Thursday, October 02, 2014

Magazine Academy Awards shortlist

The waiting is over – the Magazine Academy Awards shortlist has been announced.

The competition for magazine journalism students on accredited courses was picked up by Yvonne Ilsley of Sheffield University, Cathy Darby of UcLan and myself after the PTC was forced to pull out because their sponsors withdrew.

The first round of judging is over and the results can be seen here:

Naturally I am very glad to see a good showing by students from Cardiff but one of the most pleasing aspects is the way that other accredited colleges and universities joined in.

Now we just have to wait until October 24, when the final results will be announced – an no-one, least of all we three organisershave the faintest clue as to who the winners will be!

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

How to write great magazine profiles

I have just come across this interview with David Remnick of the New Yorker and I wanted to share it.

If you're a teacher it's full of insights for your students.

If you're a journalist/writer it's full of insights for you.

Hope you like it as much as I did.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Teaching students how to launch a magazine

I am looking forward to reading How To Launch A Magazine In This Digital Age, the new book by Mary Hogarth and John Jenkins, and while waiting for it to arrive I have been thinking about how I teach our postgrad students about launches.

At the moment I follow the tried and tested ideas laid out by John Wharton in his 1992 classic Managing Magazine Publishing. With a bit of tinkering to accommodate websites and digital media, and extra input garnered from industry figures like Mel Nichols and Nicholas Brett, the principles laid out there still make perfect sense.

Even Future's approach to developing Mollie Makes – which essentially boils down to "follow the social interactions" – can be accommodated into Wharton's plan; it's basically just another kind of reader research, albeit far more of a two-way and managed conversation than more traditional forms.

But the thinking behind the Wharton-style launch plan is highly commercialised – it works to the PTC/PPA agenda that accredited courses must be aware of. Yes, everything can be applied to smaller, independent titles and, if they are to succeed, their publishers must have answers to all the traditional questions. Passion for a subject can take you so far but to be able to continue publishing about that subject, and not to lose the shirt off your back, some of the assumptions and some of the details need a different emphasis.

For example, I have read a couple of things by small publishers, almost micro-publishers, that lay the stress not on making a profit but on breaking even – in essence, making enough so they can re-use the money to make another issue or a completely different magazine.

In this context teaching students about distribution takes on a completely new aspect. Trying to get 6,000 copies of a title in front of committed enthusiasts is a different job to contracting Frontline to get 60,000 into W H Smith and the supermarkets.

We do add this into supervision of MA students who undertake an Enterprise project but given the increasing emphasis on entrepreneurialism and small start-ups I really need to rebuild a couple of lectures.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Should magazine publishers follow the record companies?

Anyone old enough to have been buying music in the 1980s will remember that, almost overnight, vinyl LPs and singles disappeared from record shops, to be replaced by jewel-boxed CDs.

This did not just happen. It was, I seem to remember having read somewhere, a concerted and collaborative effort by the industry to rid the world of old-fashioned, expensive, delicate and somewhat craft-based records in favour of digital, cheaper, robust and industrially more efficient Compact Discs.

An article on the uptake of tablet magazines posted by Bo Sacks in his daily newsletter has made me wonder whether the magazine industry should follow suit.

Here's the paragraph that caught my attention:

Three years after Apple unveiled the iPad and revolutionized the way consumers interact with content, tablets still account for a tiny share of magazine readership-just 3.3 percent of total circulation. Not taking into account the top-selling digital title, Game Informer, which boasts nearly 3 million digital copies, the number slips to 2.3 percent.
Perhaps magazine publishers should follow the example of the record industry all those years ago. If there are no print magazines (vinyl LPs) to buy, people will be forced to buy tablet subscriptions (CDs) instead.

Of course, there would probably be a lot of unhappy newsagents and supermarkets, not to mention distributors, printers and paper companies, but it solves the problem at a stroke, does it not?

And it would allow us to really test all those ideas about how much people love their magazines and form social bonds with them, wouldn't it?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Rolling Stone and the alleged bomber

Rolling Stone has been making a lot of waves in the past couple of days – or at least its cover has. In case you are not aware, the venerable magazine used a (self-)portrait of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its August issue.

Criticism has come from many quarters, most of it seeming to claim that using this image, in this way, on this magazine infuses the image of an alleged bomber (a qualification the main coverline overlooks) with too much glamour. Some newsagents and chains have refused to sell this issue.

Rolling Stone has used many contentious, and possibly glamourising, cover images in the past, perhaps most memorably Charles Manson:

For what it is worth, I think Rolling Stone was as right to use the Tsarnaev image in this way as it was to run the story about General Stanley McChrystal:

There is an easy response to those who think the image glamourises Tsarnaev – what are potential terrorists supposed to look like? Not all of them are wild-eyed, or balding, or scarred; some are just like you and me. They could be the kids in your class, teacher.

There may, however, be an argument about how the cover was art directed, and former RS art director Andy Cowles has considered that on his Coverthink blog.

Magazine heavyweight David Hepworth has also contributed to the debate (cunningly citing one of his own apothegms as "magazine lore") for the Independent.

There are a couple of really interesting magazine-cultural points in Hepworth's piece:

1) 'people have come to regard an appearance on a magazine cover as an automatic endorsement.'2) 'heroism is something the magazine format itself lends to any subject it places in its frame, which is why musicians, actors, sports stars and even politicians hire PRs to “get them the cover” (and nothing less), and at the same time to exert as much control over the tone of the picture as they can.'

In the end, however, Rolling Stone's apologia seems entirely convincing:

The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens. 
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Saturday, October 06, 2012

Cardiff MBA in Media Management takes off

The first intake of students to Cardiff University's pioneering MBA in Media Management, a collaboration between the Business and Journalism schools, has arrived – from Pakistan, USA, India and China.

Here they are, waiting eagerly for the first session of the Managing Creative Digital & Social Media module.

Clearly the module will be about more than just magazines, but the new world of multimedia, multimodal magazines provides a really useful grounding – and some real-life problems that a big UK publisher has asked us to help solve will provide excellent project topics.

Cardiff MagLab comes back to life

After a summer of looking like this

The Cardiff MagLab has now been populated by a new intake of keen young people who will be part the future of the magazine industry and it looks like this

Let the good times roll!

Saturday, July 14, 2012