An Interview with Sarah Janssen
- January 20, 2015
Back in 2003, Sarah Janssen was a lowly intern at The World Almanac. Today, she helms the masthead as senior editor. Here, she discusses what it takes to create and maintain the seminal book of facts.
How is editing The World Almanac different from editing other kinds of books? Does it require a special skill set?
In contrast with most book editors, who may be handling dozens of new titles at one time, editors of The World Almanac are focused on one title for most of the year. This might seem limiting, but it’s anything but. The World Almanac and Book of Facts (and its digital corollaries) is devoted to being the best general reference for questions about every single subject, meaning the work of our editors is to research many subjects — from fracking to Common Core curriculum to Kardashians — and then explain the essentials of each topic to our readers as succinctly as possible.
Approximately how often are new categories added to the almanac? Are existing categories ever eliminated?
The World Almanac has been published since 1868, and the topics that the book covers have been evolving on an annual basis for just as long. We’re always going to have features people expect The World Almanac to have — a handy copy of the U.S. Constitution, an article on every country in the world and every state in the Union — even as we constantly add new information. In 2015, we added some fascinating new stats on social-media usage and the Obamacare health insurance exchanges, to name just a few new items. Those topics certainly weren’t a consideration in 1868 — or even 10 years ago.
How has the almanac managed to stay relevant — and popular — in the age of Google, Wikipedia, and instant information?
The World Almanac is an instant information source, too — 1,008 pages of it, all compiled and verified by skilled editors. The book works on so many levels, from deliberate use, like a student needing a quick answer while doing homework, to more fun, unguided discovery. Anyone can flip to a random page and be fascinated to discover something that they would never in a million years think to Google.
How long does it take to produce each edition?
We’re hard at work all year long: identifying new research and resources, reviewing suggestions from editors and readers, and collating and presenting data in fresh new ways. Even though the print edition comes out just once every year, our subscriber website is updated year-round, and we’re constantly providing facts and engaging with users via Twitter and Facebook.
What would people be surprised to know about The World Almanac?
I think a lot of people are surprised to find out that The World Almanac changes as much as it does each year in order to reflect the changing world. We spend a lot of time making sure that this historic title is still relevant to the demands of this particular age. And we plan to do so for many years to come.