An Interview with Shanna Baker, Managing Editor at Hakai Magazine

Shanna Baker is a managing editor at Hakai Magazine, an online publication based in Victoria, British Columbia that explores science, society, and the environment from a coastal perspective. Her primary focus at the magazine is on editing long-form features and photo-driven stories. Here  Shanna converses with Viney Kirpal, a health and personal essay writer.

Viney:  What does the title ‘Hakai’ mean?

Shanna: Hakai Magazine’s name is inspired by Hakai Passage in the Hakai Lúxvbálís Conservancy, the largest marine protected area along the coast of British Columbia, roughly 450 kilometers northwest of Vancouver. The word Hakai itself means wide passage to the Heiltsuk people, whose ancestors have called the region home for millennia. (We understand that Hakai also means destruction in Japanese, but that doesn’t factor into our origin story or philosophy). We also share the name with the Hakai Institute, a scientific research institution conducting long-term monitoring on the BC coast—both are part of the Tula Foundation, a Canadian charitable organization.

Viney: What’s the history behind the beautiful Hakai Magazine and its focus on coastal environment and societies?

Shanna: Jude Isabella, our editor in chief, and Eric Peterson, one of the founders and directors of the Tula Foundation, hatched the idea for the magazine while Jude was visiting the Hakai Institute’s Calvert Island field station back in 2014. Eric—along with Tula cofounder Christina Munck—has long been a supporter of strong journalism and recognized that there was a need for a publication dedicated to exploring issues pertaining to the world’s coastal margins. Much of the global population lives along coastlines, and the shifts that take place in these liminal spaces can have far reaching reverberations. Many readers have told us they’re grateful for this emphasis on coastal issues. We launched the magazine in April 2015, on Earth Day, and it has been such a privilege to see our stories having meaningful impact in the world over the past seven-plus years.

Viney: You offer many unique perspectives with the most astounding research and pictures. How do you do it?

Shanna: We approach our stories with the rigor of science journalism, specializing in deeply researched, carefully crafted, in-depth stories with a strong sense of narrative, as well as shorter updates about significant developments in coastal science or societies. Our topics range broadly—we’ve covered everything from how sheep’s wool contributed to the exploits of the Vikings, to how humans have long struggled to command the Mississippi River, to discoveries about new hunting tactics employed by killer whales. We love stories that surprise, inform, and delight. And we always prioritize quality over speed. It’s important to us that Hakai Magazine is a trustworthy source of information for our readers. The images that accompany our stories are curated by our art director and graphic designer and come from a wide variety of sources—we sometimes commission original imagery through our small editorial staff (I’ve been lucky to get to go on a number of shoots!) or a freelancer but often rely on pre-existing photography.

Viney: Please give five tips to help freelancers get commissioned by your publication.


  1. Know what the bigger point of your story is—and clearly communicate that in the pitch.
  2. Make sure you’ve done some preliminary research. Sending us a list of questions that you plan to ask expert sources isn’t enough to help us gauge whether this is a story we should invest in. Our editor in chief, Jude, estimates that it takes at least 10 hours of research to support a compelling feature story pitch.
  3. Demonstrate writing ability in your pitch. Ideally, we want to see that you know how to craft strong sentences, can bring color to the page, understand the tenets of good storytelling, know how to research thoroughly, and have a strong handle on the material. If a pitch is lifeless, sloppy, or vague, we may question whether you have the skills to pull off the kind of story we’re looking for.
  4. Understand that we have a global audience, so are looking for stories that resonate broadly. We often receive story ideas that are too local in scope.
  5. Keep your expectations reasonable. If you’re a new writer to us, it’s unlikely we’ll agree to large international travel budgets and hefty word counts. Think smaller to start with.
  6. And a bonus point! Make sure your idea is fresh—if a bunch of other online media outlets have already reported on the exact same story, there’s no value in us regurgitating it. If there has been existing coverage, we need to know how you’d bring additional information, perspective, and depth.

Viney: What do you think surprises new contributors to your publication?

Shanna: Every magazine has its own timelines and operating procedures, and some new contributors may be surprised by what’s involved with our process. Most feature stories go through multiple revisions. After that, the writer needs to provide a fully annotated draft that we pass along to a fact checker who will independently verify every detail. Once the fact check stage is complete, the story is run through a thorough copyedit, and then a final proofreading stage. The whole process can span a number of months. News stories operate similarly but on a much more expedited timeline.

Viney: Writers often fear rejections come from their pitches going astray. Why do editors not disclose their official email address and ask you to submit to a generic email address?

Shanna: Our dedicated email addresses for feature story proposals ( and news story proposals ( are regularly monitored, and our team responds to all genuine pitches, typically within a couple of weeks.

We have a small and extremely busy editorial team, so your pitch is far more likely to get lost in one of our monstrous personal inboxes than in the space we’ve set aside for specifically dealing with pitches. Plus, every pitch we receive goes to an editorial meeting for discussion with the larger group, regardless of how it came in, so emailing an editor directly is not a way to fast-track a decision, as some contributors might hope.

Viney: That’s so reassuring. Thanks a ton for answering my questions honestly and in detail! It was a great pleasure speaking with you.



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