Magazine Junkie

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Get Yourself an Education

One of the unique things about journalism, especially magazine journalism, is that those who make a career of it need to have two passions: journalism, of course, and something else. There is very little room in the media landscape to make a living reporting on journalism itself, so the majority of us need to nurture something else as our specialty. We need our content.

This is why I am conflicted about the institution of J-school. I, myself, attend continuing education classes in magazine publishing at one of the few schools in Canada to offer such courses (Ryerson University in Toronto). I completed my bachelor of fine arts (at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver) before enrolling in the workingman's J-school, and think I'm better for it. And most of the more capable people whom I've met in the industry have a degree in something other than journalism (either in addition to, or instead of).

Not only do these double-degree holders foster an interest in and knowledge of a subject to specialize in, if they so choose, but they become more "well-rounded." Myself, although I'm not currently employed at an arts magazine, I learned a thing or two from art school that have helped me immensely in the magazine industry. (It's also made me a more desirable employee, i.e. I have an advantage when trying to get work.)

Unlike many editors (at least the ones I've worked with), I'm conscious of the effect writing can have on the design of a piece. (For example, for easy access for readers, the article should have more subheds and sidebars, perhaps a list or graph, i.e. entry points.) I can explain to a designer how the design affects the reading of a piece, potentially confusing readers and driving them to turn the page without finishing their read. And I can explain it without making the art director and designer think I'm trying to tell them how to do their jobs because I approach it from an editorial viewpoint.

Now, of course no teacher in art school sat the class down and said, "If you happen to get a job as an editor and have to tell a designer the layout makes the writing confusing to read, this is what you do." But I did learn how design affects the understanding of meaning. I also learned how to work with clients, think critically and deliver constructive criticism. None of which I've learned in any of my publishing classes.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Eggs and Baskets

The magazine I work for just cut 16 editorial pages. The reason: our main advertiser hasn't re-signed its contract, and there's some question of whether it even will.

Although I haven't done the math yet, I would estimate that this particular advertiser occupies about 70 to 80 percent of our advertising pages.

How our ad sales department didn't see this very real possibility looming, I don't know. Perhaps its just in my company (although anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise), but it seems that what should be common knowledge within the industry – that editorial, circulation and ad sales all need to pull their weight equally – is often not generally understood.

A while back, our publisher wandered into our editorial office and asked what we thought about raising the cover price, bumping it above the five-dollar mark in the U.S. We editors thought it was a bad idea and wondered why we didn't just try to get more advertisers instead. We could see – even as editors – that having the majority of our advertising come from one advertiser was a bad idea.

Besides the economics of it all, one predominant advertiser spells bad news for a magazine's image in the readers' eyes. Time after time, readers complained that they hated reading all the advertorials placed by this particular advertiser. They also wondered whether the magazine was published by the advertiser as a vehicle for its advertising. We were losing the readers' trust. If it continues, it will only be so long before the magazine will have to close shop.

Friday, May 20, 2005

But Maybe Not

After first reading Jesse Kornbluth's "The Internet Tail Will Come to Wag the Magazine Dog's Tail" on Media Bistro, I completely agreed. But after reading it again, I see his forecast as only one possibility. And quite possibly, quite narrow minded.

Yes, magazines have been slow on the uptake; websites should play a larger part in their editorial planning. But to say that magazines in future will solely occupy the realm of support for the publication's website is a little shortsighted.

"I would put a stake in the heart of the notion of magazine as artifact," writes Kornbluth. Yes, build conversations and communities via the web, but why not also embrace magazines as "artifacts"? Many people keep magazines longer than their shelf-life, referring back to them often (or at least intending to – someday). My sister has kept every single copy of Martha Stewart Living she has ever bought. So fill magazines with information people will want to hold on to. Fill them with well-written articles that people will want to read again and again.

By all means, stay current through a website so the publication doesn't become "not relevant." But go in depth and get pretty on paper. Kornbluth seems to forget that a lot of people don't like reading extensive passages online. And the type of visual stimulation online is completely different (and most often completely lacking).

There are so many things you can do in print that you can't do on the web. You can't get spot gloss on the web, or heat-sensitive ink. Why not turn print magazines into collectables, turn them into objects of art?

Web and print are different. The experience is completely different. Embrace each for what it is and make them complement each other.

By no means does the web signal the end of print.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Visionary

We may find it necessary, for this industry to survive, to start questioning the structure of magazines. We seem to be stuck in a structure that although useful and expected, could be getting a little dry. Maybe we need to question what a magazine is.

Printed pages. Feature articles. Regular departments. Front of the book. Feature well. Back of the book. Letters to the editor. Letter from the editor. Service journalism. Buying guides. Folios. Heds. Deks.

Check out Visionaire. Limited edition. Beautiful. It may not look like it, but it's a magazine.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Overtime

I worked about 60 hours this week. It's not uncommon for me. At least one week a month I'll clock long hours. I've stayed at work as late as 5:00 a.m. just to put an issue to bed. That's a 17-hour workday.

The magazine industry is plagued with unfair working conditions. It's glamourous and most of us will do it for the love of it, which is why wages remain low and hours remain long. A select few will ever have a chance to make six-digit figures. Most of us will be lucky if we top $60,000 in our careers. Unlike lawyers, accountants and stock brokers, longer hours do not mean more money and don't necessarily mean advancement up the corporate ladder.

When will we be paid what we're worth? When will we work only the hours we're paid for?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

An Industry in Need

Magazines are getting a little dry these days. One service magazine after another, shorter text and more pictures and those goddam arrows (thank you very much, Ms. Fuller). Where's the challenge? Where's the fun? Although most editors will tout the benefits of being a reader's best friend, there's something unimaginative about just making the reader feel good. Let's change things.