Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Magazine lectures galore
Last night we met Danyel Smith, Editor-In-Chief of Vibe Magazine and Will Dana, Managing Editor of Rolling Stone.
Here are a few quips from their panel:
Will Dana said upon his career's start at 7 Days, "You're not only thrown in the deep end, but in a start-up, there are piranhas in the deep end." He also said, "Right now, the one thing you can't do as a magazine is suck." The second you let up, he said, advertisers will go somewhere with more energy. It's the duty of a good magazine to be first, and to be "smarter, sharper, and funnier" than its competitors.
Both editors agreed going to shows is the best part of the job, and that their first bylines were thrilling. Danyel Smith said the most important question she learned to ask in music reporting was, "Does the record have artistic merit?" She told us that she hadn't discovered new artists exactly, but there was a feeling in the room the night she first saw Tupac (he was seventeen) that he was "a guy worth listening to."
Moments after she was hired at Vibe - where she has been working on and off for fourteen years now - she was told they had to get out three issues or it would be shut down. "The magazine business?" she said. "Everybody's always talking about how bad it is now, but I feel like it's always been bad." Regardless, she is optimistic. She competed with her husband (the Ed-In-Chief at XXL) for a year and a half, and though the business is suffering, she said she has confidence he'll be all right, and that she'll be all right.
"What am I gonna do?" she asked. "Like, cry because of the internet?"
(If you can't guess from my notes so far, we adored her sense of humor.)
Though both editors admitted they were "bitter" about music blogs, they said there is a major demand for edited writing. "I don't care what anybody says," Danyel declared. "Everybody, everybody - Hunter S. Thompson - everybody needs an editor."
Will Dana added, "One media doesn't replace another. It pushes the other to get bigger... To me, it's not yet a matter of survival, it's a matter of quality."
Let's change to another lecture so I can catch up on converting my notes from paper. This afternoon we broke into groups to meet magazine editors. I was in the O Magazine group with Mamie Healey.
She had us go around in a circle and list all the things we thought editorial assistants would do, and why we thought the job was attractive, which was a brilliant move because it suddenly made that abstract goal feel tangible.
We had each written a one-page letter to the writer of the article with suggestions for a piece that had appeared in the February issue of O. In thirty minutes, she'd come up with ways to alter the piece that I hadn't even considered, and she singled out each member of the group to talk about their comments regarding different aspects of the texts (one person for structure, three for changing the lead, etc.). The fact that she'd taken notes on our notes and led a meeting so efficiently really blew us away, I think.
She described the editorial process as like being at the North Pole, and directing your writers to a country below. They'll go to some country that's great, even better than the one you'd aimed for, if you can give them the right directions. You have to ask yourself as editor, is this comment pointing them in a direction that will be better?
She encouraged us as assistants to think two steps ahead of our bosses' needs, and to feel free to say, "I'm sorry, I can't answer your question, can I get back to you in five minutes?" She highly recommended working for a magazine that's just launching; she started at Time Out New York.
The late afternoon yielded a panel of the editors who had met with us in small groups. My favorite quip was from the beginning of the panel. Our dear and fearless leader, Lindy Hess, asked the panel, "Are magazines dead?"
Corby Kummer of The Atlantic Monthly replied, "Wait, wait, wait! Stop the presses - if they haven't already been stopped!"
The majority of the panel centered upon the internet and its relationship to magazines. Far from last night's panel, many of them seemed to think the internet would be the downfall of editors. Lea Goldman of Marie Claire brought up a point I find fascinating: she thinks corporate blogs can't work because blogs are by nature anarchic. Blogs are about single voices, not about company identities.
[I can give you my opinion on this subject for days. Maybe I'll make my two pages of notes into a separate entry.]
Corby Kummer shook his head and laughed, "I'm really angry at blogs, not because of their pure, anarchic form, but because I want to understand what they're saying."
Doug Stumpf of Vanity Fair said, "I'm telling you, [the internet is] the Wild West, but they're going to figure it out."
Tonight we had a lecture by Mr. Mickey Boardman, Editorial Director for Paper Magazine. It's hard to summarize his lecture because it was so based upon the covers he shared with us and his firsthand experience with celebrity photo shoots. He said he always wanted to put a man on the cover of the swimsuit issue, and that their magazine "likes to treat stars like nobodies and nobodies like stars." He used the phrase "hostage crisis" to describe waiting for celebrities who arrived hours late for photo shoots.
If there's one theme in all these lectures, it's a single phrase. "I drank the Kool-Aid." I don't know why this idiom permeated the colloquial speech of magazine AND book people, but it seems to pop up in every lecture. Maybe we should try throwing it into an interview and chart its effects.
Good night, my dears.