Managing Change and Defining
Markets at Weekly Reader Corporation
customers for the Weekly Reader are in one sense the
students who are reading the Weekly Reader, but in the
other sense, it’s the teachers.
Maccarone: Right, because the teacher is the
gatekeeper. It’s a product where you have to reach
the kids through the eyes of the teacher, which sometimes
makes it hard.
do you do that?
Maccarone: Well I think the product has to have
both educational value and student interest if the
teacher is going to use it during class time. So we have
to give the teachers something worthwhile to use, and we
also have to give the students something interesting. We
have to make it easy enough so the teachers can teach it,
and so the kids are interested. It has to be something
the kids want to read when they see it.
Remember, the Weekly Reader is an
option, not a necessary part of the curriculum. The
teachers choose to use it or not to use it.
do decisions get made? Do you work as a team?
Maccarone: Everything around here is teamwork. We
have managing editors who are in charge of a group. Those
managing editors are not only in charge of a staff group,
but they’re also in charge of a periodical. Just as
we have group art directors that are in charge of a staff
group and who also work on periodicals. The managing
editors and the editors work together to plan the issues.
I can sit in on planning meetings if I want to, or I can
just review planning memos.
For example, I got a planning memo
this morning that I wasn’t thrilled with, so we had
a long discussion about whether the idea was a newsworthy
enough story for a fifth or sixth grader to get, what the
article’s angle should be and so on.
But the decisions are basically the
editors’ and the managing editors’. They know
the criteria. They know what they need to do. They know
how newsy we expect the products to be. They know their
audience. They do a really good job of it.
establishes that criteria?
Maccarone: The criteria are grade specific. We
know conceptually what is appropriate for each grade. A
lot of my editors have taught at the grade levels at
which they’re working and we have teacher advisory
board members on whom the staff can call to confirm story
ideas. We also have what we call lab schools. These are
schools that we give subscriptions to and then our
editors can do site visits to test ideas with students
and teachers. It’s how we stay in touch with our
We also do a lot of questionnaires,
asking teachers what they teach and when they teach it.
Once we know their curriculum we try to give teachers
articles that will upgrade and update their curriculum.
We’ll use current science and health articles to
upgrade the information in their science and health
textbooks. Also we link the content back to history
whenever we can.
Finally, we look at the news to see if
it is appropriate for that age level and whether or not a
kid would be interested in it. We know younger kids are
interested in animal stories. We give harder news to
What kinds of things have you learned from the teacher
Maccarone: What kids like, what they don’t
like, what the competition is doing and how we fare
against the competition. Our advisory board teachers
receive not only our periodicals but also those of our
you have a research department that deals with all this
or are these everyone’s responsibility?
Maccarone: It’s everyone’s
responsibility. Each editor is in charge of coalescing
his/her material at the end of the school publishing
year. Then we review what their customers have said, what
they think they did well, what they think they could have
done better and what they plan to do for the following
publishing year. They also set goals for themselves for
the next publishing year, based on what teachers have
told them and how they feel about what they have
you cover the Monica Lewinsky story to fifth and sixth
graders? How do you make a story like that appropriate
Maccarone: We covered the impeachment trial with
fourth, fifth and sixth graders. We did not cover Monica
Lewinsky. She was never mentioned. We covered it from a
social studies point of view by addressing “What
does the constitution say?” and “What could
happen to Bill Clinton?”
Maccarone: Yes that was very tough—there was
a lot of discussion. Not only about when should we do it,
but how we should do it. Everybody had read the stories.
We were very careful with our approach because at that
point I think a lot of teachers were tired with it. We
ran our story when Ken Starr delivered his report to the
Senate. The article’s theme was, “What was
going to happen next?”
We also did follow-up stories in Current Events, which is
a sixth to ninth grade periodical. If we were more
timely—if we were able to write our stories one
week and then be in the schools the next week—we
would have done more on the Bill Clinton
much of what you deal with in current events is going to
be value-based. The value base in New York could be very
different than the value base in Nebraska. How do you
produce a publication that appeals to everyone?
Maccarone: Very carefully.
Obviously you’ve been very successful at that.
You’ve been able to manage a variety of
customers’ unstated needs.
Maccarone: We continue to try to do that.
I’m very aware of what the states require and what
the pressure groups are saying and how far we can go with
certain topics. I have to stay very attuned to all of
Sure we take chances. We do things that we know people
might be upset with. But those who might be upset are
usually such a small segment of the population that we
feel we’re doing the greater good for the greater
number. We can’t always be worried about pressure
groups or we’d never publish anything. But at the
same time we try to be really careful as to what does go
into classrooms. We don’t want to scare
do you manage to keep your staff in touch with the market
so they can cover these complex issues in an appropriate
Maccarone: As I said, a lot of our staff has
taught. They’re supposed to know what the state
guidelines are. They’re supposed to stay in touch
by making classroom visits. They need to know what a
child of a particular age is conceptually capable of
I talked to your staff, what would they say is the most
difficult thing about the work you do?
Maccarone: Finding really good stories that they
think will really interest kids. Especially on a week
that doesn’t have a lot of news.
would you describe your work environment? What problems
Maccarone: There’s not much controversy
here, and I’m not being Pollyannaish. There’s
sometimes a ying and a yang between editorial and design,
but that’s to be expected in publishing. And
there’s scheduling problems with manufacturing,
such as when photos or art don’t arrive on time.
But that happens everywhere.
do those get resolved?
Maccarone: If we’re late, we’re late.
We just make sure everybody involved knows ahead of time
when something is going to be late and why and when the
material can be expected. Then we can let the printer and
everyone else down the line know.
did that system come about?
Maccarone: I just sent out a mandate. I think
sometimes as a manager, you just have to tell people
these are the steps you have to follow. I try to let
people resolve differences, but when those differences
can’t be resolved, you have to step in and put
procedures in place that will help resolve
do you work with them for that?
Maccarone: Well we work together and sit down and
go over it and talk about, “Why do you want to make
these changes now? Is this going to make the story
better?” If it is, we’ll make the changes and
if it’s not, there’s no sense in making the
you have any quality goals in terms of error-free,
no-typos or timely delivery? Are there any quality
programs in your organization?
Maccarone: Sure, each of us has performance
objectives that we need to adhere to. They all have to do
with quality, deadlines and budgets. Those objectives
also address customer satisfaction, renewal rates and new
We all set our own performance
objectives. I have to set my own goals for the year, and
at the end of the year I do an examination of conscience
and say whether or not I’ve met my goals. If I
have, why? And if I didn’t, why not?
Does everyone do one of these self-evaluations?
Maccarone: The managers do more of them than the
rest of the staff.
these evaluations valuable?
Maccarone: Yes, I think you need to be able to
quantify performance. I think it is fair, not only to
have qualitative information, but to have quantitative
information. So my performance objectives are, “I
will do what?” ,“by when?” and
it necessary to monitor performance that closely?
Maccarone: Well, I have 45 people that report to
me, and I think it’s important for them to know
what’s expected of them. I think it’s also
important that I’m not setting goals for them; that
they’re setting goals for themselves. We work as a
team. I don’t set my goals until I’ve looked
at the goals of the people under me. We then discuss
these goals together so that everything is in concert.
I’ll even look at marketing’s goals when I
set mine so that I’m not doing something that is
contrary to what they want to do.
That would take a lot of time on your part.
Maccarone: It does, but at least you know where
everybody is coming from and what everyone’s goals
are. We write a strategic memo for the company every
year, so the goals also have to feed into the strategic
memo in order to grow our business.
you look back, what have been the biggest changes since
you’ve been here, or even in the past 10
Maccarone: We’re delivering much more news
and harder news and we look more like a slick news
magazine than we did before. We changed not only the
editorial thrust of the periodicals, but also the
I think those were good changes. I
think we’ve revitalized the brand name. There are
two things about Weekly Reader that I think are great.
One is that when you say I work for Weekly Reader,
everybody says, “I remember that.” The bad
thing is, people add to that, “Is it still
around?” I think we used to do a good job of hiding
the fact that we’re still around. Now we are much
more aggressive about our presence.
you’ve made these changes over the last five years,
has it been difficult? What’s been the hardest part
of the change?
Maccarone: I think getting people to look at
editorial and design changes, and making people realize
that when you do focus group testing and customers tell
you that this is what they want, that you have to
implement those changes. The other thing is to try new
things. Try a new product. Keep going out with new things
and see what the market wants.
Maccarone: It’s fun, but it’s
difficult. Everybody’s really busy doing what they
do every day. So the development of new product ideas has
to be done during the little downtime we have during the
publishing year and over the summer.
Particularly in the publishing business, there’s a
particular comfort with the routine. So when you want to
break up that routine...
Maccarone: Change is what I say,
“Prickly.” People don’t react well to
it. When I got here, someone said, “You ask an
awful lot of questions for someone who is new. You should
learn the Weekly Reader way of doing things.” I
looked at them and said, “I was brought in here not
to do things the Weekly Reader way. I was brought in to
What was the Weekly Reader way of doing things?
Maccarone: I have no idea...slowly. There have
been huge changes. We had management overload here. I had
an executive editor. There were managing editors that had
no direct product responsibility. They supervised. We had
more supervisors than we had editors, and people were
tripping over each other rewriting copy. If
somebody’s going to rewrite your copy, why write it
correctly the first time?
So we’ve changed that. Editors
have more say in what they write. They have more
responsibility for what they write. They have a much
better work ethic, and they feel much better about
themselves with less management.
What was the effect of the changes on your employee
Maccarone: Well people would leave and we would
reorganize. In May, 1997 we moved from Middletown to
Stanford, Conn. And I had a 75 percent staff turnover.
Its been quite an interesting six years for me.
NFC: What was the impact on you having a 75 percent
Maccarone: I wasn’t panicked. We were closer to New
York, so I knew we would be able to staff. I don’t
feel that we lost anything in the quality of the product.
I think new, fresh blood brings new kinds of insights
into what we’re doing. I was asked, how I felt
about the move and was I panicked about possible staff
attrition? Did I think I could manage it? And the answer
was yes. I had an experience prior to this. I moved with
Harcourt Brace from New York to Florida and set up a
reading/language arts department. I had two editors at
the time of the move and was able to staff in Orlando. So
I have had experience with restaffing an
It’s hard when people leave, unless they are people
who aren’t adding value.
Maccarone: We are so lean that we feel we have
really great performers. We monitor what people are doing
and we talk to them. If we have someone who is not
working the way he or she should, we try to help that
person as much as we can. I also used to say that a good
thing about Weekly Reader was that people stayed for 40
years. There was a bad thing about Weekly Reader too.
People stayed for 40 years. I think we have lost history
and continuity and gained new ideas. The question is,
“Is it balanced out?” I think it
Changes can be so massive for the people who are there,
since change instills fear. How did you manage that with
the people you worked with, or wasn’t it
Maccarone: I don’t think people were afraid.
I think the only fear was, would we be fully staffed so
that we could get the products out. We knew 18 months
ahead of time where we were going and as soon as we knew,
the staff was informed that we were moving and when and
where. All were offered jobs. They had to tell us by a
certain date whether they were or weren’t coming.
Key employees were offered what we call “stay
pay” to help with the transition and to train their
replacements. We planned for most contingencies and it
was a mentor for you? If you look at how you manage, who
Maccarone: I’ve had a lot of good managers
and some not so good ones. I think sometimes one tries
really hard not to be like the not-so-good managers.
I’ve had some wonderful role models. There was the
Editor in Chief of Harcourt Brace, Ricky Cantor, who was
an absolutely wonderful manager and role
was she wonderful?
Maccarone: She had a very nice way with people and
a very calm way of settling conflict. I think I’ve
learned to hold my tongue and not to speak out in temper.
However, no one is perfect and there are times when I do,
but I try really hard not to.
when you do?
Maccarone: I let it rip. Which anybody does. Then
I come back and talk to people afterwards.
say, “I’m sorry.”
Maccarone: Yes, yes.
worst managers that you had, what did you try not to do,
that they did?
Maccarone: I think I’ve watched people not
mentor people under them. I was a teacher, and I still
see my role as teaching, only my students are my staff. I
get a big charge out of watching people succeed.
I’ll do whatever I have to, to get them to succeed
and to be good at what they’re doing. I’m not
threatened by that. I’ve had some managers who were
threatened by people under them, if they thought they
were taking the spotlight away, and it doesn’t
bother me at all. I’m thrilled when my staff gets
Maybe if we had more teachers in the business world,
maybe business would do better.
Maccarone: Could be. You also have to have this
bottom line idea and mentality. There are certain things
that you have to do. You have to understand the business
aspect of it. You also do have to mentor people and
understand that they are learning and let them know what
is expected from them. As that level is achieved you push
more onto them.
What about your job keeps you up at night?
Maccarone: Not too much. There are some stories
that I worry about. Is that the right angle? I also have
a 60-mile drive each way, so I have plenty of time to
think. That commute is not a bad thing to have, where you
just sit and think.