Beloved children’s magazine, Highlights, stays alive by (mostly!) staying the same

(laughter) – [Narrator] That infectious
laugh belongs to Josie Bailey. She’s a rambunctious four year old who loves playing with her
younger brother in her back yard just outside of Columbus. It’s sometimes a challenge,
though, to get Josie to slow down and take a break. (laughter) But one thing that manages
to capture her attention is a magazine. – It is so pretty. – [Narrator] It’s called
High Five, and it’s the younger sister publication
to the long-running Highlights Magazine. – Josie will look at the
same magazine every day and find new stuff. She gets really excited just recognizing different animals in the magazine. – Mouses, and foxes, and
bunnies, and birdies. – Josie really loves
taking a marker or pen and she likes to draw
her own illustrations. – He has two eyeballs in there. – [Narrator] Something
that the Bailey’s love is that they also read
Highlights growing up. – I think the coolest thing
about Highlights Magazine is it still looks the same,
it still feels the same, whereas a lot of other
things have kind of changed over time, I feel like they’re
enjoying the same magazine that we enjoyed as kids. – And hopefully they’ll
turn out as great as us. – I’m so sorry. (laughter) – [Narrator] That same look
and feel Mallory describes isn’t an accident. – There are certain things
that appear in every issue of Highlights, we call
those our Legacy Features. And they’re non-negotiable,
they’re in each issue. So for example, we always
have a Hidden Picture in every issue of Highlights. In fact, there’s been a
hidden picture in every issue of Highlights since June
1946, the very first one. – [Narrator] You heard
it right, June 1946. Nearly 75 years ago, Highlights
debuted its first magazine and its longest running
feature, Hidden Pictures, the visual puzzle that
pushes kids to focus and find small pictures
inside a larger scene. And that’s not the only
feature to stay consistent for generations. Still, in every issue, is The Timbertoes, a simple illustrated story centered around a wood-carved family, which debuted in Highlights in 1951. And of course, the wholesome
Goofus and Gallant, a comic featuring two
contrasting characters. Goofus, modeling bad behavior,
and Gallant, modeling good. They first appeared in the
pages of Highlights in 1948, and are still a Legacy Feature today. – Goofus and Gallant in 1951,
Goofus and Gallant in 2019. There’s an evolution in
animation and everything but there’s still a very common theme between the two of them. – Part of its appeal to young children is its lack of ambiguity. I mean, it’s a little black and white. It’s practice for the big,
harder moral decisions that are going to come later. Yeah, I love that kids
still love it today. – We’re always aspiring to be our Gallant, but also if I do something
that’s a little Goofus, how do I make up for it? How do I apologize? How do I make things right? – [Narrator] Highlight’s
CEO, Kent Johnson, knows a thing or two
about Goofus and Gallant. His great-grandfather,
Dr. Garry Cleveland Myers, created the comic and
founded Highlights Magazine with his wife, Caroline,
just after World War II. – I like to say I did
everything I could in my life to not join the family
business, and I failed at it. – [Narrator] According to Johnson, the mission of the business he runs today, headquartered in Columbus, has
essentially stayed the same. – We have to be dynamic,
we have to adapt to what’s going on in the world, and yet the foundational
values and principles, our commitment to
children remains the same as it was at day one. – [Narrator] Something
else that hasn’t changed according to Johnson? Kids. – I think adults believe that
everything’s changed for kids. You know, the world’s changed so quickly, being a child now has
got to be so different. You know, we’ve got
devices, and it’s busy, and all of these things. But what we know is kids still
have some of the same issues they’ve had since 1946. How do I get along with my siblings? What happens when I have a
falling out with my best friend? Those things are universal. Those things aren’t changing. – [Narrator] And French Cully says Highlights knows kids well,
not through consultants or focus groups, but by
communicating directly with them the old fashioned way. – How do you find out
what kids want to see? – One of the things we do that I think is the best way to keep
our fingers on the pulse of our readers is that we
answer every letter and email we get from children, and
we’ve done that for years. You might be surprised to
see the kids of letters we get from kids. They write to us about their deeply held hopes, and dreams, and fears. It’s as if we are their
really very best friends. We learn a lot about kids
from what kids tell us. I think we really are the publisher with the most authentic dialogue with kids. – [Narrator] Rather than
take their word for it, we decided to visit our
own panel of experts. – We’re talking about
Highlights Magazines, has anyone seen Highlights
Magazine before? Yeah? Well we have a bunch
of Highlights Magazines for you to read today, and then after a little bit,
we’re going to talk to you a little bit more, does
that sound good to you? – Yeah. – Okay, cool. – [Narrator] Ms. Burkhalter’s
third grade class at Evening Street Elementary School, not too far from Highlights Headquarters, had a lot to say about the magazine. (gasp) – God, look at it! – I learned about the sea slug, because I didn’t know about this yet. – I liked how it has articles and then it also has
stuff that you can make, and it has little word searches. – I like Goofus and Gallant
because Goofus shows you him misbehaving, and Gallant
is showing you how to behave. – They always have a couple
silly things in there. There’s also some serious
things, like I don’t know, this is funny. – [Narrator] But they
were pretty unanimous about what they liked best. – I like the Hidden Pictures. – There’s the butterfly back there. – Well I like them because
you have to focus on the little things instead of
just the big things around. – For the Hidden Pictures, it’s not easy, like it’s not in a corner, like a corner, it’s in people or on people. – It’s challenging and it’s fun. – [Narrator] Hidden Pictures,
the longest running feature in the magazine, was also the
most popular among this crowd. Ms. Burkhalter’s class was
no stranger to the magazine. In fact, it’s been a
familiar sight in classrooms and in doctor’s offices,
by design, since the 1950s. – So the dentist office,
the school program, those were ways to reach
kids where they are. – [Narrator] But being where the kids are in an increasingly digital world, means expanding beyond the
physical pages of a magazine. – We get to play games
the majority of our day, so can’t complain about that. (laughter) In terms of digital, we definitely bring the same experience that
the magazine brings to life in a digital format. – We are creating those
deeply engaging, fun, enriching experiences. It just happens to be
in a different medium. – [Narrator] Highlights has
two websites, a podcast, and handful of apps,
and is further expanding its digital presence. One feature that’s translated
seamlessly to digital media? – [Kerstin] Let’s see how bad I am at it. (laughter) – [Narrator] That’s
right, Hidden Pictures. – We’ve seen through a lot of companies who find success in evolving and growing, but there’s also this push-pull
of not straying too far from your original message,
not straying too far. So how do you deal with that push-pull? – So I often say inside of the company, so we’re not a magazine company,
and in fact we never were. People look at me and say well
what are you talking about? You started as a magazine. And I think the founders
were about the impact they wanted to have on children. So if we keep in mind that we’re
not committed to magazines, we’re not committed to
a particular channel, we’re not committed to a certain
product type or technology, what we’re committed to is
making a positive impact on children, that frees us up to think what has to stay the same? Certain values, certain
beliefs about children stay the same. Everything else can change. – [Narrator] It was with
those values in mind, Johnson said, that
Highlights decided to release a statement last June. It wasn’t directed at
their young audience, but rather their adult
followers on social media. – As we thought more and
more about our values, and the idea that we think
all kids should have access to the resources that help
them become their best selves, we were internally
looking out at the world and saying there’s a situation
where that’s not the case. And we had no real way
to have a positive impact on those kids. And what we then concluded
was maybe we could make a statement to help
re-frame the conversation around the impact, our
policies, and how our policies were being implemented, around the impact they’re having on kids. – According to our mission of children are the world’s
most important people, came together on this statement, went through some drafts and editings to make sure we got it perfect. And then it’s a little scary when you know you’ve got something big coming out, and you, like, press post on social. – [Narrator] The letter
specifically condemned the policy of separating
immigrant children from their families,
saying, “This is an appeal “to elevate the inalienable
right of all children “to feel safe and have the opportunity “to become their best selves.” – Probably not even a minute
later there were already comments pouring in, people
liking, people sharing, people going back and forth
fighting with each other a little bit in the comments, and there were definitely
people had that opinion of Highlights, why are
you being in politics, or why would you say something like this, and a lot of our audience
came in and defended us and said, you know,
look at their statement. Read what they said. Their mission is that
children are the world’s most important people, and that
is what they’re expressing with this, that just because
they’re kids at the border doesn’t mean that they’re not still kids. – [Narrator] Well it made
headlines, and went viral, garnering over 23,000 retweets. – Our own kids in our
community, whether it’s here in Columbus where
I am, or anywhere else, they’re watching us as adults. And they’re taking lessons
from whether we say or do anything about the things that
maybe aren’t quite as right as we’d like in our society. – [Narrator] And back in
Ms. Burkhalter’s class the students are taking
lessons from Highlights, whether they’re looking at
it from behind the screen … – Oh, I like this,
because it’s like reading an actual one but you
just have to hold it, and you don’t have to flip, you just … – [Narrator] … Or the way
kids have been reading it since 1946. – I prefer magazine because
then you can actually draw on them and you might
not be able to do that on an iPad. – [Narrator] And she’s
certainly not the only one who feels that way. (laughter)

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