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Magazine Making in NYC Gives UM Students Real-World Experience

Samir Husni (far right), Allison Estes (next to him), and other Meek School students visit Hearst Magazines.

In May of last year, I was lucky enough to join 10 Universtiy of Mississippi students and Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni for Magazine Making in New York City, a May intersession class through the Study USA program.

Monday through Friday, we spent all day, every day, meeting with top execs at the “Big Four” of magazine publishing: Meredith, Condé Nast, Hearst and Time Inc.; at Rodale, Bauer and “TV Guide;” at MPA, the Association of Magazine Media; and at the James G. Elliott Co. We also toured The King’s College, which offers a semester in journalism studies for undergraduates that includes an internship at a New York media outlet.
But the value of the class was so much more.
For both undergraduates and the recently graduated, the class was a foot in many doors in the world of magazine publishing. Several publishers were actively looking for interns and graduates to fill entry-level positions. Students had the opportunity to ask questions and acquire contact information regarding these substantial opportunities. And I expect that a recommendation from Husni greatly improves the likelihood of acceptance.
Students gained a clear understanding of the differences between the business and editorial sides of magazines – which in turn gave them a better understanding of positions they might ultimately be applying for and the qualifications for those positions. They received detailed advice on how to improve the possibility of success when applying and what to expect at an entry-level position.
Most of the executives cheerfully recounted their own stories of how they got their start and how they ended up in their respective positions, which were both grounding and inspiring. And it was clear how much they were enjoying the exchange – time after time I saw them wave away assistants who had come to remind them of other obligations, and go on talking and answering questions. To imagine having a top position at a Big Four magazine is one thing; to hear how it’s done from someone who worked her way up from editorial assistant to editor-in-chief actually makes it seem like an attainable goal.
Another incredibly valuable aspect of the class was the total immersion in the world of magazine production. Publishers, editors-in-chief, ad salespeople, CEOs, presidents, VPs, owners, and content creators spoke and fielded questions on all facets of the business.
It was both fascinating and useful to hear that:
• A magazine is no longer a magazine, but a brand;
• Meredith, the second-largest licenser in the world in terms of total revenue (second to Disney), is moving toward all-digital licensing;
• Rodale, a family-run business started in Pennsylvania 80 years ago (with a progressive little magazine called “Organic Life”), now publishes the top-selling magazine in the U.S. (“Men’s Health”);
•The publisher of “GQ” is a super-nice, brainy jock who excuses his frequent use of the f-word by saying, “Sorry, but it’s ‘GQ’ – we’re allowed,” has a spectacular office in 1 WTC and no background in journalism, but believes devoutly in storytelling to an active community — and today, every 20 seconds, someone types “#GQ.”

Husni and students at Condé Nast Publications with Howard Mittman, publisher, GQ magazine.

We also learned that:
• German-owned Bauer, a company that bucks the traditional system of running magazines on “rate-based” ad sales by making inexpensive weekly magazines with 100 percent addictive, reader-engaging content and minimal advertising, has 90 percent of its sales on newsstands;
• The former EIC of the “National Enquirer” spearheaded investigative journalism that discovered the photo of O.J. Simpson wearing the Bruno Magli shoes and the tip that led to the conviction of Ennis Cosby’s murderer, and that at least a few of these articles were nominated for Pulitzer Prizes;
• People engage with magazines expecting to read, and that magazine advertisements are savored as part of that experience;
• At Hearst, it’s all about voice and audience, and even social media people are expected to have a strong print background;
• The frontier of magazines is sponsored departments, and freelancers have a place in the industry.
At “TV Guide,” students witnessed a true marriage of media, content and marketing as the execs there discussed plans for the re-launch; they also got to watch “Mr. Magazine™” in action, as he threw out ferociously astute ad hoc critiques of the relaunch concepts before the new owner. And they experienced the beautiful integration of art and copy in the innovative, open-floor design of the new Time Inc. building, designed to spur “serendipitous meetings” of personnel and do away with segregated departments.
From my personal perspective as a professional writer, I was amazed and impressed by the experiences this class offered. I have been working with editors and agents in book publishing in New York for decades, and I know that it is no small feat to secure time with busy industry professionals at any level, never mind CEOs and publishers and presidents. (The Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT Experience held at the Meek School every spring is an equally impressive assemblage.)
In this class we spent time with nearly 50 top executives in magazine publishing. They sat (or stood) and spoke about their personal experiences and the professional world, answered questions, asked questions and seemed to genuinely enjoy engaging with us.
The students at the James G. Elliott Company.

Real-world application is the most vital gift educators can give their students. Journalism is by nature all about what is happening now—and now is changing and evolving by the second. A professor of journalism must stay involved in that change in order to truly serve the interest of his or her students.
A class like Husni’s Magazine Making in New York City is an invaluable window into the dynamic world of magazine media. I would go again in a heartbeat, just to listen to these people at the top of their profession talk about what’s going on in that world. For students, this type of knowledge and experience makes the academic relate to the real world; for instructors, it brings real-world relevance to the academic.
It’s this kind of exposure and “continuing education” experience that keeps good teachers at the top of their games. When I set the bar high for my IMC 205 students, I can quote Maile Carpenter, editor-in-chief of “Food Network Magazine,” who summed up the importance of good, clean copy by saying, “We are hiring right now. I cannot tell you how many cover letters I just looked at with mistakes in them. I throw them out. We are fanatical about that.” I can stand by my standards for good writing skills and reiterate, as Kate Lewis, senior vice president and editorial director of Hearst Magazine Digital Media said, “We don’t hire people who can’t write.”
Overall, the best thing I heard in this class—and I heard it over and over from different professionals at different publishers—was this: Print is not dead; storytelling, and voice, and audience all still matter; people still want to hold a magazine or a book in their hands and savor the reading experience.

By Allison Estes. Photos Courtesy of Samir Husni.

The Meek School Magazine is a collaborative effort of Journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications students with the faculty of Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Every week, for the next few weeks, HottyToddy.com will feature an article from Meek Magazine, Issue 5 (2017-2018).

For questions or comments, email us at hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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