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Mark Newman

Is It Wrong to Borrow From Other Magazines?

Mark Newman Editorial - 03/30/2008-21:09 PM

I wanted to broach the subject that I’m sure many editors, writers, art directors, et al. have come across over the years, and that’s the influence of other publications. I’m not talking plagiarism, just borrowing a good idea.

In the two years that I’ve been at the helm of Southern Breeze I haven’t been trying to reinvent the wheel, but I have been slowly nudging the magazine into a different arena with a more cutting edge, contemporary, and, yes, even urban feel. As a regional/lifestyle publication with Deep South roots, it would be far too easy to continue down the path of least resistance. But the South is changing. So, too, should its magazines.

Yes, we still have recipes, shopping, home fashion and all the things that make for a perfectly comfortable fit with our affable and affluent audience. But I felt the magazine could do more to truly reflect the diversity along the Gulf Coast.

Homage on the Range

I came up with the idea for our most recent cover [pictured above, right] while at a photo shoot for a piece on New Orleans pride as part of our new “Southern Breeze Hot List.” In previous years Southern Breeze has had a “Best Of” issue but trying to fit almost 30 topics into six to eight pages resulted in scattershot, albeit eclectic, feature. After seeing the photos at the shoot, I suggested using this as a cover option when my art director, Catherine, was not overly enthused by the other shots she had in her canon.

Once she sent out cover comps to me and my staff, we took a look at all 12 of them, and I picked the one above as my favorite [the one to the left is a typical cover from before my reign]. As my staff and I looked at the printouts, my assistant editor noted that the one I chose was just like a Time Out New York cover.

And then it hit me: Hell yeah, it looked like a TONY cover because that is my all-time favorite magazine and I’ve gleaned ideas from inside—and now, outside—its pages for a while, even before coming to Southern Breeze. For example, while managing editor at the late, great Lighting Dimensions we instituted a redesign and I suggested a “5 Questions With …” for the front of book, similar to TONY’s “Three Questions For …” in its FOB. It was included and proved to be a popular featurette. (The “5 Questions With …” survived Lighting Dimensions’ merger with Entertainment Design to become Live Design, which is more than I can say for the managing editor!)

So I guess my question is: Is it wrong to borrow from other magazines? It’s certainly not due to a lack of original ideas on our part, but I feel that if you see something that another magazine is doing that you think would work in your own publication, then why not? Besides, when I look at some of Southern Breeze’s competitors, it’s obvious they’ve borrowed a fair amount from us. Thankfully, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

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Mark Newman

Breaking Up (With TV Guide) is Hard to Do

Mark Newman Consumer - 03/24/2008-08:41 AM

I didn’t use the old chestnut “it’s not you, it’s me” when I broke things off. After all, I was still the same guy I always was, right? She changed, not me. I got used to everything being the way it always was. I was happy. I knew what to expect week after week, month after month.

But then change came and I wasn’t interested in continuing the relationship. And this was a relationship that had lasted as long as I can honestly remember, but things just weren’t right between us. It was time to bring this decades-long relationship to an unceremonious end.

Yep, I let my subscription to TV Guide run out.

For the first time in my ENTIRE life, I do not receive this weekly staple that was once the largest circulation magazine in the world. TV Guide was one of those things I looked forward to as a kid (yes, I know it’s sad). From the stylish covers—cheesy posed photos or Al Hirschfield caricatures—to the shamefully easy crossword puzzle in the back (“_____ of Hazard”? Please!), TV Guide would send me into world that was all about one of my favorite things in the world: television.

Things were going fine until that fateful day back in 2005. No longer would it publish in its familiar digest-sized format; it was as big as People, Us Weekly, Men’s Fitness, etc. But it wasn’t the size that bothered me. It was the fact that it was trying to be all things to all people. The new grid for all the show listings was lacking and there were hours of the day that simply weren’t covered anymore. Somehow it lost its charm.

Typically familiarity breeds contempt but in this case it bred content and I was no longer content so when my subscription expired, I unceremoniously buried my relationship with a magazine I’d read all my life. I should also add that my cable company has a function that allows me to get more info about a given show than TV Guide now offered, so the decision was that much easier.

Now, I hardly even think about TV Guide. Sometimes I’ll see it in the grocery store but the feelings are no longer there. I’ve moved on. Does TV Guide miss me? Judging from the number of offers I still receive in the mail, apparently so, but not enough to go back to the way it was before: when I was happy.

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Mark Newman

Editors vs. Art Directors: Part II

Mark Newman Design and Production - 03/13/2008-17:28 PM

Apparently my last blog post—Editors vs. Art Directors—really struck a nerve, judging by the number of responses (22 by my last count). When the attacks got personal (name calling, questioning the legitimacy of my own magazine, etc.) it made me realize that there are some pretty deep-seeded feelings on this issue.

The overall point of the last blog was that while the editor and art director are partners, the burden of responsibility always falls onto the editor. I’ve seen a lot more editors than art directors lose their jobs due to a magazine’s poor performance in my career. However, I have routinely seen art directors get the majority—if not all—of the praise for how great a magazine has turned around while the efforts of the editorial staff go totally unnoticed.

That said, many of the art directors whom I sent the blog link to agreed with my comments. Maybe it helped that we worked (or still work) together in some capacity, or that they understood, not only where I was coming from, but my healthy attitude toward art directors.

Catherine Neill Juchheim, my art director at Southern Breeze, the REAL magazine I edit, says that it is essentially up to the A.D. to ride herd over the material as well as the editors and sales people. “Whether it is a duel with the editor (no, 1,000 words of copy will NOT fit there!) or a fight with the sales guys over those last minute ads (and money always wins), it is up to the intrepid art director to make it work.”

Anthony Picco, who served as my art director for four years at a not-for-profit, completely understood and agreed with my comments because we respected each other’s profession as well as each other as people.

“My job is to make the information in the magazine attractive, readable, and enjoyable,” Tony says. “I fully understand that there are times that business politics dictate cover choices or lead articles. I have no problem accommodating that. In a healthy working relationship, I am happy to listen to editors' suggestions.”

However Tony admits that he prefers less specific comments from his editors (“The cover looks too busy,” or “This article has to look spectacular”). He adds that nothing annoys him more than when an editor tries to do HIS job with the “Make that type red” or “I want the type justified, not flush right.” Or as he puts it: “Nothing drives an art director crazier than an editor who is a frustrated art director.”

Another former cohort, Samuel Fontanez, who worked as a staff artist and is now art director of a magazine I used to oversee, took exception to my seemingly iron-fisted management mantra. “While I agree it’s the editor’s job to reel in the A.D. into reality when he thinks they’ve gone too far, [the editor] is not the only person on staff privy to the magazine’s audience,” he says. “Any art director who doesn’t know the audience or industry he or she is doing layouts for is basically a temp who has overstayed his or her welcome. So I think we deserve a little more credit in that area.”

John Scott, another former colleague who worked on two monthly publications where I was the managing editor, feels a lot of the issues between editors and their art doyennes are simply due to ego. “I think all editors and art directors have big egos, whether or not they admit it, so naturally there will always be clashes,” John wrote in his response to my initial post. “However, it is the ones on both sides that know how to control their ego and not let it get in the way that are the most successful. It is a team effort and there must be mutual respect and a bit of humility.”

John adds that if those egos get out of control, the end product will suffer and the work situation will be miserable. “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? That's always gotten me through plenty of situations.”

Many of the initial blog responders took issue to the “art director is always the wife” statement comparing the editor/A.D. relationship to a marriage. Sam was no exception. To wit, he says that if art directors are the wife, “then I suggest we make Lorena Bobbit our patron saint!” (Anyone who doesn’t remember Lorena, Google her. And by the way, Sam … ouch!)

Catherine was also not a fan of the husband and wife mentality and stresses equality among the players. “It's the 21st century now, people; how many wives out there are truly subservient to their husbands?” she ponders. “It’s an equal partnership or else it ends in divorce.”

John admitted that the “editor has final say,” but added that doesn’t necessarily mean they are always right. I agree with this sentiment whole-heartedly. In one of my blog comments, I talked about how my art director and I were seemingly up against the editor-in-chief (who had been in that specific industry for over 15 years) and a mousey associate editor regarding a particular cover design. Jonathan, the A.D., created a stunning, emotional visual from an idea I had. Instead, the EIC opted for tired stock art that did nothing for the magazine. [PS: The magazine folded five months later and Jonathan and I are the only ones still working in the magazine industry.]

Unlike John, Tony acquiesced: “The editor is always right, in theory,” he says, “but there are ‘Editors from Hell’ and I have worked for some of them. What does an art director do when an editor has no taste whatsoever—not even bad taste—and yet that editor wants to interfere? What do you do with a micromanager editor who believes you can only do your job properly if your hand is held every step of the way, from concept to completion? Ultimately, I have been fortunate—only about 70% of the editors I worked for were insane.”

Whether or not an editor is always right, Catherine agrees that it is the editor—not the art director—who has the first and last word with a magazine. “It is the editor who writes or assigns the stories that sets the tone for the art director to follow,” she says. “It is the art director’s vision that brings those stories to life across the pages, but it is the editor's determination as to whether the art director's vision is in keeping with the spirit of the editorial written.”

Art directors lucky enough to have good editors basically have free reign with the look and feel of a magazine, which comes from mutual respect, according to Catherine. “It’s also an open communication atmosphere where the editor and art director freely share ideas and perhaps even cross the lines of responsibility at times. Mark listens to any story ideas that I might have for Southern Breeze and I listen to him when he has an idea for an image to go along with something he has written. We also tell each other pretty candidly when we think something isn't going to work, and why. That way, both parties are invested in all aspects of the magazine, and both are driven to produce the best issue they can, time and time again. That is the only way to a successful magazine.”

However, an atmosphere where the editor and art director are constantly at odds will only result in a second-rate magazine and a very tense environment. “There is just no way a publication can succeed if the two ‘parents’ are constantly fighting,” Catherine says. “That will just produce a take-side atmosphere and pretty soon the whole office is in an us-versus-them uproar and nothing good will come from that.”

And the final word has to go to Catherine: “To the editor who may consider his or her art director a freak or diva: it takes one to know one. And I think Mark would agree!!”

Boy do I!

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Mark Newman

Editors vs. Art Directors

Mark Newman Design and Production - 02/27/2008-14:51 PM

I have been either lucky or blessed when it comes to art directors because none of mine have been what you would call a “diva.”

Freak, yes. Diva, no.

Let me first say that editors and their magazines would be nothing—nothing!—without their art directors. Every time my art director Catherine delivers me a new layout for Southern Breeze, it feels like unwrapping a gift on Christmas morning. And the same is true for my past art directors: Ellie, Tony, Jonathan, Myra, John, Bob, Carrie et al. All of them artistic geniuses, all of them lifesavers, and all of them know one truth to be self-evident: the editor is always right.

Some describe the editor-A.D. relationship like a partnership. I agree, but the editor is the SENIOR partner. Others describe it as a marriage. That, too, is accurate … and the art director is always the wife! (Yeah, I went there.)

If you didn’t know better you’d think that I had nothing but disdain for art directors. Nothing could be further from the truth. But the editor has final say. Period. The editor knows the audience or the industry the magazine caters to. And while the A.D. may want to create a counterbalanced, flowing, multi-spread amalgamation for the article on crescent wrenches, it just ain’t gonna work. Stephen Sondheim once wrote that “work we do for others; art we do for ourselves.” Make it pretty, art directors, but make it realistic.

Granted, there are difficult editors who might ask for 12 designs of the same sidebar or make a font cursive. Editors can be unreasonable, demanding, and it’s not unusual to find an editor who simply has terrible taste. One editor-type I know loved graphics on the covers of his b-to-b, but not good graphics. We’re talking flow charts! Yuk! And the poor art director had to comply even though he knew it looked lousy. (And it did; I saw it!)

But like any good relationship, the one editors have with art directors should make life easier, not a daily battle of wills. If your art director is causing your hair to fall out or keeping you up at night, you can easily remedy the situation by showing him the door. Nobody is that artistically gifted.

On the other hand, you show me an art director with too much power and I’ll show you a weak, ineffectual editor who has no business being at the top of the masthead. Powerful art directors are intrinsically responsible for redesign after elaborate redesign that typically signals the last throes of a magazine’s existence.

However, like any marriage, the art director/editor union needs constant work. I find that one of equal respect—of talent as well as boundaries—has worked best for me. But then again, never underestimate the power of busting chops.

Tony, the art director I’ve worked with the longest, would always consider my ideas on, say, cover line font colors to complement a cover image. But I would always defer to him when it came time to pick appropriate art, mapping out the magazine, and pretty much everything else. We also had a mutually antagonizing working relationship—while I insisted on imitating him with a Marlon Brando impression, he would find the most flowery verbiage in one of my pieces, print it out in 40-point type, and hang it up in the art department as if it were a warning for me to not get too carried away.

It was a nice serving of humble pie, which is something all editors need now and then.

My next post will feature feedback from some art director types. This oughta be interesting ...

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Mark Newman

What Type of Editor Are You?

Mark Newman Editorial - 02/06/2008-13:03 PM

You can divide any given population into two distinct groups: cat people or dog people; Republicans or Democrats; Neil Diamond fans or Neil Diamond haters.

For editors, it's no different—there are Writers Who Edit, and Editors Who Write.

Whichever one you are is irrelevant for the most part, except when it comes to dealing with writers. For fun, I sent out a mass email to colleagues past and present asking them which type of editor they prefer and why. They had some pretty interesting opinions … as writers often do.

Most writers want an editor who will improve—rather than overhaul—what they’ve submitted. Inversely, most editors want writers who are also mind readers. It ain’t gonna happen!

“I prefer an editor who just tightens up and polishes what I've given,” says June Dollar, who wrote a story for Southern Breeze about boiled peanuts, a Southern delicacy. “Don't take away from the flavor. The editor's job is not to rewrite the story the way he or she would have written it.”

According to Mississippi-based writer and author Marlo Kirkpatrick, if the writer has done a good job to begin with, suggestions should relate to how a good article could be improved—“adding a sidebar, getting an extra quotation from a source with a differing opinion, etc.”—rather than suggestions or rewrites needed to correct sloppy work.”

“A good editor knows how to present his ideas, not rewrite the piece or even present his/her solution,” wrote Deb Burst, an award-winning, Louisiana-based writer. “Plain and simple, an editor’s job is to edit--guide the writer to crank out the best possible copy in the writer's own voice.”

Deb also made an interesting parallel between writing and parenting that I thought was especially relevant. Like both parenting and editing, the challenge is knowing how much is enough. “Too much [parenting] and you have a child with no self-confidence or sense of accomplishment, constantly told that their work is never good enough. Too little parenting offers no real direction and a child that craves knowledge and guidelines.”

Kathie Farnell, a former lawyer who left those legal briefs behind to pursue freelance writing, says that vague instructions (“Add more flavor”) don’t do anyone any favors while yet another editor’s oddly specific instructions (“Take out that comma”) didn’t really provide much guidance.

As for me, I consider myself one of those “editors who writes.” I’ve worked with the other type of editor and—like my colleagues have alluded to above—the result was a good article that had my byline but I didn’t really recognize it upon publication. It’s not a good feeling; it’s like you’ve been scolded in print.

If the writer understands the assignment from get-go then there should be very little work on the editor’s part. I’ve queried writers about the usual things like “What does that mean?” or “Who said this?” or “needs a conclusion” or “take out that comma.” But in the end, while it is your publication, it IS the writer’s voice that should be heard. Otherwise, why would you hire them in the first place? Editing every story the way one person would write it will eventually result in a magazine more akin to a colorful textbook.

Deb concluded her e-mail with the following: “Editing, writing, and parenting is a lifetime of learning; we never really finish the gig, we just keep getting better. With a little luck we'll run into a handful of good editors/writers in this wordy kingdom and leave a legacy of brilliant copy.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself—and I only edited it for punctuation!

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Mark Newman

Blogging from Wal-Mart’s Magazine Rack

Mark Newman Audience Development - 01/21/2008-16:22 PM

After reading the news on Friday about Wal-Mart removing 1,000 magazine titles from its nationwide stable, I got to wondering. What can you buy at Wal-Mart? Since I was going to my hometown of Jackson, Alabama this past weekend, what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than perusing the magazine selection?

Some background: Jackson is a rural town of around 6,000 located in the piney woods of southwest Alabama. The nearest city, Mobile, is an hour away. With the local economy almost wholly independent on a paper mill, the town is one plant closing away from being a statistic. There are other mills and chemical plants in the area but the nearest one is a half hour away. Hunting and fishing are the most popular pastimes here.

In my youth, I remember spending time at the magazine rack at the Delchamp’s grocery store (now closed) reading MAD magazine while Mom shopped for the week’s groceries. I was also the first in line to buy one of the three issues of Fangoria that the convenience store/gas station in the middle of town would get. Like Delchamp’s, the Junior Food Store has also gone with the wind. Yes, Fangoria and MAD were my favorite magazines as a kid and I still seemed to have turned out okay, despite what my Dad would tell his friends.

The magazine stock at the Wal-Mart (or Wal-Mart’s, as some call it) consists of two racks, three shelves each, for a total of roughly six feet. At first glance there aren’t too many surprises: Shotgun News, Bassin’, Guns & Ammo, 14 different car magazines, and two four-wheeler magazines.

As far as women’s titles go, all of the usual suspects were there—Redbook, Glamour, InStyle, Oprah, Vogue, Allure et al. However, there were no men’s magazines other than the aforementioned with the exception of three bodybuilding books: Flex, Muscle & Fitness, and Muscular Development. Men’s Fitness and Men’s Health could not be found, but neither could GQ or Details, which is no surprise. Also, there were no newsweeklies: Time, Newsweek, or US News & World Report.

Other titles on the shelves included Tiger Beat, Southern Lady, Playstation, Small Room Decorating, Country Living, EGM (Electronic Game Monthly), three quilting magazines, a scrapbooking mag, a baseball card magazine, and three different guitar magazines. Much to my surprise, Jackson seems to have its fair share of weight lifters and guitar heroes. Who knew?

There were no surprises at the checkouts either: Soap Opera Digest (among other similar titles), Us, People, TV Guide, Readers Digest, National Enquirer, and plenty of digest-sized recipe books. These are, more or less, the same magazines that have been on checkout stands around the country as for years.

The biggest surprise to me—and the biggest amount of real estate on the newsstand—was taken over by puzzle books. Crosswords, Find-a-Word, Word Seek, Sudoku took up an entire shelf on one of the racks with 50 different titles alone! I was also surprised not to see any faith or religious-themed magazines, considering Jackson is the first notch of the Bible Belt. Another notable omission was the lack of Spanish language magazines such as Latina or People en Espanol. The Hispanic population has drastically increased in recent years and this is a population that is being totally ignored.

With the exception of TV Guide, not a single magazine that I subscribe to could be found at Wal-Mart. I remember looking for the new Entertainment Weekly on one trip home and was out of luck. (It would be easier to find a pork roll at a bar mitzvah than a Vanity Fair at an Alabama Wal-Mart!)

My own magazine, Southern Breeze, was nowhere to be found either. No matter, Jackson is out of our coverage area anyway! The ONLY regional on their shelves was Southern Living which, again, was no surprise at all. Unfortunately, for future magazine editors/teenage nerds like myself, MAD was MIA.

I’m not sure what this selection says about the population of my hometown but I do know what it says about Wal-Mart’s magazine mavens: they know their audiences pretty darn well!

NOTE: If anyone reading this column from other parts of the country would like to comment on what they find at their local Wal-Mart, please let me know in the comments section below!

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Mark Newman

You Will Be Fired

Mark Newman Editorial - 01/16/2008-15:16 PM

I admit that it’s a pretty bleak headline, but it’s the cold, hard truth. Quite the prophet of doom, aren’t I?

“You will be fired.”

That’s the first thing I said to a class of eager magazine writing students at the University of Alabama. I happened to be in Tuscaloosa recruiting a new associate editor for the magazine I was editor-in-chief of at the time, but I added the qualifier: “If you have a typical career in magazine publishing.”

Granted, I was speaking from my own experience (and I had only been fired once at that point) but everyone I’ve known in the industry has been fired, let go, laid off, phased out ... however you want to put it. It’s not pretty but it’s a reality. And trust me, it’s a hard scenario to prepare for, especially when it happens a week and a half before Christmas! Yes Virginia, there is a cold-hearted corporate entity.

The best defense is a good offense. This is where having a varied experience comes in handy, as mentioned in my previous post about the benefits of being a generalist. Also, it helps if your clip file is as varied as possible. This will not only come in handy for an interview within a specific niche market but it will showcase your ability to write and understand a plethora of topics. If the editor interviewing you is savvy, he understands that you can adapt to anything and that’s a good position to be in, but be prepared to prove yourself time and time again.

There is job security to be had in publishing for us editorial types. I found that association/non-profit was the most stable. More than likely, the association has been around for generations, so it’s not going anywhere. The least stable? Pretty much everything else, as the daily news blasts and headlines relentlessly inform us.

However, in my experience the b-to-b/trade realm was especially harsh. At one of the “big houses” I worked for, after seeing magazine after magazine sold off or closed altogether, my publication was folded and out we went. And winning a prestigious journalism award didn’t make a whit of difference either! Another case found me downsized out of a position with two monthly trade pubs where I was the managing editor when they became a single trade magazine. Although I queried as soon as the merger was announced as to whether I should update my resume, I was assured that there would still be plenty to do, what with a trade show and a larger online presence. Remember, the job I lost a week and a half before Christmas? Nice!

But in all that time I was only out of work for a total of two months since 2001, not a bad record if I do say so myself.

My best advice to any up-and-comers (and down-and-outers) is to “diversify your portfolio.” Garner clips on as many topics as you can. Also, it never hurts to network. Don’t be afraid to call on former colleagues. I’m proud to say I still have friends from everywhere I’ve ever worked in my career (except for the eight days I spent in academic book publishing! Sheesh, I would’ve rather temped than dealt with that drama!). I would feel comfortable calling on them or asking their advice if I ever needed to, and I have done so on more than one occasion. Being a member of professional associations, alumni associations, and other trade associations is a good idea too.

Also, don’t get too comfortable where you’re at right this minute as you read the words coming off of my fingers. You may have a great corner office with awesome views, but you better have a versatile and freshly updated awesome resume to match!

NOTE: If anybody else has some “fired” stories, please share in the comments section below!

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Mark Newman

A Case for the Generalist—Specifically

Mark Newman Association and Non-Profit - 01/08/2008-07:13 AM

When I was kicking around the Manhattan in the 1990s, I was stupefied by some of the attitudes of the folks doing the hiring. For example, let's say I had an interview with the trade magazine Recliner Retailer Monthly.* The editor-in-chief or whoever was interviewing me would be concerned that I didn't have enough "recliner editorial experience" but was impressed by my freelance articles for Armchair Enthusiast* and Couch Aficionado.* I would do my best at convincing the interviewer that as a generalist, I could easily adapt to whatever subject I was dealing with. However, the mechanics of the ins and outs of a magazine were the same.

This attitude was not as prevalent in the world of not-for-profit or association publishing. After a two-year stint with a medical association working on its monthly and quarterly medical journals, I was deemed A-okay to be the associate editor for another publication at a trade association. In this case, the executive director had the foresight to know that there weren't that many people in the market with association experience, despite the fact that my experience wasn't exactly the same, topic-wise. Yet he knew that I could adapt to the environment within a not-for-profit a bit easier than someone from a strictly trade or even consumer background. (P.S. I got the associate editor job and became the magazine's editor eight months later.)

This is all to say that the efforts of the generalist should be praised, not buried. The first article I ever published in my professional career—while still in college—was with Marching Bands & Corps.-how's that for a specialty publication? I wrote another article for them before the magazine went belly up, but those first pieces (along with articles in Delta SKY, Alabama Alumni magazine, and Convenience Store People) got me interviews when I landed in New York City in 1990. In fact, I had more interviews my first month in the Big Apple than I did my entire life up to that point.

When I was hiring recently at Southern Breeze, the candidate at the top of my list had similar experience with another regional publication. She interviewed well and did great on the editorial tests (see my previous post, "Hiring—and Feeding—Competent Editors"). Guess what? She quit after four days because it wasn't EXACTLY what she had in mind even though I vetted all the interviewees better than Congress does with a Supreme Court nominee. But it worked out for the better because she did not exactly function well under pressure, a must-have ability as we juggle 40+ annual publications here!

So for those of you paying attention, I did not take my own advice, but live and learn.

In 2001, I became the managing editor of a trade publication published by one of the big New York trade companies. The EIC was smart, sharp as a tack, funny, and knew her industry backwards and forwards. Almost her entire work experience, however, had been at this one trade publication—an internship in college, hired as editorial assistant upon graduation, then progressed to associate editor, managing editor, executive editor and, finally, editor-in-chief. This rise took place over 15+ years or so and there was no denying she was one of the experts in her field.

Then, guess what happened? Exactly: The company folded the magazine after almost 30 years in print. Three editors were out of work. (By the way, the company—which had openings throughout—made NO effort to place us at other magazines. Some gratitude considering we received a Jesse H. Neal Award for Outstanding Business Journalism the previous year. But I'm not bitter ... much.) I went on to work as managing editor with a website that is now a highly-revered monthly business magazine before moving back to the trade realm as the ME of two monthly design magazines. My former EIC is now a consultant, and from what I understand, doing pretty well.

The point is that since I had a varied and sundry background, I was never out of work in the magazine world. Others whose experience was concentrated in a single industry more or less left publishing completely. Is it survival of the fittest? Not necessarily. But it helps if you have clips/experience from as many different fields as possible. Plus, you get the chance to learn and prove yourself time and time again and believe me, that is a very good thing no matter how old you are!

* All magazine titles are made up. If they exist, I apologize ... and am very surprised.

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Mark Newman

Hiring—and Feeding—Competent Editors

Mark Newman Editorial - 12/21/2007-10:09 AM

Aside from Southern Breeze magazine, my company also publishes several travel guides loaded with beautiful color photography and editorial, not to mention a plethora of newspaper and magazine inserts (most with editorial). As you can imagine, there's always something for an editorial staff to do!

All these projects are tackled by me and my assistant editor and editorial assistant. In the past I often turned to my stable of gifted freelancers, but this year the majority of the writing has been done in-house. The difference? My staff.

Last year I only had one staffer whose experience included weekly newspapers and an internship at a mediocre local magazine. On paper, her experience was ideal. Reality was a different story. Rather than regale you with tales of her sour attitude, arrogance ("I didn't get a journalism degree for this!"), and ineptitude, I'll cut to the chase: she resigned a week before she was to be fired, thankfully.

When it came time to hire new employees, I found that I had an embarrassment of riches. From newspaper veterans in Louisiana to trade magazine editors in New Jersey to college seniors from all over the Southeast, my cup runneth over. This was a big change from the last time I hired which was in Manhattan in 1999 where one kid got a job for just showing up! This was at the height of the dot-com boom and we all know how that worked out!

I was determined to hire people who had a desire to prove themselves without the know-it-all attitude that comes after working a mere two years in the real world (I was there too, so I know of what I speak).

The first step, of course, was the interview while the second, more arduous step was an editing test. It took the applicants over two hours to complete and Catherine, my art director, called me a sadist after she saw it. I admit that I'm glad I never had to take this test but I was determined to get the right people for the job.

My new and improved staff now consists of an editorial assistant who began six months ago as an intern and an assistant editor with a spanking new M.A. in English. They both aced the editing test while, surprisingly, the candidates who did the worst were those who had been working in newspapers for a number of years, which proves experience isn't everything.

Since my new staffers have made my life easier, I am doing my best to reciprocate. Although I cannot fully control their salaries, I can control their work environment, especially since we all share the same office. It's not as cramped as you may think. Luckily my years as managing editor with a commercial buildings magazine came in handy and I repurposed the office myself, creating three separate work areas that allow for easy communication, but also for a modicum of privacy.

Aside from the physical work environment, I have established a trusting boss/employee dialogue in order to help them learn things about the magazine world; I share knowledge not just about the best way to conduct an interview or proper style, but also on the intricacies of the work world that the rest of us have become so accustomed to: office politics, etiquette, career growth, etc. I am trying to be the type of boss I would like to have; it's a variation on the "golden rule" we were all taught as kids: do unto others... Let's face it, all too often the mantra in the office is more akin to "kill or be killed" and not just in those Devil Wears Prada extremes.

Don't get me wrong: it's not all Valentines. When I close our office door, they know they're in for a "good talking to." So far, those incidents have been rare (I can only think of one off the top of my head), but they know I am serious and that if said mistakes are made again, there will be consequences. This also helps me communicate exactly what I expect from them and how seriously I take our mission.

Also, once a month we all go out to an "editorial meeting" which is simply a lunch at a local restaurant where they are free to discuss anything at all with me without any fear of reprisals. The lunch comes out of my own pocket but it is an investment I am more than willing to make. When the right staff comes along, you need to do all you can to keep them happy. Sometimes it's money, sometimes it's just being able to talk to them and treat them fairly. And honestly sometimes it's just a round of margaritas at El Toro!

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Mark Newman

How Regionals Differ From City Magazines

Mark Newman City and Regionals - 11/20/2007-14:54 PM


As editor-in-chief of a regional magazine-Southern Breeze-I get a lot of other regionals across my desk that I never knew existed. And while all magazines everywhere-with the exception of InStyle and most of the other ladies books-are fighting for ad dollars, our challenge seems wholly unique, even in the regional realm.

Southern Breeze delivers "the good life on the Gulf Coast" so we cover the tropical South along the Gulf of Mexico from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Apalachicola, Florida. Editorially, this is great because we have a large swath of the Southeast to feature in every issue. From an advertising standpoint there are significant challenges. What is a benefit for the writers-an entire region to cover-is a detriment for the ad salespeople. Why would a restaurant in Baton Rouge buy a full page ad when the magazine only covers a portion of its audience?

We also can't do a lot of the types of stories that city magazines do each year like the "Top 10 Doctors," "Top 10 Lawyers" et al because we're not exclusive to any one city. What is a boon to most city magazines would be ill-advised for us. Add to this conundrum the fact that we compete with other city publications and you'll find the print advertising dollar stretched very thin. There are only a few regional mags that have pulled this off successfully that I can think of, most notably Southern Living (duh), Midwest Living and Sunset.

As spectacular as these magazines are, none of them had their entire coverage area gutted by a spate of what we down here call "tropical occurrences." Hurricanes Katrina, Ivan and Rita gave us all a bit of a beating physically, financially, and emotionally. Sure our advertising dollars dwindled during that time, but we bounced back pretty quickly. We're not just the little regional magazine that could, we're the little regional magazine that does: ad dollars, competition, and Mother Nature notwithstanding.

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