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New approach to student magazine

February 6, 2009

This week Cerritos Journalism launched a new version of its Wings magazine. I’m really excited about the new concept.

The new magazine, which will be published in six installments over the course of the semester, has just one story/topic per installment. It is essentially a four-page tabloid newspaper, but it folds down to a 5.5-inch by 6-inch size for the cover. When you pick it up it looks like a story brochure on newsprint, but as you turn pages you start unfolding until the center spread opens up to a double-truck tabloid layout.

”WingsIn years past we’ve tried to publish an annual journalistic magazine along with the Talon Marks newspaper and its online cousin talonmarks.com.

But there have been problems:

  • We often do not really have enough students enrolled to comprise a full class and attempts we’ve made to spread the net have not always resulted in cohesive teams. I tried to widen the base to involve other campus groups, but the journalism students pretty much revolted and ignored the outsiders.
  • The cost rarely is justified with the distribution we get. We publish it at the end of the school year and it often comes out during finals week, so most students never see it. The cost per copy is expensive, especially when compared, say, to the student newspaper.
  • Students usually seem more interested in design than writing; too many designers and not enough writers or photographers.
  • When they DO think about writing, they talk and plan for weeks, but end up throwing something together at the last minute.
  • And I feel that anything we do these days MUST have an online component. Students keep promising, but because they work so hard just to get the print publication done by the end of the semester, they never follow through with the online.

When students came to me this time and asked if they could do a magazine next semester, I was looking for a kind way to say “no.” But then I walked into Starbucks and walked out with the perfect solution. Mind you, I’m not a Starbucks regular. I just HAPPENED to stop in that day. On the counter I saw a copy of Good magazine, which is really just a weekly ‘zine that covers just one article/topic at a time.

I immediately saw potential:

  • We could do it with fewer students; perhaps giving individuals responsibility for putting together one package every few weeks and staggering issues. While I would encourage a team component, personality problems could be handled easier because individuals would be working on their own projects. I could run the class as a directed studies class, where I can get by with just two or three students. If it become successful, we could start producing more often and perhaps draw enough students someday to support a regular class.
  • I did the math and if we could sell the right amount of advertising the project could actually pay for itself (sans salaries, of course, but at our level we don’t pay salaries anyway, we give class credit). If we can sell two color ads it’ll pay for full color on all pages.
  • No more “working all semester” for one product that might get out before the semester. With one-topic ‘zines we could set up a weekly schedule if we wanted. (We’re starting with a two-week cycle in the middle of the semester, or six for this semester. If we continue in the fall we’ll try for eight.)
  • The inside of the ‘zine would be devoted to the story and students could experiment with different double-spread designs. And they would not be so overwhelmed with the struggle of wanting different designs but needing to work with a cohesive overall look. The cover and some standard elements would be the same, but each student could experiment with major components. The student in charge would be responsible for the package, but could rely on the help of others to help produce the content; he/she is mostly an editor/producer for the issue.
  • With a multi-issue-per-semester cycle the deadline problem is reduced, though with the first issue the editor put off writing until the end …. again. Still, it was not a whole semester of thinking before doing.
  • And we set a rule that we would not send the print edition to the printer until the multimedia component was done. Well, we weakened on that a bit with the first issue, especially since the printer cannot handle the last fold that we need by machine; we have to fold it by hand. While the student completes the online component we are folding; we won’t distribute until the multimedia component is completed and launched.

There are still issues to work out and well have to wait and see whether the format is popular with readers –we suspect that it will be—but we’re excited. Print is not dead, but it needs to change. And after all the push we’ve been making with multimedia, it is exciting to try something new with print.

Inside view of Wings

Inside layout of Wings ‘zine is essentially a double truck tabloid layout.

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2 comments

  1. It’s a wonderful set up and I’m sure it’ll work well. When I was in high school ages ago, we had a theme section, it was always our center spread. The feedback was always great and the students seemed to enjoy it a lot more because it gave great depth and contrasting perspectives on important issues.


  2. I like what you did with the magazine design. It’s an amazing commentary on how money needs to be tightened.

    The topic is also pretty important.

    Thanks for the great Editor’s Day.

    http://gilriego.wordpress.com/

    I wrote a blog about it too 😀



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