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Michela O'Connor Abrams: Leader in Publishing and Partner in Cal Poly Journalism Department's Innovations

Michela O'Connor Abrams Header
Michela O’Connor Abrams recently visited Cal Poly to share her experience
and knowledge with the Journalism Department. | Photo by Eli Meir Kaplan

A 21st-century publication is about making connections, sharing ideas, and eventually going beyond itself to make an impact on the world. Dwell magazine, a modern architecture and design-focused publication, is undertaking the task of reinvigorating the design world with fresh perspectives and giving new character to modern architecture.

“You learn a lot about yourself, and in that process, I learned that I loved leading people. I think that at the core of any good leader is humility of spirit.”

At Dwell Media, Journalism Department alumna Michela O’Connor Abrams and her team consistently aim not only to tell stories about design and architecture but also to tell these stories in ways that will enlighten and motivate their audience.

As president of Dwell Media, O’Connor Abrams centers her efforts on Dwell magazine’s audience and the success of her team. Recently working to expand the company’s digital presence and grow the business, O’Connor Abrams has helped create several new platforms to connect with Dwell consumers. 

Among these new platforms are interactive events that show how design influences and shapes our modern world. The multiple-day programs include Dwell on Design; home tours across Los Angeles; and Modern City, co-hosted with New York magazine.  

O’Connor Abrams describes her personal philosophy as a practice of “taking risks, being willing to morph your strategy as needed, and making sure that you’re listening to your audience.”

It has been this attentiveness and connection to its audience that has made the Dwell Media story a successful one. Dwell has weathered multiple industry transitions, such as the move to digital formats. The company currently boasts a total audience reach of more than 1 million and a paid circulation of more than 300,000. 

As for O’Connor Abrams, despite her position as president of the large media company, her roots are firmly grounded in journalism. And she believes that Cal Poly helped her hone the skills that have carried her through her career. 

After enrolling in Cal Poly’s Journalism Department in 1977, she began writing for the Mustang Daily student newspaper. “We took on tough subjects,” O’Connor Abrams says. “I was completely immersed in what it is to investigate, develop and create a story, as well as to understand how to be responsible for creating a different story vis-à-vis marketing.”

Her time at Cal Poly fostered O’Connor Abrams’ desire to become a journalist. However, after graduation, she found herself beginning to move into the sales and marketing industry instead. 

Michela O'Connor Abrams
O'Connor Abrams believes that a humble,
resourceful attitude has served her well
and helped Dwell succeed.

Beginning as an intern at an advertising agency in Los Angeles, she eventually worked as a sales assistant for TV Guide. From TV Guide, O’Connor Abrams moved on to manage the Los Angeles office of The New Yorker. 

By 1988, O’Connor Abrams was serving as vice president of the Western United States region for Computerworld, a computer newspaper. 

“I was managing a number of people, many much older than I. So I very quickly had to understand how to be responsible for a multimillion-dollar goal, but also be humble enough to learn from the people I was managing,” O’Connor Abrams says. 

“You learn a lot about yourself, and in that process I learned that I loved leading people. I think that at the core of any good leader is humility of spirit, and you run out to find people smarter than yourself and are comfortable with that.”

She believes that this humble and resourceful attitude has helped Dwell become what it is today — an authority on modern architecture and design, as well as an innovative publishing company that explores audience connection across platforms. 

With similar goals in mind, O’Connor Abrams recently visited Cal Poly to share her experience and knowledge with the Journalism Department. The department and O’Connor Abrams are collaborating on yet-to-be-revealed projects that will work with Cal Poly’s strengths to place the journalism program at the forefront of innovation. 

“I think that a number of people on campus realize the opportunity to have a world-class media program with a core of great journalism,” O’Connor Abrams says. “Therefore, if we think about it in a much larger sense, we have a living lab here at Cal Poly, and we’ve got the opportunity to be leaders in print, online and live. No other higher learning institution I know of has the opportunity to do what Cal Poly can do because of Learn by Doing.”

 
 

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