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Mark Newman

How “Google Journalism” is Killing Our Credibility

Mark Newman Editorial - 06/12/2012-09:56 AM

Granted, there’s not many things more certain than death and taxes but I found one more: any time I started off a declaration with the phrases “Back in my day…” or “When I was YOUR age…” with one of my classes of Introduction to Writing & Reporting at the University of South Alabama, I could pretty much guarantee a room full of collective eye rolling. “Is that when you drove your Model T to school?” one of the class clowns would invariably smirk.

In this particular instance I was explaining to the room of Gen Y-ers that in my first job as a newspaper reporter I went to what is known as a public library and did research…in BOOKS! Well, they were largely unimpressed, and why shouldn’t they be? For the uninitiated it’s much easier to simply Google a topic or go to Wikipedia to get the information you need to write a fairly comprehensive story. The problem is that by no stretch of the imagination can that be considered “reporting” or “journalism." At best, it’s simply laziness. At worst, it’s plagiarism.

Google Journalism actually reared its ugly head when I was a judge for the Eddy Awards in 2010. One of my categories was association publications and I was perusing the pages of a travel association’s magazine when I came across an article on European cruises. The alleged writer of the article was clearly guilty of not picking up the phone to find out more information and it was obvious by what I was reading; the story read like promotional copy gleaned from minute upon minute of research on the cruise line’s website. Worse yet, it was terrible: it wasn’t until five or six paragraphs into the piece that it stated exactly where the ships sailed to and from, pretty basic information, if you ask me. Not only was this lazy writer just Googling his research, he had never heard of our friend, “the inverted pyramid.”

At the risk of being called a hypocrite, I must confess to my own dalliances of Googling info and putting it into a story. It occurred when I worked at a dysfunctional publishing company where the left hand (editorial) seldom if ever knew what the right hand (sales) was doing. One of the sales assistants walked into the editorial suite and asked if one of us could write up 1,200 words on skiing in West Virginia. I stupidly volunteered—I had neither skied nor been to West Virginia—because I thought I would have the luxury of time to make some calls and do some research. “When do you need it?” I asked. “Ummm, around lunch,” was the reply. This editorial was to go around ads in a special advertising section in a national magazine so time was of the essence in order to meet the magazine’s stringent deadline.

I called and emailed West Virginia’s bureau of tourism. Nada. So in order to meet my deadline I had to resort to the very practice I loathed: Google journalism. Not a proud moment but I think I was able to put the info into my own voice enough so that it would not be a direct rip off of www.skiwestva.com or whatever site I came across. In this case, it was more of a challenge as a writer to take unfamiliar material and reinterpret it in your own voice…or at least that’s how I justified it to myself at the time.

The best stories occur when you’re able to get out there and meet and mingle with people and get the lowdown on what it is you’re covering. As I told my students, you need to become an expert on what it is you’re writing about so that the reader won’t have any questions about the story they just read.

Google has its place, but mainly to find sources and background information. It is a crutch that threatens to retroactively cripple our industry, especially the next generation of budding journalists. Cue eye roll.

Mark A. Newman is a Senior Editor with Hanley Wood's Remodeling magazine. He has spent close to two decades in the publishing world and has been everything from Editorial Director to Editorial Assistant and literally everything in between.

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Mark Newman

In This Wretched Economy, Magazine Conferences Are Like Group Therapy

Mark Newman City and Regionals - 12/08/2009-10:47 AM

In October, I came back from Santa Fe, New Mexico refreshed, rejuvenated, recharged, and ready to hit the ground running when I returned to the office. I wasn’t there for a spa weekend or a vacation; I went to the International Regional Magazine Association’s (IRMA) Annual Conference. But the experience there with other regional magazine pros was certainly as eye-opening as any skin peel could peel.
 
IRMA is not a typical organization and the conference is anything but run of the mill. The goal is to facilitate a free flow of ideas among peers. To that end, there are no competing magazines in terms of territory or potential advertisers. While at first blush, that might sound somewhat exclusionary but you would be amazed at some of the frank discussions and “trade secrets” revealed among the members. But I’m not telling any tales out of school.
 
Aside from the opportunity to learn from regional magazine compatriots, attendees got the chance to simply vent about struggles common to all publishing professionals in today’s roiling economy. Any topic that’s currently at the forefront was discussed, but in a way that dealt more with finding common solutions for everyone rather than trying to “one up” your competitor.
 
One of the hallmarks of these conferences is the lack of PowerPoint presentations. Experts get up and speak, but typically the sessions evolve into roundtable discussions rather than your typical follow-along slideshow. Telling your own war stories with others in the same battle goes a long way over a stack of stapled handouts that will simply go into a cabinet when you get back to your office.
 
But, as we all know, just like all magazines are not created equal neither are magazine conferences. For example, I bypassed a similar conference when I saw the list of “experts” that were invited to speak. One in particular was a former colleague. I decided that if that person was considered an authority by the host organization, my company’s money could be better spent elsewhere.
 
Then there was the conference that was purely an ego-stroking exercise for the organizers. Rather than sharing ideas and presenting solutions, the editorial track consisted of the organizer sitting on various panels with previous employees, bosses, or just friends at other magazines where the first 15 minutes were spent letting the speakers regale the audience with tales of how great each other was. Pretty much every session was an excuse for a mutual admiration society.
 
As the conference wore on and I hopped from session to session, it certainly seemed that the entire program was tailored so that the editorial track organizer and his buddies could have a free weekend in the host city, all courtesy of the sponsoring organization, mind you. Then there was the vendor who was a presenter/speaker who used various magazines as examples of the right way to do things, touted the genius of their editors time and time again, but lo and behold … every magazine was the “expert speaker’s” client. No wonder they were so great. The speaker actually asked one of his clients—an editor-in-chief—about the process he used as it was “so genius.”
 
Needless to say, I won’t be attending that conference again. Aside from being a waste of time and money, the organizers and speakers did not interact with attendees at all. For a group of similar people thrown together, it was oddly cliquish.
 
But, as I mentioned, the tips I picked up and the ability to learn from my peers, not to mention the camaraderie and the much-needed laughter I found in Santa Fe was more than enough to justify my attendance … and it was certainly worth every cent I paid out of my own pocket to attend.

My only question now is: Can I submit my travel expenses to my insurance provider since according to my plan it covers psychiatric treatment? And believe me, the IRMA conference was the best group therapy session imaginable!

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Mark Newman

The Mayhem of Hiring an Assistant Editor: Part One

Mark Newman Editorial - 08/06/2009-15:59 PM

I got the bad news three weeks ago that my beloved assistant editor was taking a job in Birmingham and would be leaving Southern Breeze. Not only was she leaving publishing altogether but her salary was doubling—before commission. Who could blame her for this decision? Still, it’s sad to see someone so gifted as a journalist, editor, writer, and reporter leave the profession.

But the cavalcade of projects slows down for no one so I had to fill the position. I posted an ad on several online job boards and in the local Sunday newspaper. Within 48 hours I had more than 40 applications pop up in my in-box. Very few came in based on the newspaper ad while the majority came in from journalismjobs.com. Let’s not even discuss the applications that came in from craiglist.org.

The Brutal Process Begins

So, I began the brutal process of weeding the good applicants from the bad. (We should keep in mind that this is an entry-level position and that the salary—in the low $20,000s—as well as the various duties, are stated clearly in the ad.)

The first applications I deleted were those from people who had no writing or editing experience whatsoever, but thought “it might be fun to try.” Some resumes—believe it or not—I just couldn’t read.

The process is heartbreaking in its own way when you see the amount of experience some of the applicants possess. There were some whose careers began while I was in high school. Others had full careers in other fields (newspaper, broadcast), but found themselves in the region due to retirement, but wanted to work again.

‘Reading Resumes is Like Online Dating’


Honestly, going through resumes is akin to online dating: you pick and choose based on your own preferences. For example, in her cover letter, one applicant wrote of her move from Chicago to Alabama (where Southern Breeze is located): “In addition to awesome weather, where else can I order macaroni and cheese as a vegetable?”

Letting your humor shine is especially valuable, especially in this case since the assistant editor shares an office with me. I invited her in for an interview.

The applicants who made it to the top of the pile were those who were fairly new to the field or recent college graduates with relevant internships and/or published clips. A couple of applicants had interned at fellow International Regional Magazine Association member publications, so they made it through since this is essentially a stamp of approval.

Of course, no matter how great a resume looks, the real proof is when you meet the candidates face-to-face. That will be the topic of Part Two of this blog post: The Interviews.

In the meantime, here’s a list of resume do’s and don’ts to follow. Some may seem obvious, but maybe this can serve as a refresher for those who haven’t had to craft a resume in some time:

    Experience should be listed with the most recent first then work back in time. That seems obvious but apparently it’s not.
    Don’t forget to include the years for education or experience. One candidate listed her positions but absolutely no timeframe. It could’ve been four years or four hours for all I knew!
    Watch what you list. Some managers may not be too keen to hire someone whose experience includes the Phil Gramm for President, Bush/Quayle 92, or your college’s Democratic organization. It’s best not to take chances if you’re not looking for work in that field.
    An objective sentence or two is not always necessary, but if you do have one make sure it is at least relevant to the job you’re applying for. One quickly deleted resume had an objective that stated: “To find a position where I can better utilize my marketing and public relations skills.”
    If the ad clearly states to whom you should send your materials to then do not use “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam.” This shows you weren’t paying attention.
    Don’t leave off your mailing address. It helps to know where an applicant is located in terms of setting up interviews.
    If an ad says “No phone calls please,” you better not call. That’s the quickest way to get your resume thrown away (this actually happened in our sales department…often!)
    Keep it brief. If you’ve just been out of college a couple of years, do your best to keep your resume to a single page; I’ve been out of college 23 years and my resume is a single page.
    Don’t be afraid to put more of the “real you” on your resume under “Skills & Interests,” “Other Stuff,” or any other heading. When I first moved to New York City in 1990, I had “aspiring playwright” listed under skills and interests and one of my interviewers just happened to be an actress with a small theatre group and that sparked her interest in calling me in for an interview. We worked together for over three years and she was one of the best bosses I ever had.

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Mark Newman

Doubles, Anyone? Men’s Fitness Uses Nadal Photo from New York Cover Shoot for its Own

Mark Newman Editorial - 06/22/2009-12:26 PM

When my June/July issue of Men’s Fitness landed in my mailbox, tennis star Rafael Nadal’s shirtless torso looked familiar—and it wasn't because I was looking at my own torso in the mirror, that’s for damn sure. Had it not been for the green Nike polo shirt around his neck, I would’ve never remembered that a similar photo was used on the cover of the 2008 fall fashion issue of New York magazine.

The photos, taken by Nigel Parry, are fantastic, and work remarkably well for both magazines. The New York cover shows Nadal at his pouty and petulant best, giving the camera—and thus, the reader—a wicked come hither look that likely sent the magazine flying off the racks across the country (especially in Chelsea and West Hollywood).

The Men’s Fitness cover photo—from the same shoot but used inside the New York issue in black and white—is also strikingly appropriate. Here, Nadal has the same intense gaze, but unlike the New York cover, this photo highlights the tennis pro’s physique, especially his six pack. No doubt this is a totally appropriate photo for the article it was touting—MF’s 25 Fittest Guys in the World. (Not surprisingly, Nadal was no. 1.)

Still, it’s a little odd to see a big national magazine like Men’s Fitness reuse an image for a cover.

When I asked Men’s Fitness editor-in-chief Roy S. Johnson about this choice, this was his response: “When we selected Rafael Nadal as our Fittest Guy in the World, he was excited about the honor but unable to offer time for a photo shoot,” Johnson explained to me in an email. “He told us of the shoot he did for New York magazine and directed us to the photographer. We liked the shoot (and we researched others) because it was the only one we found in which he was shirtless, which is occasionally how we show our cover subjects. Of course we were aware that the shoot had been originally done for New York, so we made sure not to select the exact same shot they used. Finally, as widely read as New York magazine is, our guess is that few of our readers had seen it.”

Johnson added that he had not received a single e-mail mentioning the Men’s Fitness cover’s similarity to the New York cover … other than mine. Leave it to a magazine editor to be a thorn in the side of another magazine editor!

Introducing the … Bloomberg Markets Cover Curse?

Of course, Nadal—the world’s no. 1-ranked tennis player—would figure to be a popular cover choice for those magazines that cover tennis, fitness and/or the four cities in which the Grand Slams take place (hence, New York’s pre-U.S. Open cover last year). Based on a quick scan of the local newsstand, Nadal appears on at least four covers, including Men’s Fitness, Men's Journal and this weekend’s ill-timed New York Times Magazine.

But, given Nadal’s recent collapse at the French Open (he lost in the fourth round to a relative unknown, ending his streak of consecutive French Open wins at four) and his withdrawal from Wimbledon on Friday (sorry, New York Times Magazine!) it would seem that Bloomberg Markets' odd decision to put the Majorcan matador on its June cover backfired just a bit.

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Mark Newman

Is Craigslist a Viable Alternative for Content—Or Last Resort?

Mark Newman emedia and Technology - 06/17/2009-15:22 PM


As an editor I still believe—and will always believe—that content is king. However, I recently ran into a problem when the content I really wanted did not exist … or so I thought. That’s where Craigslist came in.

Like every other publishing company in the country, the planet, and the galaxy, we’ve had to severely cut our freelance budgets. And by “severely” I mean “none.” And it became an issue for the Mississippi Travel Guide, one of my company’s many travel-related pubs, when I was doing a story on a restaurant that doubled as a music venue.

It just so happened that my favorite band, Hoobastank, was playing there, so I traveled three or so hours to see them. In the story, I wrote about the restaurant’s food, atmosphere, and, of course, the concert. Unfortunately, with a photography budget at zero, that meant taking one of our usual photographers with me was not an option. The restaurant owner thought that there might be a photographer there from a local paper. There wasn’t.

As the story was in production, it became obvious that something was missing. While we had supplied food shots and restaurant shots, I felt like a shot or two of the band performing would really add to the piece. So I posted an ad on Craigslist stating that I was looking to see if any Hooba fans had taken photos at the concert.

I received an email from a young lady named Jennifer Jackson who said that she had taken about a dozen shots but that they weren’t very good “because the lighting was terrible.” She sent me a link to her Flickr account where I discovered that Jennifer was far too modest about her abilities. Her shots were so good that my art director and I couldn’t decide which ones to use.

The resulting article turned out better than I had originally envisioned and I saved somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 to $1,200. Will I do this a lot? No. I honestly believe I got lucky that someone as skilled as Jennifer was there. This was only a last resort, one that I honestly hope I don’t have to rely on too much in the future.

Because the economy is coming back, right? I hope so because I would sure like to pay Jennifer—and all of my contributors—what they are truly worth.

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Mark Newman

Looking for Someone to Blame for the Industry’s Implosion? Try Editors

Mark Newman Editorial - 03/26/2009-08:30 AM

You know how you have that friend who you love to rile up about sports or politics because they get a little crazy? My friend Inez likes to do that to me on occasion, especially about magazine publishing. She informed me that an editor-in-chief—an incompetent, sweaty moron (think George Costanza without the charm)—begged off on proofreading his own work because…well he just didn’t like proofreading.

What?!

As she expected, I went off on this guy who never demonstrated any sort of vision or leadership at a major publisher’s b-to-b arm (which no longer exists). And yet, this guy was an editor-in-chief at this very well-respected company for years and years but he wouldn’t copy edit.

I spoke to another friend who still works at one of my former b-to-b haunts. We talked about cutbacks, doing more with less, yadda, yadda, when she mentioned her associate editor with a journalism degree from NYU who couldn’t write! She also has the burden of a publisher who now has to take over part of a territory after a salesperson was let go. Problem is, the publisher doesn’t like to make phone calls and gets in a bad mood by 10 in the morning and simply calls it quits!

To use Gossip Girl parlance: WTF!?!?

There are many tales of a top editor who prefers to work from home two, three, four days a week but calls in to get a status report from her managing editor—while the ocean can be heard in the background.

I think a lot of top editors find it way too easy to rest on their laurels, i.e., “We have to keep Sally—she knows the industry so well and everyone loves her!” Sorry Sally, but when was the last time you spearheaded anything remotely innovative?

The problem that a lot of editors, and thus, magazines, have is that the attitude of “this is how we’ve always done it” permeates the culture. Nobody is willing to take chances when they can continue to get their 3 percent annual raise, work 17 hours a week in the office, and not have to do any heavy lifting, mentally or physically.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

What has always baffled me is when editors are content with the status quo. However, a magazine is dynamic—if it’s not growing or changing then it’s dying. I’ve seen that time and time again, especially at some of my past publications, many of which have died painful, pitiful deaths—usually because the top editor was fine with things just the way they always were when they first started at the magazine 20 years ago!

Every time I’ve taken over the helm of a different publication, I have tried to do at least one thing to enhance it—whether it was a design overhaul for one industry’s leading voice, re-focusing editorial (and thus increasing ad revenue) for an association publication, or simply including new topics and ideas for a lifestyle magazine. Luckily, they were all successful but as an editor if I can’t bring a new voice and make the magazine better than it was before, why was I hired?

Editors should make an effort to reach out to a new audience, re-focus the overall editorial direction, bring in new writers, photographers, artists, and others to infuse a new vibrancy to what might be a staid title. I’m certainly not recommending a redesign for redesign’s sake; I’ve seen that blow up in a magazine’s face more than once. But, for crying out loud, do SOMETHING.

Something that you feel will enhance the magazine, engage your audience, or be a boon to your advertisers. Get off your hands, pull your head out of the dirt, and remember what it was that made you get into this field in the first place. Otherwise, learn the difference between “large” and “super-size” because you’re deadweight in the magazine industry’s future.

Failure is not as disgraceful as simply not trying.

[PHOTO: IMDB]

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Mark Newman

The Big Aeron Chair Payback

Mark Newman M and A and Finance - 03/02/2009-15:06 PM

To say that the news about our industry is depressing is an understatement. Massive cuts. Layoffs. Shutterings. I can’t help but think back to the many years I worked in the b-to-b world.

Looking back, it certainly seemed like nothing was ever too expensive to be prohibited from expense reports. One example: Herman Miller Aeron Chairs. At two of the b-to-b publishers where I worked, every single office and cubicle had an Aeron. I’ll admit, they are comfortable and I even have one at home. Floor after floor was filled with Aerons. At $1,200 a pop, that’s a lot of cash that could’ve been used to—oh I don’t know—save a magazine! Now, the Aerons sit empty in darkened offices and cubicles, a reminder of what once was.

Then there are the travel expenses. I remember the first time I traveled on the company dime at another b-to-b and I turned in my expense report. This particular trip saw me traveling from NYC to Atlanta then to Tampa and back to NYC. My boss laughed when I turned in receipts from Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, Ruby Tuesday and Krystal.

“Mark, I always try to treat myself to a really nice meal when I travel on the company dime,” he told me. And by “really nice meal” he wasn’t talking Olive Garden—he meant restaurants of the Smith & Wollensky or The Palm variety. Unfortunately that “company dime” has lost its shine as the magazines I worked for at back then have gone the way of job security, Christmas bonuses and U.S. banks.    

I’m no Warren Buffett, but maybe it’s not enough to look at the bottom line JUST when the economy is in the crapper. Perhaps big publishers need to observe some of the small publishing houses that are managing to maintain successful companies even in lean times.  

Meanwhile, I’ll keep multi-tasking at Southern Breeze along with the numerous other publications and Web sites we produce.

All while sitting on my $50 Office Depot chair.

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Mark Newman

How One Regional Magazine is Avoiding Layoffs

Mark Newman City and Regionals - 02/25/2009-15:55 PM

The recession has found its way into every aspect of publishing—and regional and city publishers are no exception. Thankfully, I have not had to lay off anyone in the editorial or art departments and—most importantly—we are still publishing Southern Breeze on its regular schedule, albeit in a more concise format. (We’ve reduced the trim size, changed paper stock, and cut each issue by 16 pages)

While I’m not overjoyed about any of these changes, I would rather make them than face the alternative that I’ve faced before and that so many magazines are facing now: folding.

Here’s the e-mail I sent to my loyal stable of writers:

Hello All:

As you know, the country is in quite an economic pickle at the moment and publishing has been especially hard hit. Southern Breeze is certainly not immune to these trends and that’s why I am writing you.

For the rest of 2009, any freelance assignments are going to be highly scrutinized as to whether or not they can be done in-house. Those that will be assigned will be assigned under a new fee structure. So, essentially if you get a freelance assignment in the future, we will unfortunately not be able to pay the same rates as in the past.

Any of the smaller features such as Dish, Words & Notes, Cheers, et al. will all be done strictly in-house.

Also please note that we cannot cover any travel expenses, including mileage.

Regarding other Compass Marketing projects, those instances will be decided on a project-by-project basis but the rates will reflect a similar decrease.

While I realize that this is not exactly good news for any of you, please note that these reduced fees are—I hope—only temporary until the economy straightens itself out. I understand if these new rates are not feasible for your own business, but please understand that the reduction in fees is a necessary cost-containment measure I am instituting at Southern Breeze and all Compass Marketing publications in an effort to preserve the future of these award-winning products. Whether it is cutting the freelancer budget or doing more of the writing myself, I will do everything I can to maintain the quality and ensure the future of these publications.

Also, take it from someone who has been there; these fee cuts are a much better option than what many other magazines are being forced to do. This will at least help ensure that Southern Breeze will remain the best source where readers can learn all about “the Good Life on the Gulf Coast” for years to come.

Thanks for your continued support and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Regards,

Mark

Thankfully, the response has been very supportive from my writers. It seems everyone understands the current economic doldrums and is willing to sacrifice in order to preserve the future of the publications they care about.

If any other editors, art directors or publishers who’ve had to deliver similar bad news, feel free to share the methods (and memos) to your madness.

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Mark Newman

More Layoffs? Time for Publishers to Ditch Their HR Departments

Mark Newman Editorial - 10/10/2008-15:20 PM

Death and taxes aren’t the only things those of us in the magazine world can be sure of anymore. We might as well add magazine layoffs. At least that’s been the case for the last couple of years. How many of us read the FOLIO: or mediabistro.com e-newsletters and see one of our former—if not current—employers ditching their publications or shaving off dozens of our former colleagues? It’s getting scary to do what we do these days, even more so than after 9/11.

But who are the bearers of not-so-glad tidings to hundreds of hardworking magazine staffers? The HR rep, that’s who! For the three seasons of The Office, Toby, the in-house HR rep, was being constantly undermined by the office’s clueless leader, Michael, until Toby left to pursue greener pastures. But maybe Michael is on to something.

But, seriously—why should HR people sit in their offices so confidently while the rest of us tremble as we watch our co-workers march to the elevators with their white file boxes full of snow globes, coffee mugs, and Simpsons memorabilia after receiving their pink slips? If companies need to work smarter rather than harder, it’s time to send most publishing HR staffs back to where they belong … oh wait, Starbucks is shuttering a lot of its shops, too. That could be a problem.

I am not anti-HR. I minored in it because I thought it was actually interesting. (That might be my problem.)

But the things I've seen some HR reps do that range from simply not smart (like reply-all blunders) to making a multi-million dollar publishing company liable to lawsuits (racism, sexism, fill-in-the-blankism).

So what’s the solution, you ask?  Simple: Have one of your mid-level editors who’s demonstrated good people skills take over the in-house HR duties. Or have the editors take a larger role managing their writing staffs. Chances are the HR folks make more money than the editors do anyway, so there’s your savings right there.

Look, if it comes down to being fired or taking on extra responsibility at little or no extra pay, most editors I know would be fine with that. And they could have that martyr complex we love so much.

There’s nothing worse than trying to put out a great magazine and always looking over your shoulder in anticipation of the HR person leaning into your cubicle—scythe in hand—and saying, “Hey, can you come down to my office for a second?”

It’s time to bring the era of the power-wielding HR flack to an end. And soon. At least before I decide it’s time to get a new job!

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Mark Newman

The Jackass Journo at the Junket

Mark Newman Editorial - 07/02/2008-15:14 PM

As a human, I try to adhere to that old golden rule, “do unto others.” It’s served me pretty well so far but apparently there are some of our journalistic brethren who don’t hold to that tenet. I was on a culinary press junket to one of the major Deep South cities recently and it was truly a magnificent time: great food, great experiences, excellent lodging—plus, I got the rare chance to hobnob with other journalists from around the country and, in this case, the world.

As these outings generally go, everything was handled for us: it didn’t cost the journalists anything and it certainly didn’t cost our publications anything. Our accommodations weren’t at some hotel out by the airport—we were put up in THE top luxury hotel in this particular destination.

But as I mingled with my cohorts, I started hearing some very disturbing stories from the trip. Specifically, some of the other members of the press were getting pretty prickly with our hosts and sponsors as well as with other journalists.

One journo decided that the hotel’s food and beverage manager was also a part-time cobbler. When her sandal strap snapped, she decided it was up to this hapless yet helpful fellow to get it fixed. Which he did.

Then there was an author who complained—rather loudly, I might add—that the light switch in her hotel suite was too far away from her bed. I suggested she use the broom she rode in on to shorten the gap, a suggestion the other writers appreciated. This same writer arrived at all the events late and rushed through meals to get to other appointments thus making our various hosts have to work doubletime to accommodate her needs specifically while still entertaining the larger group.

Since I felt fortunate to be included with these prestigious writers, I was somewhat dumbfounded by their actions. But I’ve come to learn that this is not an unusual occurrence; my fellow junket junkies had their own tales of woe about traveling with other writers. (Many, as you would probably guess, involve way too many comped drinks, unseemly bartenders and exploits not appropriate for family-friendly business blog!)

Granted, we work in an industry where we often have to “invent” our own fringe benefits. Early in my career I took advantage of business trips to Toronto, San Francisco, San Antonio and more by visiting friends or relatives. However, acting as if you’re owed something just because you chose to show up is beyond the pale.

Thankfully, not everyone on my trip behaved badly. But if you’re a lousy guest—no matter who you write for—don’t be surprised when you’re not invited back.

On a final note, I should let my fellow magazine pros know that the writer who behaved the worst was a newspaper journalist! Go figure!

If anybody else has had nightmare experiences with fellow members of the press while traveling on various junkets, drop them in the comments section below.

I’m sure readers of this blog would love to hear about them ... I know I would!

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Mark Newman

Cool Magazine Alert: Performing Songwriter

Mark Newman Editorial - 06/12/2008-12:27 PM

How did you spend your Memorial Day? I spent mine at the local Books-A-Million browsing the magazine rack, something I don’t get to do as much since leaving Manhattan. Typically I’ll go into local bookstores to see how my own pub, Southern Breeze, is doing. Much to my chagrin, Southern Breeze wasn’t being sold. Were they sold out? Nope, they don’t carry it. Odd, considering our offices are less than a mile from this particular outlet.

But my chagrin is not the topic of this blog. I wanted to let other magazine pros know about a really cool publication you may not be familiar with: Performing Songwriter. In perusing the racks, I spotted the latest issue due to its cover subject, Neil Diamond. However, when I opened the pages, I was not just pleasantly surprised. I was blown away!

Granted, the reason I bought the issue was due to my fan boy’s devotion to Neil, but after leafing through the rest of the book, I immediately became a fan. The cover story article was extremely in-depth and not only featured an opening two-page spread that rivals any lifestyle glossy but the story itself was packed full of information that was not only relevant to the publication’s target audience—song writers who perform—but also accessible to a casual reader like myself.

The article was a mix of a typical profile and a Q&A mixed in with various sidebars highlighting Diamond’s music, stories behind the songs, and more. In short, it was all an interested songwriter or Neil Diamond fan could hope for. The sidebars are the epitome of what I consider to be great sidebars—relevant information that is not simply regurgitated high points from the main feature.

Founding editor-in-chief, Lydia Hutchinson, even includes a sidebar on her editor’s page describing her favorite CD or songwriter of the moment, which is a very cool idea and connects with the reader without resorting to stunt typical of way too many magazines these days. (Note to magazine writers: You are not the story, your subject is!)

Lydia started Performing Songwriter 15 years ago out of her guest bedroom with no business plan or funding, just a desire to create a forum for people who are passionate about the music they write and perform. “I really had no idea it would become what it has,” she admits. “But it immediately hit a really passionate community that didn't have any other publication that talked about creativity and what it was like to live an artistic life; it was a place where people felt safe talking about what music means to them because they were among like-minded souls.”

Aside from the Neil Diamond cover story there are also interviews with The Kinks’ Ray Davies, Michael McDonald, Death Cab for Cutie, Zooey Deschanel and many more. Not a bad lineup for a magazine you’ve never heard of!

Performing Songwriter also has its fair share of CD reviews as well as interviews with mixers, producers, and other pros in the music industry. Recording equipment also plays a large role in the magazine and several products are reviewed—some in great detail—within each issue. Despite the number of big names in the issue, Performing Songwriter has an intimate feel, almost like it’s for a select few, and in a way, it is.

Lydia stressed that she’s neither a songwriter nor a performer—she just loves music. This further solidifies my opinion that you don’t have to be an “expert” in a field to oversee a publication dedicated to it. But you should have at least some passion for your subject otherwise your magazine will be somewhat insincere and subpar.

As an added bonus, the Web site is pretty cool too.

Feel free to share your own stories of magazines you’ve discovered over the years that fall outside your own “comfort zone” in the comments section.

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Mark Newman

When Bad Publishers Happen to Good Magazines

Mark Newman City and Regionals - 05/07/2008-14:28 PM

[There Will Be Blood still, courtesy of Paramount.]

There is nothing that will create a bond between art and editorial quicker than a meddling publisher. Granted, editors and artisans should already be thick as thieves, but when a publisher starts needlessly getting involved in the creative aspects of a magazine, there will be blood!

Take the case of a design-driven b-to-b magazine. The creative staff worked together nicely throughout the production process, but almost like clockwork, the publisher would decide to put her two cents in. It basically happened every other issue.

Seriously, you could set your watch by it and it always involved cover art. Typically the magazine would run glossy, beautiful shots of a building’s interior or a statuesque shot of an exterior ... then along comes the publisher.

This particular publisher liked artwork on the cover. But not striking artwork. She would find stock art of a businessman going up a staircase or vague representations of dollars and cents or, worse yet, flow charts! Since the mag was a trade book, it’s not like newsstand sales were an issue, but the magazine still needed to be attractive. The problem was solved when the parent company was bought out by another company and all the individual magazine publishers were replaced with group publishers.

Now, there’s a nightmare nobody wants to go to sleep for!

Speaking of group publishers, consumer books have seemed to realize that the group publisher model just doesn’t work that great. It’s like a teacher with too many students or a single parent with too many kids; sooner or later somebody falls through the cracks and ends up on the streets. Magazines are no different ... I know this lesson firsthand.

Take the case of the group publisher who played favorites. After being acquired in a buyout, two b-to-b books found a new home at a big publisher. Both of the magazines’ publishers were fired and a new group publisher was brought in who had just seen the collapse of his venerable title after almost 100 years. (This magazine, by the way, survived two world wars and the Great Depression, but not this publisher!)

The new group publisher took a shine to one of the books that was more his style because it was glossier and more in line with what he was used to. The second book—the stepchild he got in the marriage, as the mag’s editor-in-chief termed it—was more nuts-and-bolts and technical, but highly respected and a leader in its field. Sales people were taken away from the tech-y book altogether.

Guess what happened? Sales plummeted! Go figure!

Then the tech-y book defied the odds and won a Jesse H. Neal Award for Outstanding Business Journalism. The magazine’s reward from the big publisher? Pink slips! And the three staffers sent packing were not even placed in similar available jobs within the company (apparently that was against policy).

Then, of course, you have the publisher who is extremely hands-off, lets the creative staff do what it was hired to do. Then one day he gets an idea because he’s been talking to other publishers—no more sodas at your desk; all headlines should be in "Courier"; numbers must always be on the cover ... ALWAYS! And insists that the edit and art staff institute new changes or rules. Luckily these kinds of publishers get distracted by other trends ... or something shiny!

If any editors or art directors have “bad publisher” stories, feel free to share!

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