“Never take no for an answer.”
It’s a piece of advice Whitney English swears by, and she’s living proof that the squeaky wheel does get the oil. Growing up in Tucson, Ariz., Whitney spent many days admiring the hosts of “E! News”, imagining the day that she, too, would hold the microphone in front of millions of viewers and interview celebrities we all know and love. But being an Arizona girl with no entertainment connections, she applied to work at “E!” the way any of us would: she found the name of a human resources staffer and submitted her resume. After numerous “no’s” from the network, Whitney decided it was time to take the matter further into her hands and initiate a face-to-face meeting. So, she flew to L.A., met with the staffer and after yet another “no” felt beyond deflated.
One hour later her career was off and running as she received a life-changing phone call from that very staffer asking, “We had a last-minute opening to intern for Ryan Seacrest. Do you want it?”
Now the same perseverance that helped Whitney land her first job in the entertainment industry gives her the confidence to interview celebrities from Jennifer Aniston and George Clooney to Matt Damon as senior entertainment editor and correspondent for leading female website SheKnows.com. She also spends her off-hours sharpening her journalistic skills further, writing and interviewing health experts for To Live & Diet in L.A., a blog chronicling her “life as a celebrity journalist and the ongoing struggle to stay happy and healthy in a sea of model bodies.”
“This business is not easy to break into. You will get turned down innumerable amounts of times … You have to be able to handle rejection.”
How did you go from “girl dreaming of working in entertainment” to “girl making a living writing about entertainment”?
Growing up in Tucson, AZ, I was fascinated by celebrities. I read US Weekly and watched E! News, fantasizing that one day, I too would wear fancy gowns and rub elbows with A-listers. My last semester of college, I took a shot and applied for an internship at E!. Sadly, after hounding one HR staffer for months, he ﬁnally informed me that all the positions were taken. Well, I didn’t take no for an answer. I ﬂew to L.A., went straight to E!’s front desk and asked to meet him in person. He was impressed by my tenacity but informed me again that unfortunately all the positions were ﬁlled, and students without “connections” were rarely hired. I left with a heavy-heart, but a mere hour later, he called to tell me that one last-minute position had just opened up. Did I want to work for Ryan Seacrest? It was a dream come true.
What is your daily schedule like? What responsibilities do you have in your role?
I wear many hats at SheKnows including booking, reporting, writing and producing our celebrity interviews and features. Every day is a new adventure. One day I’m hosting our daily entertainment gossip show, The Buzz, and the next day I’m sitting across from Matt Damon at a movie junket. During awards season, I’m sporting designer dresses and working the red carpet. In the summer, I’m on the beach trying the latest celebrity workout craze. This is not to say my job is all butterﬂies and unicorns though. Sometimes I’m on the phone with an angry publicist who’s demanding we take down a story about her client, or else!
What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right ﬁt for you?
I’ve always been very inquisitive. I joke that I would have made a great “Van Wilder” because I loved school so much. With my job, I’m constantly learning new things about people, professions and cultures. Every day is a new lesson and a new adventure.
What inspired you to launch To Live & Diet in L.A.?
As a journalist, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many health industry professionals and I’ve learned a great deal about nutrition and ﬁtness. At the same time, in a city so ﬁxated on the way people look, I’ve seen many people fall prey to fad diets and ineffective weight-loss solutions. I created To Live and Diet in L.A. to share my knowledge with people looking to lose weight and set straight many of the misconceptions perpetuated by the entertainment industry.
What sets your blog apart from the masses, and what can our readers expect when they visit your site?
Many health and ﬁtness blogs read a lot like food diaries—simply listing out the blogger’s meals for the day. To Live & Diet in L.A. provides recipes, reviews of ﬁtness programs and products and interviews with health industry specialists and celebrities alike. While a lot of blogs rely on opinions from people without any reputable credentials, I seek out information from those with the education and skills to back up their claims.
With a full-time job and running your own website, Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Yes, it’s always a problem. Luckily, my blog “work” is my life. The recipes I feature on the blog are things I’ve eaten during the week and the ﬁtness classes I review are the ones I’m taking anyway, to stay in shape. I’m also lucky that my signiﬁcant other shares my passions, and enjoys participating in blog-related activities, otherwise it could become a problem! My no-fail tactic is staying organized by creating to-do lists every day to make sure I stay on top of all of my obligations.
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I made it!” What was it?
I deﬁnitely don’t feel like “I’ve made it” yet, and I’m not sure if I ever will. I’m very ambitious, so I’ll always be looking to take the next step in my career. One moment that felt very surreal for me though, was when I attended the premiere of the movie “Lincoln”. I was sitting directly behind Joseph-Gordon Levitt and a few seats away from Tommy Lee Jones, when Oprah walked by. It was one of those “I can’t believe I’m in the same room as these people” moments. Interviewing Johnny Depp one-on-one and having Diane Keaton compliment my shoes are up there in the top 10 memories too.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Some sayings I subscribe to are:
1 / "Treat others as you would like to be treated."
Even when someone is rude or hurtful to me in the business, I still try to kill them with kindness. You never know when someone is just having a bad day, so I try to be friendly to everyone.
2 / "Never take no for an answer."
If I had, I wouldn’t be where I am today. No one who ends up successful has given up at the ﬁrst roadblock.
3 / "Everything happens for a reason."
I’ve had my fair share of failure and disappointments but I try not to let things get me down. I truly believe that everything will play out the way it is supposed to and you just have to stay positive and look for the next open door.
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful as a journalist, especially in the entertainment niche?
Courage, creativity and thick skin.
Courage: All reporters are required to ask tough, sometimes uncomfortable questions. In the entertainment industry, you’re asking these questions to rich, powerful and often egotistical people … you have to have guts.
Creativity: As a reporter, there are only so many questions you can ask. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box to get a newsworthy story.
Thick Skin: This business is not easy to break into. You will get turned down innumerable amounts of times and have your intelligence and character constantly criticized. You have to be able to handle rejection.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Don’t worry so much—about your future and about what other people think. This goes back to my mantra. Everything happens for a reason. Fate will land you wherever you’re supposed to be. All you can do is try your best, be a good person and hope that everything will fall into place.
And we’re dying to know, what was it like to work for Seacrest?
Ryan Seacrest is a sweetheart. He is just as charismatic as he is on television, and truly cares about the people he works with. He gave me a lot of helpful advice about the business and really made my ﬁrst experience in the entertainment industry a positive one. To tell you the truth, I had a major crush on him!