Editors Forum Bulletin #4

Back in Baltimore, back in my editorial office, and really, really back from the fun of the conference. How do I know? First note in my email inbox was a reader taking me to task for what she considers an inexcusable grammatical error in my latest editor’s note. Her last line: “Maybe you need an editor.”

The best Thursday afternoon session I attended was the reprise of the visual storytelling presentation by Linda Angrilli and Alex Joseph of Hue, from the Fashion Institute of Technology. I say reprise because they made the same presentation last year; I only caught part of that in New Orleans and wanted the full experience this time. They stressed sussing out your school’s visual DNA—places, objects, symbols—and using them as visual assets in your magazine. Strive for deep images that convey a lot of information. If you have actual art at your institution—sculpture, paintings, murals—use it as art in the magazine. Complex processes may lend themselves to visual storytelling; their example was a step-by-step photo story about the making of a shirt. (Pretty nice shirt, too—one of their staffers was wearing it.)

Listening to them, I was reminded again of David Remnick’s comments about readers picking up The New Yorker at different points in the week and taking in different content—Thursday night might be just for the cartoons, Sunday afternoon for a long feature read. The sort of visual presentation Angrilli and Joseph discussed can make for sections of the magazine that readers will turn to if they have a short bit of time after dinner; the long features will get attention on the weekend. If we don’t have some of that quick-bite content, when readers do pick us up late on a weeknight, they’ll just put us right down again, maybe for good.

Oh, and the Hue crew noted that they have a unique editorial policy at the Fashion Institute—only one drag queen per issue. I mentioned this in a report to my VP, and he wrote back, “Don’t we have a drag queen policy?”

On Friday, Joel Lovell spoke. Talk about a guy with a great job—he’s an editor at This American Life, and editor at Serial (no, he did not reveal the subject of the new season), and an editor at The Atavist, the digital magazine that publishes one long (10,000 words and up) story per month. I found his presentation to be something of a ramble as he talked about various tools at our disposal to add to the emotional power of stories. He discussed how The New York Times took several tries before they got digital adornment right, starting with the well-publicized, little-read “Snowfall” story that was a massive project in terms of people and money. His work with projects like that and the digital storytelling platform developed by Atavist has taught him that it’s all too easy to add video and motion graphics and audio and slide shows and god knows what else to a story, without sufficient consideration for whether you’re adding anything of value. He now says his starting point, as an editor, is, We don’t need anything more here. Let the text work whenever possible and keep a lid on the natural impulse to load up on distracting digital elements. But use them when they add to a piece’s emotional power.

Oh, and he startled the audience—well, he startled me, at least—by saying he believes the Times is headed toward publishing a large, omnibus edition on weekends only, with the rest of the week delivering on digital platforms only.

There was a lot more, of course, but these were some of the things that stood out to me. I’m trying some new personal calendar management to increase the frequency of UMagazinology posts, having been shamed by how many people approached me at the conference to say how much they value the blog. I need more day. But don’t we all?

4 comments

  1. Beth Wilson

    Choosing elective sessions in Philadelphia was challenging for me, and your useful and entertaining wraps have enabled me to experience a bit of what I missed. Thanks for bulletins, Dale.

  2. Linda Angrilli

    Thanks, Dale, for all your summaries of the Editors Forum, and for your comments on our visual storytelling session. I do want to say that we don’t do visual stories only as quick-bite alternatives to longer pieces—though they are that; we find that not every story lends itself to a long narrative, and some just cry out for a visual approach. We just want to suggest that editors not consider long narratives their default, and be open to other kinds of storytelling. Also, it’s good to have a drag queen policy because you never know when an extra one will rear her bewigged head and screw up your issue.

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