Thursday, June 22, 2017

A classic of magazine craft on screen

Paper magazine's collaboration with Posture is a classic of magazine craft. It comes in digital form but draws on very traditional tropes and techniques

1) It combines great photography with pithy copy in the form of first person interviews;

2) The interviews are short but revealing and thought provoking (and either the interviewees are very articulate or there has been some first class subbing);

3) The topic is niche, in the sense that it concerns a subculture (or set of subcultures), but socially important. That importance is likely to increase, not least at the influential margins of politics: as the New Yorker's serio-comic explanation of the recent UK general election result (written in the ever-popular quasi-biblical style) noted

And the young people said, Jeremy shall bring peace unto all nations, for he hateth the engines of war that take wing across the heavens. And he showeth respect for all peoples, even unto the transgender community.
And the elders said, The what?

4) The reader comes away having learned something and with plenty of material for contemplation and self-reflection;

5) It makes a whole series of serious points without preaching.

This is the feature (23 photographs):

This is Paper's introduction:

Friday, December 30, 2016

Magazines, solitude and the appreciation of craft

If you have a few minutes to spare – well, plenty of minutes actually – this piece by Andrew Sullivan is an excellent read.

His theme is how smartphones rob us of the space to appreciate silence and practise contemplation but along the way he also observes:
The writer Matthew Crawford has examined how automation and online living have sharply eroded the number of people physically making things, using their own hands and eyes and bodies to craft, say, a wooden chair or a piece of clothing or, in one of Crawford’s more engrossing case studies, a pipe organ. We became who we are as a species by mastering tools, making them a living, evolving extension of our whole bodies and minds. What first seems tedious and repetitive develops into a skill — and a skill is what gives us humans self-esteem and mutual respect.

This made me think of why magazines like Ernest Journal 

achieve the appreciation and success they do. Their raison d'ĂȘtre is to celebrate the craft of making a chair or a piece of clothing or a pipe organ, or to show us places we can go where mobile signals do not reach.

Sullivan's piece itself is published in a magazine – New York – and it is not pushing things too far to say that the craft involved in creating and publishing a magazine can itself provide the space for silent contemplation, as well as the haptic pleasure of holding and feeling the printed artefact.

When you have the minutes – and they will repay you – here is the link:

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Magazines and media history

Marcus Morris founded The Eagle comic, still remembered for Dan Dare and cutaway illustrations of exciting mechanical artefacts like racing cars and jet aircraft. He followed this with Girl, Robin and Swift; he became the managing director of the National Magazine company, introducing Cosmopolitan to the UK; the British magazine industry's most prestigious annual award is named in his honour – and Cardiff University has his personal archive!

I have worked at the university for 20-odd years and I had no idea this material was in our collections until last night, at the launch of the Tom Hopkinson Centre for Media History when head of the Special Collections & Archive section Alan Vaughan-Hughes revealed the riches available to researchers in the field of popular journalism.

Apart from Morris – a treasure trove for researchers and scholars in the field of Magazine Studies – Cardiff holds the archives of:

• Hugh Cudlipp – editor of the Mirror, chairman of IPC (one of the most significant magazine publishing houses in the UK)
• Joan Reeder – the first full time royal correspondent for a national newspaper
• Trevor Philpott – the Picture Post journalist-turned-broadcaster and onlie begetter of The Philpott File
• Keith Waterhouse – journalist, author, playwright, champagne drinker; this material is already being researched by Cardiff Magazine MA graduate and freelance journalist Will Ham Bevan for his PhD
• Richard Stott – editor of the Daily Mirror who stood up to Robert Maxwell

The Tom Hopkinson Centre for Media History aims to bring together "scholars, research students, journalists, photojournalists, documentary-makers, archivists, media activists and practitioners into an international, interdisciplinary network focusing on the evolution of media forms, practices, institutions and audiences within broader processes of societal change." (Source)

It is also a great opportunity to push Magazine Studies further onto the research and scholarship radar, as launch guest and distinguished visiting fellow Professor John Hartley noted. Citing his own connection with the Welsh radical magazine Rebecca

In the 1970s and early 1980s Rebecca took the form of “a radical magazine for Wales” and gained a reputation as an investigative, campaigning title.
The magazine — and its uncompromising Corruption Supplement — documented the decay of Labour politics in south Wales and helped to bring about a long series of corruption trials which resulted in many politicians and businessmen going to prison.
Rebecca was also in the forefront of UK investigations into the relationship between the Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan and the Welsh multi-millionaire banker, Sir Julian Hodge.
Many Rebecca articles were reflected in coverage in newspapers like the Sunday Times and in television programmes including Man Alive, This Week and Nationwide. (Source)

and the historic example of The Clarion,

This cover illustration was drawn by Walter Crane, an associate of William Morris

Professor Hartley noted that social movements often brought with them their own kinds of journalism and studying the archive reveals many different types of journalism and different ways of producing and supporting journalism. The Clarion certainly had a widespread influence on many areas of social life – the National Clarion Cycling Club (motto: Fellowship through cycling) is still very active, as is the People's Theatre in Newcastle. In an age when live events and brand extensions are becoming increasingly important sources of revenue, looking back to a time when they had a social and political purpose gives us a fresh perspective.

Other guests at the launch were Amanda Hopkinson, Sir Tom's daughter and a distinguished scholar in her own right, and Magnum photographer David Hurn.

Dr Glenn Jordan, director of the Butetown History & Arts Centre, was in the audience for the launch. Glenn's book Down The Bay

re-used Bert Hardy's photographs from Picture Post in a new context. I used it as the basis of a feature exercise for students on the PgDip (now MA) in Magazine Journalism for many years – it was a great way of introducing very nice middle class students to the past and present of a genuinely multicultural working class area of Cardiff and a lesson in how to use photographs creatively but for a purpose.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Reasons why everything has gone horribly wrong except for those who think it has gone beautifully right

There are so many competing ideas about what is happening in the political sphere and how the media are, or aren't, dealing with it that it's all too easy to become confused.

Here, for your convenience, is a selection of 14 themes. The examples have not been picked on any rational basis and I do not claim they are the only or best of their type. Nor is this list comprehensive – it's just a starting point. They all refer to the American election but can be taken to represent Brexit too.

Which of these ideas matter? Which will endure? What can we do about any of them?

1) Framing

2) Emotion

3) Journalists didn't listen

4) Social media is a bubble/echo chamber

5) No-one listens ...

6) It was rural vs urban

7) It was a search for respect

8) It was about class

9) It was Fake News ...

10) ... or myths

10) It was the FBI

11) It was neoliberalism

12) It was the Russians

13) It was the pollsters (... or the shy voters)

14) It's all OUR fault

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Newspaper people *still* don't get magazines

In Roy Greenslade's piece about the closure of 24, the "national newspaper for the north", after just five weeks, one of the reasons for failure he suggests is "although more professional in its appearance than The New Day and with more up-to-date news, it still looked more like a magazine than a newspaper." He then remarks on the continuing success of The New European, a print publication launched to capture the interest of the 48% of the UK population who wanted to remain in the EU.

This is yet another example of how newspaper people *still* don't get what is different about magazines. Neither 24 nor The New Day were like magazines – they were the opposite of magazines. Just because a newspaper journalist thinks they "look" like magazines and the fact they were full of gossamer-thin stories about nothing in particular does not make them remotely like magazines.

Magazines are aimed at a very specific readership, which is why The New European is much more magazine-like. It shares this essential characteristic with successful magazines like The Economist (which calls itself a newspaper) and Weapons of Reason.

Magazines are about something, and whether that something is "A project to understand the interconnected challenges shaping our world" (Weapons of Reason) or real life stories and competitions (Take A Break), they have to offer value to a specific audience.

Print newspapers launched on a hunch, aimed at no-one in particular and about nothing in particular are guaranteed to fail.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Targeting magazine content via social media

It is a given of magazine publishing that content must be aimed at a specific readership. This enduring truth has resulted in a healthy spread of titles that cater for everyone from aspiring bass guitar players to the chief financial officers of global corporations. Everyone subscribes to this fundamental principle, including me.

But what if, in an age of multiple platforms and fragmented social media, it's not true any more?

I spent an interesting afternoon listening to students on the MA International Journalism at Cardiff University presenting their ideas for new, pure-digital, magazine concepts. One called Planet Reboot was so full of energy and ideas that it leapt out of the screen – a bit messy, slightly hard work to navigate but fizzing with life and interest and contrasting story formats. I loved the concept but my conventional magazine self found fault with the targeting – looking at the website, it was not clear whose interest this electric, ecletic content was intended to capture.

But the students responded with an interesting point – the targeting would be done on social media. They would use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social media platforms to attract very specific demographic/psychographic groups to very specific stories.

Then one of my colleagues made another interesting point – the website at the heart of this concept would act as a content hub, a digital container that could hold an infinite amount of material related to Planet Reboot's mission to alert people to climate change and other environmental challenges.

We have known for the last 20-odd years that in cyberspace there is no limit on pagination but wearing the blinkers of specific targeting has limited the way magazines explore the possibilities that digital publishing offers.

The ideas in Planet Reboot apply to literally everyone on earth but a conventional magazine interpretation of it would limit both content and reach by aiming for a segment of "everyone". Weapons Of Reason, for example, is a lovely example of using the magazine form to analyse and discuss environmental issues but each iteration covers a specific problem and the project as a whole is aimed at a particular kind of reader (print oriented, solvent enough to pay £6 per issue, appreciative of the production values ...) – deliberately limited in order to increase the chances of success.

But by incorporating a core multiple-social-media (1) strategy into a digital magazine concept it becomes possible to outsource the targeting – it does not have to be built in to the central hub. The targeting can be exogamous rather than endogamous.

Of course the magazine still has to be about a particular thing – it's not a universal encyclopedia – but it can be about many different aspects of that thing and can encompass many different approaches for different audiences. If those who are brought to the content hub go on to explore it, great, if they find more content that appeals to them or which they can share with another, different, audience (perhaps their children or their parents) even better – but if they don't, their attention can be caught again through the agency of strategic layered social media targeting.

This concept might also appeal to adherents of COPE (Create Once Publish Everywhere) and could have the potential to attract a wider range of advertisers – the loss of specificity might be a drawback but there would be more types of consumer to target and a lot of social media activity to draw on.

1: The concept of polymedia outlined by Madianou and Miller is useful here.

Friday, November 13, 2015

What does it mean to be a magazine on the web?

Disclosure: much of what follows is drawn from Kati Krause's presentation at Modern Magazine 2015. Justification: what Kati said resonated with lines of thought I have had over the past couple of years – you can probably find relevant posts in the archives of this blog.

Kati framed her talk with two questions:

What does it mean to be a magazine on the web?
What can digital media learn from magazines?

The questions are separate but closely connected as the answers feed into one another. To be a "digital magazine" at this point in history means being: 

• mobile
• multiplatform
• unbundled

The first two points were amplified in another presentation at #ModMag15, when Scott Dadich and Billy Sorrentino (respectively Editor in Chief and Creative Director of Wired [US]) explained that the redesigned website was given a mobile-first priority and that writers/designers had to develop multiplatform skills whatever their background.

The third element is the most interesting in terms of magazine publishing philosophy – it's yet another manifestation of the "if you love something let it go" mantra. Kati's point was that apps or services that unbundle content from their original sources and re-bundle them in a proprietorial or quasi-proprietorial wrapper are an increasingly important way of finding that content – or having it delivered to you. 

Furthermore, some of them can make that material better suited for reading online. Examples include Flipboard, which pushes "magazines" of curated material to subscribers, and Pocket, which "finds" articles for its subscribers to read immediately or squirrel away for later. I would add Medium to that list – it's not performing exactly the same aggregating/curatorial role as Flipboard or Pocket but given its open nature, it is doing exactly what a magazine does: collecting a variety of interesting content into a branded wrapper. If you are subscribed to that wrapper you can specify your particular interests and filter what you see and what is pushed out to you. Or you can jump into the deeps and explore whatever you like.

Kati Krause identified the four most important elements for magazines on the web to focus on:

On a mobile screen this is probably going to be quite limited – designs start to look offputtingly busy very quickly. However, this is where Kati sees a service like Pocket offering an alternative, or even an extra; her contention is that Pocket improves the reading experience by re-rendering the content within its own wrapper. The result is a cleaner look and a calmer experience that encourages more considered reading.

Can also be considered as the magazine's brand – the essential qualities associated with a magazine that allow an immediately recognisable identity. Vice is an example that comes readily to mind but Kati also cited New York, Slate and WiredHaving a strong and distinctive voice allows a magazine to broaden its product range and business model. 

A nice example of this that keeps cropping up when I listen to TalkSport is the Wired [UK] Out Of Office series of advertisements for Jaguar's new XF model. The radio ad presents the content of the web posting like a mini-feature, with a voiceover explaining what deputy editor Greg Williams has been up to.

In digital media "community" is often restricted to the comments section – but a growing number of media brands are ditching comments because of the negative associations, trolling, etc. But Kati cited Rookie magazine as a publication that regularly calls on its readers for contributions – such as this call for submissions

See also Everything Changes (part of The Awl) - editor invites responses from readers.

There is also a growing interest in the idea of co-creation, whereby the community of readers and the editorial staff become jointly responsible for making the magazine. There have been interesting scholarly articles on this by, amongst others, Aitamurto and Viliakainen & Toivonen

Digital media is immediate, instant, in your face. Kati believes magazines that find a way to slow down the reading experience and create thing that readers will want to keep will thrive. That "way" can take many forms, for example:

The Atavist – a magazine-like platform known for the very longform, multimedia stories it publishes. The very length ensures measured consumption of the content and the native multimedia allows pauses for different forms of consumption. In addition, material is available as free podcasts on iTunes or Soundcloud, which gives yet another leisurely mode of consumption. The underlying platform is also available for anyone to use to publish their own story – free for individuals or in tiered levels of subscription for commercial operations.

This American Life, which Kati characterises as being like an audio magazine. TAL's spinoff Serial has become legendarily successful, cited as the epitome of podcast revivalism – and with millions of people having downloaded each 50-odd minute episode it's certainly an example of how popular slow consumption can be.

correct! – a community- and crowd-funded investigative journalism platform. The organisations investigations, which often originate in the forensic interrogation of big data sets, have been published in many different forms, including ebooks, bookzines, Atavist-like longform multimedia and a graphic novel. ran an interview with founder David Schraven in September 2015; BBCnewslabs added their tuppence-worth in October 2015.

Lots of interesting ideas and development but in the end, as Kati concluded, the magazine on the web is still a fluid and chimerical concept.