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She Escalates Degree Into Magazine Career : Own Publication Rewards Efforts

December 18, 1986|GERI SPIELER | Spieler is a Calabasas free-lance writer.

What does a 41-year-old woman with a degree in journalism do when she can't find a job?

She publishes her own magazine.

Seated at a small, cluttered desk in a cramped office which doubles for the Calabasas Chamber of Commerce, Madeline Williamson bemoaned the fact that she may have created a monster.

In the space of three years, her publication, Lifestyle, has grown from a backyard newsletter to a slick, full-color magazine with over 25,000 circulation reaching from Encino to Newbury Park in Ventura County. The magazine covers traffic issues, construction, freeway problems and the people of the San Fernando Valley.

All this comes from a woman who had a late start on the world of business and journalism.

"I'd been sitting it out for 20 years while my son and daughter were growing up," Williamson explained. "I was so jealous of my husband. He would come home from work so excited. I wondered if I would ever get a chance to feel that way."

Williamson said she worked odd jobs during the early years of her marriage. Her son had serious asthma so she could not devote too much time away from the household.

'Couldn't Leave Children'

"I couldn't leave my children and take on the demands of a career. It just wasn't in me," she said.

Williamson said she has always been a people person and loves writing.

"I've always been a shoulder to people, and learned it was important to listen. People would tell me things."

Several years ago, before starting college, Williamson took a series of interest inventory tests which showed she had a strong bent toward writing. After Williamson was graduated from California State University, Northridge in 1983, she could not find the editing job she wanted. She began to free-lance. But for this energetic and self-described ambitious woman, it just was not enough.

"I didn't want to be a real estate agent or go to law school," she said.

While she was free-lancing, Williamson began to look around her own community for somewhere to show her work. That was when the idea of starting her own magazine began to grow.

Local developer Lawrence Dinovitz agreed that it was a good idea and said he would support her with advertising. Dinovitz, an area developer for more than 30 years, used to ask Williamson to write press releases and articles for him while she was still attending CSUN.

'Not Always Popular'

"Being a developer is not always popular with everyone, but Madeline has always been fair and honest with us and the public," he said. "I was impressed with her integrity and wanted to give her a hand to help her get off the ground."

Williamson started working alone in her garage, putting together 3,000 yellow paper newsletters.

"I had a crooked ruler and pages where nothing was lined up properly," she recalled. "I learned everything from the printers. I would come in with the newsletter to be run off and they would moan and groan because it looked so awful. Every month I would get criticized, but I learned."

By the end of the first year, Williamson said, she finally began to get it right.

"I did it all and learned along the way. I had so many people believe in me. Friends in business offered to write columns for me and the newsletter attracted more advertisers until it was big enough to become something else."

From the "Calabasas Park Newsletter" (circulation: 3,000) to "Calabasas Lifestyle Magazine," (circulation: 20,000), took about 18 months, according to Williamson. Today, Williamson charges $1,150 for a full-page ad and $625 for a half-page ad. Unlike many publications, she has always been in the black. "I wouldn't want to have to eat off of it, though," she jokes about the slim profits.

Some of the past features include: "Post-Holiday Girth Control," "Flights to Nowhere--Hanging Around at 5,000 Feet," "Pony Cross Farm--Harnessing Pony Power." Advertising for real estate and developers is the mainstay of the publication.

Resident Comments

Calabasas Park resident Rebecca Weaver said she likes the magazine.

"It's local. I can find out what is going on around here, but I would like to see it develop into something more . . . expand to include more events and features."

Not all community residents are pleased with Lifestyle.

"It has no punch," said one resident, who asked not to be identified. "I really don't read it, but then I'm not very involved in this community either."

But Barbara Reinike, a community relations manager for Lockheed Corp. in Calabasas Park, said she reads the magazine and thinks it reflects the area and aids her work at Lockheed.

"We are working on a good relationship with the community and reading the magazine helps."

Lifestyle is not dependent on subscriptions and cannot be found at newsstands. The magazine supports itself strictly by advertising. It is distributed through a mailing house to all homes in Calabasas, Woodland Hills, Agoura Hills and businesses in Tarzana and Encino. Additional mailings will be made covering Bell Canyon and Newbury Park.

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