Wick Communications

Making a great magazine better

In Magazine on February 26, 2015 at 3:05 pm

2015-02-20-new-york-times-magazine-cover

One of my favorite moments of the week comes each Sunday morning when I stroll to the end of the driveway and pick up The New York Times. It’s got that satisfying heft that more newspapers used to have, and truth is bending down to pick it up is likely to be the most strenuous exercise I have all weekend. Sad but true.

There is plenty of wonderment inside this driveway bundle. I always enjoy the sports, the Book Review, Travel… but the piece de resistance is often The New York Times Magazine. It was great as it was — before the Times announced it was re-inventing an institution.

So last Sunday I walked to the end of the drive with some trepidation. Would they screw it up?

No. They did not. And I mention the transformation here because I think it proves that innovation doesn’t have to mean new technology. The New York Times Magazine is still print-focused and last week’s included the most print ad revenue of any in the magazine’s history, according to Editor Jake Silverstein. Why did advertisers flock to it? Because the staff just wouldn’t leave well enough alone.

Among the cool features in the first week: …

  • An expanded version of the regular feature known as “The Ethicists.” No longer just a riff by essayist Chuck Klostermann, it is now a roundtable discussion and it is also a podcast all of a sudden. You can subscribe to hear three notable thinkers ponder questions such as “Can I ask my neighbors to quiet their baby?”
  • For my money, the best story this week consisted of installing Russian-born novelist Gary Shteyngart in the Four Seasons (because it was important that he live like an oligarch!) and forcing him to watch three channels of Russian TV simultaneously. The result was a wonderfully readable peek into the mind of the average Russian viewer. (It was hilariously headlined, “Out of my mouth comes unimpeachable manly truth.”) It was so insightful and so very different.
  • A photographic journey to the Congo focused on a woman named Madot Dagbinza who served as a bodyguard to a warlord. The piece poses the question, if Dagbinza can work in a combat role, why not U.S. women?

And there was so much more: a look at AirBNB in Japan, France’s National Front, citizen journalists in Brazil. As a newspaper editor who struggles to find fresh ideas for a monthly magazine, it blew my mind.

The point is that it is entirely possible to take the best of what you do and make it better. It requires fresh eyes, the bravery to try new things and an understanding that nothing is sacred. I would also suggest looking twice for synergies between print and Web. Can you tease to more coverage online? Dump all your photos in a gallery? Experiment with audio?

The new New York Times Magazine has provided a template for change for the rest of us.

Clay

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