After nearly two years as Social Media Director as well as reporter at DFW Style Daily , I’m perhaps a tad overly thrilled to feature a role model for today’s ConversaSEAN.
I chatted with Lisa Petty, Editor-in-Chief of DFW Style Daily, who is no stranger to Sean In The City. This, in fact, marks her third appearance. As a contributor, I owe my first media/reporting job to Lisa. Words really can’t explain the many mentored lessons I have experienced under her leadership. From tweaking my journalistic instinct to mastering interviews and on-site reporting, my job has reached a max feeling of fulfillment.
My obsession of discovery was also a fine tuned tool learned on the job, a tool that last week I applied to “The Boss.” Truth be told, I have at times wondered what drives her, what sparks her interest, and what led her to create a publication with a new media edge. Last week, our team reached a milestone: publishing one thousand pieces of original content. This milestone, I felt, was perfect grounds to break out my tool of discovery, and find out the back-story of a person that has become among one of my dearest mentors.
So, I present my sit-down with Lisa Petty. Read on as she talks all about what taught her courage, what inspires her, and what DFW Style Daily has in store post the milestone moment. Lisa also hints on a big project in the works set for, the now On-Hiatus, Fashion’s Night Out.
SEAN CHARLES: This has been your third appearance on SITC, I have to ask what do you think of the New format of SITC?
LISA PETTY: I like it a lot, I like what you have done to focus more on words and people, it’s very exciting, being a word person myself I really like it.
SC: I wanted to focus a little bit more on you because you have had such a diverse career in journalism. Tell me a little about what initially sparked your interest in the field.
LP: First, I have always been a writer my whole life, it’s always been what I like to do and how I like to express myself, Really when I got my Smith Corona typewriter, that was gift I’ll never forget, I remember sitting there at my littler girl desk typing away on that typewriter all the great stories when your thirteen and fourteen right [Laughs], I always thought I would be a story writer, a novelist [fiction] I have written a novella, I worked a long time on it. But about ten years ago, I had a friend who was the dining editor at the San Antonio Current, which is the equivalent of the Dallas Observer, and she was up here for a wedding and we ended up corresponding. She eventually asked me to do an article about wine, And I thought that was interesting and thought why don’t I give it a try, and I fell in love with it, the whole process, writing about a real person. I drove out to a winery in west Texas. It captivated me, and from then on out I thought this is what I want to do and pursue it to the fullest.
SC: How did you find yourself in the wine and dine section?
LP: It’s an incredibly popular area in the new media sector, food reporting in general when you’re talking about something that draws eyes. In the newspaper or in magazines, if you go to the newsstand its prime real estate on the rack, you always notice that kitchen “porn” is ginormous, it’s the same thing when you’re talking about new media your always going to have a bigger draw in the food or sports area.
SC: You initially studied something completing different in college. Tell a little about your pre-journalist days?
LP: I have training in Chemical Dependency Counseling, my earliest real job experience in the “grown up” job market was in the non-profit sector was what lead me to study in chemical dependency counseling, I worked as a house-parent at a group foster program in east-Dallas in the mid-90s. I was a house-parent, first starting out on the overnight shift because I was the new girl on the block, it was me overnight in a big house with twelve foster children next door to a crack-house. Pretty much people who work the overnight shift were too afraid to go to sleep , I was terrified! I was scared out of my wits. That taught me courage obviously, to keep doing my job and to keep taking care of the kids even when I was to terrified to open the front door. I spent two years there and learned the in-and-out’s of caring for children and learning the CPS system, which taught me enough to know I didn’t want to keep working in it [LAUGHS].
SC: How was your transition to journalism, was it hard?
LP: Its hard, because I have always been a freelancer which means I worked for multiple publications at a time. I had regular contributions for instance when I was with the NBC local affiliate, but I was a freelancer, I had a regular gig which I owed three short items everyday, I was a freelancer for the Observer as well, but I owed them one piece of content each day. When I joined a staff is when I joined NBC, officially, as a fashion and shopping Editor so that amounts to six to seven years of straight-up freelancing which means networking my ass off every single day. Also I maintained a totally separate career that didn’t have a whole lot to do with writing at that time in order to generate income as well as to stay among the world of people, Because ultimately being a writer, whether a nonfiction writer, fiction writer, a journalist, or writing blurbs in the Cold Water Creek catalog you got to know people and you must have experiences to inform your craft.
SC: In your career you’ve reported on a wide variety of subjects, and now with DFW Style Daily you solely focus on fashion. Tell me, when did you decide you wanted to switch your focus to fashion?
LP: I don’t think I have yet [Laughs] I mean really, I was a dinning reporter for a long time, but ultimately the passion wasn’t there. I mean, I like to eat like I like to breathe in and out all day long, you know it something you have to do, I’m just not as passionate about food and wine as I am about fashion [yes] but style in general, how people express themselves through what they wear. and how they live there lives, the expressing of self through personal style.
SC: I have had the great privilege of working for DFW Style Daily for a little over a year now as social media director, as well as reporter, but my post on social media lead me to open a dialogue with your readers…
LP: It’s very important what you do in fact its crucial!
SC: Well, Thank You! In that dialogue via social media, I have noticed you take interest in young up-and-comers, you have also discovered young design talent in DFW. Is this among your passions, discovering talent in the industry?
LP: You know it’s so strange and so insightful that you ask that, because we did just cover my time working for disadvantage youth, the kids I worked with were from birth-twelve years, they were allot younger than the age groups I come into contact now, but it made a big impact on me, between working with those kids who had been discharged by their parents and then couple that with my experience of a young journalist, sending out hundreds of ticklers to editors across the board, when I wrote my book about wine I sent upwards of one hundred writers queries to book agents across the country before I found an agent, so just knowing the efforts to which young people go to be noticed, to have people take notice of the important things they are doing, I think the older I get the more I think I want to write young adult fiction.
SC: Young adult fiction? that sounds cool!
LP: Well, when you think about the books that were the biggest impact on you, at least from my perspective, were when I was ten to twelve years old, I want to have contributed to that dialogue, especially with young woman of that age, it’s such an important time.
SC: When you launched DFWSD in 2011, what made you so certain that our fashion scene was large enough to produce daily content?
LP: I had been reporting daily on the local fashion scene with NBC’s The Feast, so I knew the content was there, unfortunately I did not believe they curated that content in a way that could best apply to the people who love fashion in Dallas. I was working with my base team, at 30 Rock, and they were like, where are the cowboy boots? Where are the debutantes? Where are the hats? Why don’t you go interview a local hat maker? We want local flavor they would say. That’s really what they thought that the Dallas fashion was. That was two and half years ago, so I feel like through the efforts of the our wonderful fashion scene we are already pushing the envelope, we are changing people’s perception of Dallas fashion, and that’s the nature of being in an emerging scene, everyday we are going to show people something different.
SC: Clearly you were on to something. In fact, you reached a milestone: DFW Style Daily reached it’s 1,000th feature. How do you feel that 1,000 features have come to pass?
LP: I don’t know, its kind of weird [laughs]. My eyes have seen, whether it’s been an article , a video, a gallery, or an interview with Jonathan Adler, or whatever it was, my eyes have gone over a thousand articles in this thing that I made. It blows my mind! There is eleven of us now, and each of us have dozens of contributions to that number, I mean it really blows my mind! Every morning when I curate the content and load it into the system, I then file everyone’s work in their own folder, so whether its Sean Charles, or Rhonda, or Abby, everyone has their own folder, so I see that accrue, like when I go and dump a new article in I can see, WOW, Rhonda has one hundred, or two hundred, articles in there at this point. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around right now!
SC: It’s a physical number now- it’s a big deal. Every article I share, some I’ve authored, it’s a big WOW and big deal for the team.
LP: I actually would have wanted to reach that milestone sooner, I’m always pushing for more content, at this point we do ten to fifteen features a week, I would love for it to be more but we are human. The take away from that is there are still people in other states in this country that would say that Dallas produces a thousand features of real edgy local, fabulous, designer fashion with a tie in to right here in Dallas, or Forth Worth, even Frisco, I think that is something I feel really proud about.
SC: Since the launch of DFWSD, and that milestone has been reached, do you feel pressure now moving forward? Do you find that it is easier or harder to follow-up on?
LP: First of all, it’s always what am I going to cover, not what is there to cover, I’m always disappointed that there was somewhere we had to be at, I mean we have every big name designer come here on a regular basis, on any given month, whether it be at Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Tootsies, or Stanley Korshak, the biggest designers in the world pass through Dallas, and so it irks me when two are here at the same time. For instance, we did an interview with Charlotte Dellal, who is the Designer for Charlotte Olympia, and you know I wouldn’t know what to do if she was here in town on the same day as say Manolo Blahnik, it would be like choosing between my two children (My two terriers) [Laughs.]
SC: I’m curious, after writing for many publications covering different news beats, what did people think of you going indie (so to speak) ?
LP: Well, there were a number of people who advised me to hold on to my NBC affiliation at all costs, cling to it by my finger nails, even if I wasn’t happy, even if the money was a few dollars a day, because that’s what made me important. And, you know that’s one way to look at it, but another way to look at it, I do feel I am an artist after fashion and in order to express myself fully I guess and help others do the same. I feel like it was worth it to try my very hardest to build a new platform.
SC: I love that! I agree with that on so many levels especially with my platform. It was worth trying it, I have to say! Any exciting DFW Style Daily news to look forward to? What is in store?
LP: We do have some very big projects in the works, Umm…Well let’s just say anyone disappointed in the hiatus of Fashion’s Night Out this year, if you live here in Dallas, we have something that will make you very happy!
SC: Lastly, as a journalist myself you know I have to ask, as cliché as it is, Who would be your dream interview?
LP: Oh wow, well, I had the privilege of talking with Diane Von Furstenberg once, but there wasn’t enough time, but I think there wouldn’t be enough time in the world to ask all I would want to ask [laughs] She is a personal role model of mine both as a woman and as a business owner, so I would love to speak with her again, and to also let her know I tried her chicken recipe in the CFDA Cook Book [Laughs] It was fabulous!
photo credit: Sylvia Elzafon