Lea Goldman, CC ’98, is the features and special projects director at Marie Claire. After graduating from Columbia with a degree in English, Goldman went on to become a senior editor at Forbes Magazine. She has also made several broadcast TV appearances on Fox News, “The Today Show,” “The Early Show,” and “The O’Reilly Factor.” She is a recipient of the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, and her piece “The Big Business of Breast Cancer,” which was published in Marie Claire, was nominated for an American Society of Magazine Editors’ National Magazine Award in 2012. Spectator spoke with Goldman to discuss her career.
Sofia Lyons: When did you decide you wanted to pursue journalism as a career? Was it something you went into Columbia knowing, or did you decide once you got there?
Lea Goldman: I decided once I got to school. Initially, I wanted to go to law school, and I thought I would follow that path. I even took the LSAT, but once you take the test and the scores come back and there is the inevitable search for what law school you will go to, you start to envision what your life will be like. And I couldn’t envision it—being in school for three more years. And I had always loved writing, so I figured, why not pursue that? So I went for it.
SL: What kinds of clubs and organizations were you a part of that shaped your Columbia experience?
LG: I think I did one music review for the Spec when I was a freshman, but other than that I didn’t write for the Spectator much. I was an RA, and I ran for student council—I was the secretary my junior year, which took up a lot of my time. I really loved it—I felt like I was an innate leader.
SL: What was the transition like from Forbes to Marie Claire?
LG: The transition was very difficult—I went from working with all men at Forbes to pretty much all women. I had spent 10 years at Forbes, and I didn’t speak the same language. It took me about a year to get my sea legs at Marie Claire.
Writing and reporting can be a very solitary thing, but magazines are much more collaborative. The best ideas are conceived in a room full of brains—it’s not just about you and your computer. So I had to get over that thing of “Who’s gonna get the scoop? Who’s got the best source?” Forbes was so competitive in that way. While those things are important at Marie Claire, the collaborative process and the ideas that are born out of that process is a very different method for me.
SL: What led you from business writing at Forbes to the fashion industry? Had you always intended to pursue fashion, or did the opportunity present itself?
LG: I never intended to pursue fashion. When I left Forbes, I had been doing their lists—their billionaire list, their rich list, their celebrity list—and I got burnt out. I thought, “Too much lists.” I’m good at it. Even without business school or finance classes, I know how to value someone’s net worth, so that’s what I got out of that experience. But I was burnt out and looking for a complete change.
At the time, I was adamant that I wasn’t going to a fashion magazine. I was going to a women’s magazine. I think that, looking back, that’s a very dated way of thinking. There’s nothing contradictory about a modern woman interested in hard journalism, interested in the world and current affairs, and also interested in fashion and beauty. I think I couldn’t see that then, but I see it very clearly now. Modern women have absolutely no problem being interested in fashion, and current events, and politics, and world events. There’s nothing more modern than that. So while I wasn’t looking for fashion in particular, I was looking for a magazine that was more reflective of me and my interests and how I spent my life.
SL: After making the switch from business to fashion, what has been your favorite part about working in the fashion industry?
LG: Before, I never thought of myself as a fashionable person, and at Marie Claire I’ve learned so much about aesthetics and design and detail—the small things that make a difference. Like for instance, Nina Garcia taught me if you’re gonna buy pieces that are less expensive, stick with neutral colors because you can get away with cheaper fabrics. It seems little, but it’s very valuable for me.
I love to be known for my brains and my business experience and success, but I also would like to be someone that people can see that I care about my appearance. I’ve learned a lot in that regard, and I have great respect for my colleagues here.
SL: Do you have any advice for young women who are interested in magazine journalism?
LG: I remember being much younger and feeling uncomfortable tooting my own horn. Like when I said I was an innate leader—saying that out loud was something that you would never have heard from me, but it’s true. If women have the skills, I would only hope that they can own it. The sooner you own it, the sooner you can use it to your advantages.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.