The report below comes from participants in this year's
- Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin, Columbia College, Chicago
- Ed Carter, Brigham Young University
- Betsy Edgerton, Columbia
- Cary Frith, Ohio University
- Ellen Gerl, Ohio University
- Rachel Mersey,
- Barbara Reed (program coordinator), Rutgers
- Ann Schierhorn, Kent State University
- Charles Whitaker,
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
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
Magazine, Chicago magazine), contemporary (Stop Smiling, VenusZine)
activist (In These
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
- 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.
reports an ABC-audited print and
online audience of almost 700,000 advertising, marketing and media
professionals.) Booker is editor of BtoB, a monthly
marketing strategists with a circulation of 45,000. He also edits BtoB
Media Business, a monthly magazine circulated to 5,000
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 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
In These Times Managing Editor
Sanhita SinhaRoy and Editor Joel Bleifuss
The waiting room at In These Times,
- 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
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
Time Out Chicago managing
editor Amy Carr
- David Garland,
- Frank Sennett,
- Amy Carr,
- Scott Smith,
Time Out Chicago
has discovered that its website (http://www.timeout.com/chicago/)
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.
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.
Brigham Young University
Smiling editor-in-chief JC Gabel
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.)
Smiling is proud of maintaining a strict wall between
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.
managing editor Lynn Normantand
ebonyjet.com senior editor Terry Glover
Ebony chief of digital strategy Eric Easter
- Eric Easter, chief of digital
- Terry Glover, senior editor,
- Lynn Norment, managing editor,
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
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
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.
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 ebonyjet.com. Modeled after
slate.com, 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
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
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
Chicago Tribune Magazine
Chicago Tribune Magazine editor Elizabeth Taylor
Chicago Tribune senior editor for recruitment
- 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
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 managing editor Shane
editor Dick Babcock
- Dick Babcock, editor
Shane Tritsch, managing editor.
Babcock said that the economic problems faced by newspapers are
magazine, though to a lesser extent. The
has over newspapers is its more integrated use of art
and text, which works better for image advertising. Magazines like
are underappreciated in the publishing world, he said, because
they’re the last repositories of good narrative journalism.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Columbia College Chicago
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
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
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
My Space and Facebook pages. A steady flow of interns keeps
the not-so-old staff apprised of what’s interesting to younger readers,
sets itself apart from its competition by both focus and target
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
by covering a wider range and having more than 150
contributors, many of whom are music editors of other publications and
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
• 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.
staffers expressed pride in being able to nurture
young writing talent.
One week after our visit to VenusZine,
announced that she is leaving the magazine.
--Ellen Gerl, Ohio
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
Photos -- Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin
Web site -- Gerald Grow
Index of Professional Development Tours of Magazines
Brickhouse posthumously presiding over the plaza outside the
Should we be Worried?