.com

After four years in the test kitchen, I decided to focus more on using my skills from journalism school and transitioned to the editorial department of Oxmoor House. As an editor, I learned how to write book proposals, edit and write cookbooks, and manage photo shoots and recipe testings.

I am thankful for all of the skills I learned that allowed me to have a successful freelance career. Most of all, I’m thankful for the colleagues and mentors I was able to work with. They are some of the hardest working and most dedicated people I know, and I’m lucky to also call them my friends.

Q. What’s your advice to those at Cooking Light, Coastal Living and Oxmoor House affected by the most recent downsizing by Meredith?

A. Making a change is scary. I was terrified when I left my dream job, but I’ve never looked back. What we had at Oxmoor House was very special. I felt like we were all family and we all looked out for each other (and still do). The relationships I made have lasted over time, and it’s not uncommon for me to get a call or email from a former coworker asking me to help with a project. (I currently work with several former OH colleagues). My advice is to keep in touch with your former coworkers—shoot them an email, go out for coffee. You never know when an opportunity to collaborate may come up.

Ashley Strickland Freeman