May 30, 2012
Magazine editorial man-at-arms David Hepworth forged his career on NME and Smash Hits, and launched Empire, Mojo and Heat. So when he writes about the fate of monthly magazines, it’s best to listen.
tl;dr: The rules of editorial are changing fast. The monthly cycle is no more, broken by the need to write as much for the insistent tempo of the web as print deadlines. And content must sit as effortlessly on a printed page as in an iPad app. Old-style magazine craft and broadcasting to a captive audience just don’t cut it any more.
Nothing majorly revelatory, then, but it’s all there in a handily compact form that makes the issues particularly insistent. I kind of disagree with some aspects, though.
I would like to have back all the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years of my life that I’ve spent fitting copy, polishing puns, working on witty captions and begging for higher res pictures because although the results of these labours are appreciated by the end user, the reader, they’re not appreciated in a way that is in any way commensurate with the amount of time they take away from other things.
They do take time. Perhaps we could spend it on writing a quick news story for the website, or on interacting with our audiences? God knows that magazine editorial teams have a terrifyingly broader remit than ever before - they must also PR their own product and attend the 24 hour news cycle, often with smaller teams than ever before.
But now, also more than ever, magazines must prove their own worth. Craft - sharp, beautiful images, delightful captions, attention to page furniture and flow - is a large part of that value. It’s certainly a huge part of what we try to do on Edge. Jettisoning it risks undermining the very reason why we still print on paper the articles we research and write.
Besides, great headlines and straps are still incredibly important to iPad editions and websites - this is part of the same craft that good print magazine production requires. Craft matters.
The other point isn’t really a case of disagreeing with Hepworth. It just makes me really sad.
Editors used to be picked for their ability to predict what was about to be interesting to people. In the future, they’ll be picked for their ability to note where the interest is and minister to it. The old idea of followers and leaders doesn’t apply any more. Many of your readers know more than you do.
There absolutely has to be space for great broadcasters, people with the insight to offer readers with something more than what they already knew they wanted. And to present it in such a way that when they come across it, they are helplessly sucked in.
The horror of the internet is that despite egalitarian early hopes that it would profoundly help to democratise the world by exposing the masses to multitudes of views and realities, it’s turned out that it tends instead to reinforce individuals’ existing ideals. If we merely minister to what readers already know, we’re only adding to the problem.
It’s incredibly challenging to work on a magazine today. Which makes being newly made Edge’s editor daunting in the extreme. Sometimes it’s hard to see the opportunities in all the noise of problems, but they’re there, and I’m hoping that craft and faith in our insight will be the key to realising them.