Professional Development Tour
of Chicago Magazines 2008
Association for Educators
in Journalism and
Mass Communication --
Magazine Division

In This Report

The report below comes from participants in this year's faculty tour:

  • Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin, Columbia College, Chicago
  • Ed Carter, Brigham Young University
  • Betsy Edgerton, Columbia College Chicago
  • Cary Frith, Ohio University
  • Ellen Gerl, Ohio University
  • Rachel Mersey, Northwestern University
  • Barbara Reed (program coordinator), Rutgers University
  • Ann Schierhorn, Kent State University
  • Charles Whitaker, Northwestern University
Chicago Waterfront  Gerald Grow 2008

The 2008 Professional Development Tour took a detour from the customary rounds of New York-based magazines to focus on Chicago-based publications. Over the course of two long days, an intrepid group of nine journalism professors visited the editorial offices of eight publications. 

The tour, organized by Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin (Columbia College Chicago) and Charles Whitaker (Northwestern University) with the assistance of Betsy Edgerton (Columbia College Chicago), included publishing companies old (Johnson Publishing Company, Crain Communications) and new (Time Out Chicago); classic (Chicago Tribune Magazine, Chicago magazine), contemporary (Stop Smiling, VenusZine) and activist (In These Times). 

It was clear from this year’s tour that magazines are no longer conceiving of themselves as strictly print publications. The opportunities and threats presented by the Web are forcing publications to extend their brands online and grapple with how to attract readers and advertisers there. Below are summaries of our findings. 

--Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin

Crain Communications

Ad Age






  • David Klein, vice president/ publishing and editorial director, the Ad Age Group
  • Ellis Booker, editor, BtoB
  • Donna Ricketts, regional human resources manager

Crain Communications, is a leading business media company. Klein is responsible for print, Internet and database publishing operations for the marketing and media publications Advertising Age, TelevsionWeek, BtoB and Creativity. (Advertising Age reports an ABC-audited print and online audience of almost 700,000 advertising, marketing and media professionals.) Booker is editor of BtoB, a monthly magazine for marketing strategists with a circulation of 45,000. He also edits BtoB Media Business, a monthly magazine circulated to 5,000 business publishing executives that has a weekly e-mail newsletter and the annual Top Innovators in Business Publishing Awards.

Crain Communications has responded to changing technology with expanding the ways it reaches readers and viewers. Besides publications, web sites and events, it produces e-mail newsletters, mobile editions, white papers, video for the web, podcasts and webinars.

Still, its purpose remains the same. “At the end of the day, we connect advertisers with an audience,” Klein says. And in business media, that’s a highly desired audience. At Advertising Age, he says, “We don’t sell eyeballs. We sell eyeballs with advertising budgets.”

Crain Magazines

Crain gets 70 percent of its revenue from advertising in its print publications, Klein says. The two publications Booker edits derive 50 percent of their revenue from print and 50 percent from online sources, including webinars, e-mail newsletters and events. BtoB magazine has produced about 45 webinars, which sponsors support in exchange for the names and e-mail addresses of those who enroll. But, Klein notes, “An entire webinar will not give the yield of one ad page.”
Students who would like to work at Crain Commnications need to have reporting, interpersonal and multimedia skills, and have an interest in business writing. They should be assertive about pitching stories, able to ask probing questions without alienating sources, able to work in teams, and entrepreneurial (able to find a niche that’s not covered). New hires should comfortable with public speaking, dress professionally, be Web savvy (able to post stories to a content management system), and be conversant with the tools of the younger generation, such as social media outlets.

Crain recently hired a few staffers for their video editing, compression and coding skills. A future position will be open in viral marketing of Ad Age news stories. Although most jobs don’t require specific multimedia skills, Klein says it would be helpful if a reporter could shoot a video, edit it in iMovie and e-mail it as a QuickTime video within 24 hours.

 “Take a realistic look at the market,” Klein says. “The more skills you have the better.”

--Ann Schierhorn, Kent State University

In These Times

Time Out Chicago editor

In These Times Managing Editor Sanhita SinhaRoy and Editor Joel Bleifuss

In These Times waiting room

The waiting room at In These Times, complete with bicycle.




  • Joel Bleifuss, editor
  • Brian Cook, associate editor
  • Jarrett Dapier, assistant publisher
  • Sanhita SinhaRoy, managing editor
  • Jacob Wheeler, assistant editor
  • Brian Anderson, Justine Hunter and Matt Schwartzman-Stubbs, interns

In These Times is a nonprofit publication, so although talk of mission infused the conversation, so did issues of funding. In These Times relies on subscriptions and philanthropy, and is affected  by bookstore consolidation diminishing newsstand opportunities, an editorial bent that in part focuses on investigating corporate malfeasances and thereby inhibits some financial support, the inability to currently monetize the Web, and an aging readership.

In These Times’ print circulation is 20,000. The website attracts about 250,000 readers per month. Stories also are picked up by other Web-based content providers. Some are “good actors,” according to Dapier, who ask permission to reprint and drive traffic back to In These Times. Others aren’t.

In These Times strives to nurture young writers, including students, and hires three or four interns three times a year. Wheeler looks for interns who understand the journalistic mission of In These Times. “It’s great to have clips,” he says, but he also wants potential interns to “bring something to the table.” They are asked to pitch a few stories during the interview process and to discuss what they liked and disliked in the past three issues of the magazine.

SinhaRoy thinks journalism schools should pay more attention to the business side of media. “It’s good to know how to read a [financial] budget,” she says, “and things like what’s a good success rate for direct mail.” She also encourages students to do more media evaluation. “Compare mainstream to independent, left to right,” she says. Wheelers suggests students examine mainstream news sources and ask: (1) What’s not here? (2) What’s the slant of what is here? (3) Who did they not talk to?

--Rachel Mersey, Northwestern University

Time Out Chicago

Time Out Chicago editor

Time Out Chicago managing editor Amy Carr



  • David Garland, publisher
  • Frank Sennett, editor-in-chief
  • Amy Carr, managing editor
  • Scott Smith, web editor

Time Out Chicago has discovered that its website ( offers opportunities to break stories that can appear with greater depth in the print edition, as well as to get reluctant sources to speak. For example, Time Out Chicago posted online a story about a local theater company’s decision to clothe actors during what was written as a nude scene. The theater company initially declined to comment, but once the story was posted online, the company responded and the additional information was included in both the online and print editions. When Time Out Chicago discovered that bands playing Lollapalooza 2008, a major music festival in Chicago’s Grant Park, were prohibited by contract from booking gigs within a 250-mile radius of Chicago during a 90-day window surrounding Lollapalooza, Time Out Chicago posted the gist of the story online to beat competitors. The weekly magazine expanded the story in its print edition.

Garland describes these as examples of ways the website and the print edition “work in tandem.” The website brings a younger audience and serves as a tool for advertising sales, too, he says. Online ad sales are growing, although the dollar figures are not large yet, Garland says.

Time Out Chicago produces an annual student guide distributed free on 100 midwestern college campuses, and offers a college ambassador program in which student representatives serve as liaisons and conduits of information from and to college campuses. A Time Out Chicago Kids publication similar to the New York version may be in the works.

Time Out Chicago is eager for submissions from younger writers, especially ones that include reporting, not just opinion. Carr recommends that freelancers be familiar with the Time Out Chicago approach and stories it already has covered before pitching, and consider how the website could take advantage of interactivity. Smith advises online journalists to consider what additional information readers might want, such as audio files or maps, so they don’t jump to Google to search further.

--Ed Carter, Brigham Young University

Stop Smiling

Stop Smiling EIC

Stop Smiling editor-in-chief JC Gabel



Presenter: JC Gabel, editor-in-chief

Gabel is an unabashed “print junkie.” A huge fan of the New Yorker, which he said is his biggest influence, Gabel still believes in “a magazine as something that’s timeless.” Because of this, he regards Stop Smiling, with its multiple covers, as a coffee table book. It’s sold at mom-and-pop store and online as well as by subscription. (Subscribers can choose the polybagged issue that comes with a CD or a 7-inch vinyl record for an additional fee.) 

Stop Smiling is proud of maintaining a strict wall between church and state (editorial and advertising), something Gabel says sets his magazine apart from his closest competition (from an advertising perspective), which includes Black Book, Tokyon, Vice and Anthem. Unlike those publications, Stop Smiling’s issues are themed and most of its content has been interviews, though that is changing in favor of some longer feature articles. And in contrast to the parties those publications throw, Stop Smiling brings in authors and musicians, who are interviewed by an editor. These interviews are being placed on YouTube and Chicago Public Radio.

Until recently, the magazine’s tag line was “high culture for lowlives,” but ad agencies disliked it and it was finally cut from the cover in order to attract advertisers like Apple and Infiniti as well as upscale liquor manufacturers, like Absolut Vodka and Dewar’s Scotch.

Currently, the magazine is trying to figure out how to make money from their videos. It also has gone into book publishing in partnership with Melville House, a division of Random House. Currently, they publish two or three nonfiction books per year.

Stop Smiling has a talented and long-serving editorial staff despite low pay. Most work a few days a week from home. But the magazine has trouble maintaining a solid business side that understands the magazine’s mission. For the past three years, the magazine has been housed in a quirky old building on Milwaukee avenue, with space for events and tapings as well as a storefront boutique for selling books.

Gabel hopes to find a real publisher, because his attention to the business side stifles his work as editor.

--Barbara Reed, Rutgers University

Johnson Publishing Company

Ebony staff

Ebony managing editor Lynn Normantand 

Ebony2 senior editor Terry Glover


Ebony chief of digital strategy Eric Easter



  • Eric Easter, chief of digital strategu
  • Terry Glover, senior editor,
  • Lynn Norment, managing editor, Ebony

Our merry band was taken on a tour of the Johnson Publishing Co. (JPC) headquarters in Chicago’s South Loop. The 34-year-old, 11-story JPC building is home to Ebony and Jet magazines and Fashion Fair Cosmetics. It’s also the only office tower in downtown Chicago owned by an African-American.

Since the death in 2005 of the company’s dynamic founder, John H. Johnson, the company has been led by his daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, who holds the title of president and CEO. She brought in a new team of managers to help chart the company’s future. In 2006, she brought in Bryan Monroe as vice president and editorial director to update the look and tone of the magazines in an effort to draw in younger, upwardly mobile African-Americans who tend to view Ebony and Jet as their grandparents’ magazines. (The average age of an Ebony reader is about 39, Norment says. The magazine has slashed its rate base three times in the past six years, dropping from an all-time high of 1.8 million (2002) to 1.5 million (2005) before landing at its current 1.2 million.) In 2007, Rice hired Group Publisher Kenard Gibbs to extend the Ebony/Jet brand into other media, including television and movies.

Norment says efforts to update the magazines have been received well. She cited the novel gimmick used for the August 2008 issue. The special collectors issue featured eight different covers of high-profile African-American men who represent “Black Cool,” including Muhammad Ali, Denzel Washington, Marvin Gaye, Barack Obama, Jay-Z, Billy Dee Williams, and Prince. (The Prince and Obama covers were most popular, Norment says.)

Not all of the efforts to attract younger readers have been as successful, however. Norment says the June cover, featuring bare-chested teenage pop star Chris Brown, drew a flood of angry phone calls and letters from readers who said, “This is not what I expect from Ebony magazine.”

“So we’re always trying to strike this balance between attracting young people, but alienating our longtime readers,” Norment says. “Ebony is a family magazine, and we always have to stay mindful of that.”

Easter and Glover revealed a different strategy for Modeled after, where Easter worked prior to his arrival at JPC, the website is designed to attract an entirely new audience to the Ebony/Jet brand. The site in its current incarnation was launched in July 2007, and Easter says traffic has grown steadily, though only 17 percent of the visitors to the website claim to be readers of the magazines. Easter, whose job combines both content and business development for the web site, says that is precisely the plan. His target audience is younger than the audience of the magazines: 18- to 39-years-old, though male visitors skew older (32 to 49) than female (18 to 34). The content on the site, which is largely produced by freelancers, consists mostly of evergreen opinion pieces and essays, with very little content from either print magazine. With a full-time staff of two (Easter and Glover), it can’t cover breaking news.

Efforts to get magazine staffers to contribute to the web site have yielded mixed results, but Easter and Glover receive a number of queries from writers abroad who stumble upon the site, like what they see and ask about contributing.

In terms of what they look for in new hires and/or recent graduates, Norment said the magazine looks for clips that show a feel for magazine-style writing. “You can’t get very far without clips, so we definitely want to see those,” she said. “If you call yourself a writer, we want to know that you’ve been writing and getting published. But beyond that, we want to see that you can write -- that you have some flair.”

On the digital side, Easter and Glover say they want to get a sense that young staffers understand how storytelling is different on this platform than in print. “Web skills are not as important to us as, say, design skills,” Easter says. “Design skills help you conceive of stories in different formats.”

They also seek evidence that applicants are industrious. They like to see resumes “showing that you started a business or launched a publication, that kind of entrepreneurship is important in this day and age.”

--Charles Whitaker, Northwestern University

Chicago Tribune Magazine

Chicago Tribune Magazine Editor

Chicago Tribune Magazine editor Elizabeth Taylor

Chicago Tribune Sheila Solomon

Chicago Tribune senior editor for recruitment Sheila Solomon



  • Editor Elizabeth Taylor, editor
  • Jeff Lyon, deputy editor
  • Sheila Solomon, senior editor for recruitment

Given the recent spate of buy-outs and layoffs at the Tribune Company, Taylor says everyone is worried about what may happen to the magazine. Although it has consistently made money, its freelance budget was recently slashed. Taylor outlined several efforts that she and her staff have undertaken to cut costs and stay afloat:

•    Decreasing the number of editorial pages in most issues, striving for a 50/50 ad/edit ratio.

•    Increasing the number of special issues to 18 and anticipating another increase to 25. (The home and golf issues generate the most ad revenue.)

•    Producing double issues during the holidays.

•    Decreasing the trim size slightly.

Taylor is proud of the journalistic quality and integrity of the magazine. She is committed to running the kind of profiles that tell a compelling story, have multiple storylines, and address issues important to Chicagoans.

One of her challenges is serving the needs of a broad audience. While most magazines have a clear niche, she targets the Tribune’s broad Sunday circulation.

Lyon, who also teaches journalism at Columbia College and works with the magazine’s interns, says the quality of students coming out of journalism schools is getting better and better. Solomon, who oversees the academic (for class credit) and paid internship programs at the Chicago Tribune, says the company typically has 13 paid interns and 20 academic interns year round. When asked about the qualities she looks for in an intern, she mentioned multimedia experience, an understanding of design, flexibility, the ability to pitch story ideas, and an understanding of the financial changes the paper is making.

--Cary Frith, Ohio University

Chicago Magazine

Chicago Magazine Staff

Chicago magazine managing editor Shane Tritsch 

Chicago Magazine Staff

Chicago magazine editor Dick Babcock


  • Dick Babcock, editor
    Shane Tritsch, managing editor.

Babcock said that the economic problems faced by newspapers are affecting Chicago magazine, though to a lesser extent.  The advantage Chicago has over newspapers is its more integrated use of art and text, which works better for image advertising. Magazines like Chicago are underappreciated in the publishing world, he said, because they’re the last repositories of good narrative journalism.

Chicago magazine has had “several very, very good years,” says Babcock, but business has slowed. He called the local competitive scene “a free-for-all,” particularly in covering restaurants and events. On the upside, one potential local competitor, Zagat, has struggled to get a foothold in Chicago because of the magazine. However, Chicago is reluctant to “give away” its own restaurant listings on the web site and is exploring putting up a wall to the listings, like Texas Monthly does. Babcock said that Chicago magazine’s standards for its dining review are higher than the standards of its competition, he worries that readers don’t know or don’t care.

The magazine doesn’t have true local competition, Babcock says, because it runs big service features and narrative journalism that other publications do not. But maintaining its niche is difficult, as differences among regions in the country flatten, and Chicago is forced to compete more with national publications like Vanity Fair than it does with local publications like North Shore and the Chicago Tribune. This change raises standards to a national level without increasing the magazine’s resources.

The magazine’s circulation, at 175,000, is holding steady, says Babcock, but its expensive to retain these readers. Newsstand sales account for 15 percent of the magazine’s rate card.

Chicago has had two successful spinoffs: a twice-a-year, polybagged fashion supplement, and Chicago Home and Garden, a six-times-a-year magazine with a separate staff. Chicago failed to make a go of two other projects: a city tourist magazine that was distributed in hotel rooms and a magazine devoted to shopping.

Chicago’s website has a three-person staff and includes updated content blogs along with repurposed editorial content from the shopping magazine and archives.

The real estate and dining blogs are the site’s most successful features. An events newsletter and blog get less traffic, due to increased competition.  Free-lancers and the occasional staffer write the blogs, which the staff edits and fact-checks.

Chicago, like other city magazines, relies heavily on service stories, especially for its covers. The magazine’s newsstand sales—which are typically 22,000 to 23,000—leap for the Best Doctors cover feature. Chicago is planning to scale back the number of covers it devotes to Top/Best Of type service features, going from two non-service covers a year to four to five non-service covers a year.

Circulation is 175,000, and two-thirds of subscribers come from outside of the city. The magazine does well in the city’s North Shore and Southern suburbs, but struggles to attract readers in the Western suburbs, where editors assume people feel less connected to the city.

The magazine has an editorial staff of 20, and five or six interns at a time. Interns work about 20 hours a week, get paid minimum wage and mainly work on fact-checking. Babcock said potential interns should be avid media consumers, particularly in politics.

--Betsy Edgerton, Columbia College Chicago


Venuszine founder

VenusZine founder and editor Amy Schroeder




  • Amy Schroeder, founder and editor
  • Anne Brindle, co-publisher
  • Denise Gibson, art director
  • K. Tighe, music reviews editor
  • Eve Chen, subscriptions and Web coordinator
  • Kelly Mellott, marketing and events coordinator
  • Kathy Keish, Jenny An and Jessica Blumensheid, interns

VenusZine is located on Chicago’s trendy Near North side in a small brick building next to a laundry. Its second floor editorial and business office occupies a large open space -- no cubicles here -- with brick walls and exposed pipes. The same space also houses the publisher’s real estate trade book. (Schroeder sold the magazine to Brindle and Marci Sepulveda two years ago.)

The quarterly magazine, which covers music, DIY (do-it-yourself), culture and fashion, targets 18- to 34-year-old urban women. The target reader has completed college, and is career-oriented and entrepreneurial. She’s likely to make her own handbag and sell it on her online store. Schroeder credits the knowledge of the VenusZine reader with the magazine’s “organic growth” into a glossy 20,000-circulation magazine from the 100-copy zine she started 13 years ago in her dorm.

The website, which features daily updates, just began including video; other plans to expand the brand include books and more frequent publication of the print version, and playing host to concerts or festivals.

The staff finds out what readers want by asking them at music festivals and craft fairs as well as through online surveys. Readers vote for people they’d like to see on the cover, and offer story ideas through VenusZine’s My Space and Facebook pages. A steady flow of interns keeps the not-so-old staff apprised of what’s interesting to younger readers, too.

Venus sets itself apart from its competition by both focus and target reader: Bust targets slightly older readers, Nylon focuses more on fashion and trends, Misbehave is heavier on fashion and has an in-your-face tone. It also distinguishes its music review from Pitchfork by covering a wider range and having more than 150 contributors, many of whom are music editors of other publications and journalism students.

Brindle says she purchased VenusZine because “it spoke intelligently about a lot of things and embraces everyone. It’s not down on men.” There’s definitely a spirit of empowerment here, as a pull quote in a Q&A with hip-hop artist Missy Elliott shows: “Females need to hold their own, be confident, and have no doubts about what they’re doing. Make everyone else believe.”

Here are a few of the ideas the group offered on how journalism students can better prepare for careers at publications like VenusZine:

•    Understand who the readers are and know music. There’s a big need for people who know the hip hop scene and can write well.

•    Don’t think there’s a formula for journalism success. Internships aren’t the only route; life experiences can be just as important.

•    Understand that feature stories need to address themes important to readers’ lives.

•    Younger journalists need to expand beyond the interests of their own age group.

•    Take advantage of opportunities to learn to work collaboratively with others.

•    If freelancing is in your future, learn how to pitch stories succinctly. Describe why you are the right person to write this story.

•    Learn about the business side of a magazine.

Several VenusZine staffers expressed pride in being able to nurture young writing talent.

Editor’s note: One week after our visit to VenusZine, Amy Schroeder announced that she is leaving the magazine.

--Ellen Gerl, Ohio University


Participants. Front row, left to right: Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin, Barbara Reed, Ann Schierhorn, Ellen Gerl. Back row, letft to right: Cary Roberts Frith, Rachel Mersey, Betsy Edgerton, Charles Whitaker, Ed 75

Coordinator of professional development program -- Barbara Reed

Photos -- Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin

Web site -- Gerald Grow

Citing this publication

Index of Professional Development Tours of Magazines



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Jack Brickhouse posthumously presiding over the plaza outside the Tribune 

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