Report: ModMagNYC, 2019

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The second ModMagNYC took place last month at Parsons School of Design. Building on the success of last year’s event, another busy room enjoyed talks about magazine of all types, with speakers addressing the question, ‘What is a Magazine?’

This is a full update to an earlier post, with highlights from each of the day’s talks

‘A magazine is a promise’

magCulture’s Jeremy Leslie introduced the day’s theme. Each speaker had been invited on the basis of their work’s relevance to the question, ‘What is a magazine…?’ and while they were also briefed to celebrate and share their work as editors and art directors, the audience were asked to be alert to references to that question threaded through the day. To set the tone, our speakers had completed the phrase, ‘A magazine is…’ for the ModMag publication, printed by Newspaper Club. Their responses appear in bold throughout this post.

Douglas McGray
Pop-Up Magazine and California Sunday

‘A magazine is whatever you want it to be’

Douglas McGray, founder and editor-in-chief of Pop-Up Magazine and California Sunday, proved to be the perfect first speaker to address our theme.

As a freelance writer, he recorded a one-off show for This American Life and found himself fascinated by audio. Struck by the links between radio and his magazine work, he wondered about all the different people that make stories. Noting that film-makers have film festivals, photographers have gallery events and writers have readings, he considered what might happen if all these things were smashed together. ‘What would happen if we made a live magazine?’

The result was Pop-Up Magazine, a live show utilising all these forms of storytelling that immediately found an audience (read our review of a 2018 issue). It started to tour and became increasingly theatrical.

Douglas shared fascinating observations about Pop-Up that led directly to the launch of California Sunday. Noting that the live magazine held people’s attention and distracted them from their phones, he also realised the time of day was key. Pop-Up occupied the evenings, when people have a different expectation of how their attention will be taken. While ever-smaller slithers of daytime attention were being fought over by multiple other forms of media, a live magazine filled the evening timeslot normally reserved for dinner, a Netflix binge, or friends.

Realising that the one other part of the week that shared a similar context was the weekend, he pondered a media company that specialised in these times and places. He and his colleagues also liked being based on the west coast – ‘We love New York, but not everything needs to be made in New York’ — and thought there was space for a classic weekend magazine that focused on the west, Asia and Latin America.

In 2014, Pop-Up was established as a regular touring show, while California Sunday was launched. They negotiated distribution deals with two major newspapers (publishers that had closed their own newspaper mags) meaning they launched as a small independent while boasting an advertising-friendly 350,000 distribution.

The talk was equally as enjoyable for Douglas’s presentation style as for the content. Beautiful covers and spreads from California Sunday were carefully paced and the momentum of his flow measured by blank grey slides inserted as visual/verbal breaks. Intelligent and effective.

He ended with highlights from Pop-Up, a rare chance to see material not usually recorded or shared beyond the live event itself. He announced a community version of Pop-Up, a smaller version, Pop-Up Zine. And he hopes to bring Pop-Up to the UK next year.

‘In the past five years I’ve thought a lot about what a magazine is and I have no what a magazine might be. And I like that’

Veronica Ditting
The Gentlewoman

‘A magazine is a universe of personal expressions’

Veronica Ditting’s work for The Gentlewoman is a well-established part of the indie mag landscape, so it was a pleasure to welcome her next to the stage for a live interview with Jeremy Leslie. The two talked through a series of slides showing pages from the magazine and behind the scenes development work. Here are some key parts of their conversation:

‘Sometimes it goes with shoots you just see something happen in front of you, and you think, oh that could be structured into a story. It’s not the obviously funny things but really everyday life things, like someone taking money from an ATM. By highlighting or exaggerating them they become humourous on second sight.’

‘I have this all the time, people think there are 50 people in the office. But we’re a tiny team. At the beginning of a new season (ie issue), three to four of us come together to reflect on the last issue and see what we want to contimue with and what we should change up. That’s editor-in-chief Penny Martin, senior editor Richard O’Mahoney, the editorial assistant and me. Conversations happen all the time, but we’re all in our own spaces. I work from my own studio.’

‘Everyone who’s featured in the magazine knows they’re not going to end up in a tiny little picture on the page. And the same thing for the photographers, they know they get the space. Sometimes, now, you look on Instagram and you see a picture someone’s taken and when you see it printed in the magazine it’s a tiny little image. We care about every aspect of our magazine, we care about everything so much, it all gets the space it should have.’

‘Every shoot is different, this is one example (Kim Deal, issue 17). It really starts with looking at how comfortable the subject is in front of a camera.’ (Google search, above)

‘Whenever I walk around areas, expecially in London, and see a nice backdrop, I take a picture of it and keep it for reference.’

‘People say my graphic design work is minimal, which I really dislike. It’s edited. We go through a whole process of reworks and reworks and testing. It’s not as straightforward as throwing it on the page.’

‘My role goes from macro to micro, from planning the shoots to the details on the page. We go through such an intense dialogue of content and design that everything feels like it’s supposed to be there.’

‘A month of production sounds like a long time but we spend two weeks on image edits and processing of the material and checking proofs. Then the design has to happen in a very short amount of time. At some point you just have to let it go. I hope by now after 19 issues I have enough experience to know, this we leave… we’ll do that another time. In each issue there are different things we push for. Sometimes it’s the fashion we push, another time it’s the design.’

‘We print thumbnail overviews of the pages, a really raw shape of the magazine, we’re finding where the elements go. What do we add to it? Do we break up the text? what type of colours should it be? It’s finding the right balance between the content and the rythmn of the issue. I spend a lot of time on the order of everything.’

‘I’m not a hoarder but I do keep any sketches that are different to what we printed in the end. I should go through it and throw out stuff, my studio manager hates me for it.’

‘We make so many real-size dummies during an issue of The Gentlewoman, to just get a feel for the design, where the content goes, to check the size of the images and their crops. The macro-to-micro again — does it all work together? The headlines change, it’s the ongoing molding of the content.’

‘We started this in issue one, these little reference points on the page like footnotes. I call them ‘design clusters’. In each issue we treat them differently. In the third issue we treated them like a magazine within a magazine; for an interview Fatima Bhutto we created a Bhutto family tree. This is where the dry humour comes in a little bit, the slight riduclousness of putting that into a women’s magazine.’

‘It’s about breaking up the no-nonsense strictness of the design, both visually and editorially. It’s quite a physical process sometimes, literally cutting out things and putting them in place to see how they can work together. And work across the issue as well.’

Nathalie Kirsheh

‘A magazine is a cultural epicenter. It’s a witness to current issues and trends and a driver/foreteller of future ones. It is a coherent and continually evolving portfolio of a brand’

Nathalie Kirsheh has worked for many US magazines over the last 20 years, building her design awareness across multiple genres of magazines. Over the past year she has redesigned Self, Allure and Glamour. Her talk focused on Glamour, which more than adopting a digital direction has recently morphed into a digital-only publication. Working with new editor-in-chief Samantha Barry, the magazine’s first digital-native senior editor, Nathalie has been working on reconciling the print magazine’s heritage with its digital future.

A smart new logo was developed using Jonathan Hoefler’s Landmark font (above). Nathalie talked us through four new pillars for the publication: Look, Feel, Live and Think and the way the resulting designs translated into a digital environment.

So far the story was a familiar if useful one for most people designing a large magazine brand today: the ever-increasing additional workload of social and other digital channels matched to a reduction in team size and budget. But it was fascinating to hear from an established print design director about her magazine’s shift towards digital.

At the end of 2018 Glamour became digital-first (although they promise an occassional print special, for example alongside their Women of the Year special). Nathalie told how she was in the studio shooting singer Halsey when she heard the news. She immediately had to pivot, adapting the live shoot to involve more video and recording behind-the scenes footage. They added Boomerang videos and brief side interviews above and beyond the central shoot.

Nathalie’s long experience in print is still applied to digital. She highlighted a particular package, the 2019 Beauty Awards sub-brand, noting the use of engagement alongside quirkier elements to provide a mix of service and character. The colours and interactions were all carefully worked out and you could sense the enjoyment Nathalie had had designing the package.

She ended comparing the past with the present, again a familiar tale of reduced resources (above), noting how publisher Condé Nast was increasingly sharing staff and teams to make up for reduced budgets. Perhaps none of this was a surprise but Nathalie offered a first hand and largely positive sense of the new reality of big brand publishing. It’ll be interesting to see how Glamour develops over the next year, and how the promised print edition works alongside its new, digital context.

She signed off confirming her definiton of a magazine as remaining static despite the huge shift in her personal experience of publishing.

Ian Birch, Perrin Drumm and Jeremy Leslie

‘A magazine is a community where ideas are shared and a sense of heady discovery runs from the front cover to the back page’  — IAN BIRCH

‘A magazine is… a playground, a dance hall, a battle call, a rouser-rink, a deep think, a debate, a place to get wild, to get your kicks, to get a grip; an experiment in serious play’  PERRIN DRUMM

Ian Birch’s book ‘Uncovered’ (published as ‘Iconic Magazine Covers’ in the US) offers great insight into the making of some of the best magazine covers fo the past 50 years. He also has many years experience at the frontline of magaizne-making, most recently as editorial director at Hearst Magazines. Ian was joined by Perrin Drumm, founder of the Eye on Design website and magazine and Jeremy Leslie to talk through recent magazine cover designs.

The three had prepared a series of front covers to show, developed from a basic set of three covers each. Others were added to emphasise thoughts and themes. Here are a few highlights from their three-way discussion.

IAN ‘I believe a great cover is something where the emotion kicks in first, the reader first has that emotional impact from what they see, then once they’ve taken that in they start to see the message behind it. This was a very good example of that.’

PERRIN: ‘We’re normally supposed to believe that a cover, in order to make an emotional connection with a reader, should have a person’s face, with plenty of eye contact and cover lines to tell you what’s in it and what to think about it.

As someone who runs a graphic design magazine, what resonates with me is not people, not faces. My first selection here is the cover, to the left, of The New York Times Magazine from last August. It’s an entire issue dedicated to a single long-form feature by Nat Rich. He focuses on the decade 1979-89 when he argues we lost the battle against climate change.

What I like about this cover is it feels very much like an obituary. It’s very quiet and stark, as opposed to these louder, brighter covers here. It’s just a really depressing, sad truth.’

JEREMY: ‘Against the context of the extraordinarily creative typographic and visual designs the NYTimes Magazine presents every week, this is even starker.’

IAN: ‘Magazines have never had more responsibility to respond to what’s going on than the have at the moment.’

JEREMY: ‘I was intrigued by this i-D cover and seeing Greta Thunberg brought into the stream of celebrities featured on the i-D covers. This chimes with their audience, it speaks volumes for their interest in the world, but it’s so, so different to this other cover from Time…’

IAN: This just shows nowadays how quickly an activist becomes a celebrity. And I don’t mean that in any derogratory sense. When you compare the whole process, the whole look of Greta on i-D with the more considered, styled, look on Time, and her green dress…

PERRIN: They’re both really beautiful portraits but the simple one works so much better, it’s so much more in her style. The one in the fancy dress in the obvious colour is so boring. It seems like a sad attempt by Time to get with the programme.

JEREMY: She’s come forward as an individual on her own behalf, yet on the Time cover she’s been mediated by what looks like a whole PR system: a lot of people and a lot of time.

PERRIN: ‘This is FUKT magazine from Berlin; this wouldn’t normally appeal to me. There’s no hierarchy on the page, but it’s really clever. It’s a play on words and with words.’

JEREMY: ‘Each issue is themed, and this is the ‘Words’ issue. The magazine name is spelt out in letters made up of words that desribe the shape of the letters…’

PERRIN: ‘It’s one of those rare covers that a social media expert will tell you will perform really poorly online, yet because it’s so diffrent it really does stand out for me.

JEREMY: ‘There’s a lot of humour in there too, in amongst the mix there are playful, self-referantial comments.’

JEREMY: ‘Here are two covers that go back to faces, making icons of the face. A lot of these covers we’re looking at work as posters, and on the left is your magazine, Eye on Design, Perrin, and on the right is Parterre du Rois. I love them both creatively but we also found they both sold really well. They are each reductive, iconic, versions of the human face and this seemed to have made people pick them up even though they say little about what’s inside.

PERRIN: ‘This we included because we wanted to talk about covers for newsstand and covers that were special for subscribers only. I think it’s a real disservice; this one on the left is for the subscribers. There are less coverlines and there’s an art refrence. The newsstand one on the right has the typical coverlines – 10 things to buy, Sharon Stone’s going to be – all that kind of stuff. As a newsstand buyer I’d feel resentful that I’d missed out on the cool one.’

IAN: ‘I’ve worked with these types of covers at many publishers. I can understand entirely why readers might feel shortchanged when they see the cooler subs cover as opposed to the newsstand cover. Why shouldn’t everyone get exactly the same cover?’

JEREMY: ‘We just wanted to end with this set of images from Steve Lomazow’s collection of US magazines. In an extraordinary coming together not just of one publisher’s magazines but every publisher’s magazines in the US, the country’s 1942 entry into the second world war was marked by the appearance of the stars and stripes on every magazine cover that month.’

PERRIN: ‘It would be interesting to think about what it would take for every magazine to come together and publish something around the same subject today…’

Indie session:
Ralph McGinnis, Put A Egg On It

‘A magazine is a vegetable medley’

Ralph McGinnis of Put A Egg On It opened a trio of smaller indies post-lunch. He described his love for zines, and how he learned everything he knows from cutting and pasting, (‘I’m older than I look’) and zines like Ben is Dead, and Maximum Rock n Roll. He learned graphic design working into the night at Kinkos.

‘All the mags I grew up tended to be independent…’ And that remains the basis of PAEOI. Everything comes from the indie ethic: every design choice, every person in the magazine. ‘This is not for getting rich,’ he confirmed.

‘I’m now a trained graphic designer but I try to keep a sense of amatuerishness with everything I do.’ PAEOI has rules that he dosen’t break: a limit of two typefaces (everything else is drawn, including the logo).

The mag started by doing dinner parties; not art directed dinners, but a real one. In that respect it’s about the culture of food and bringing people together. ‘We’re opposed to aspirational living.’

He shared spreads form the magazine including a series of shots of the landscape murals in New York’s Chinese restaurants, as well as street shots of people eating al fresco.

He makes PAEOI with co-founder Sarah Keough. ‘We put our recipes together in much the same way a music zine does reviews: we ask people we like. Some are chefs, some are friends… we don’t do a test kitchen either.’

He ended with a reminder of his desire to retain the indie ethic. ‘I get aggravated when I see people throw money at something and it’s still boring.’

Indie session II:
Beth Wilkinson, Lindsay

‘Some magazines are filled with stories and journalism; others are dotted with musings and glossy photos. Some are for reading; others are for their visual pleasure. Some are designed to be collected and treasured; others are made to be re-read, scuffed, marked up and passed on. Some are driven by strategy and business; others are a labour of love. But ultimately, every magazine—no matter who is making it or what its vision is—says something of its time and its place.’

Beth highlighted the physical presence of her magazine as a collectible object filled with stories that transport you all over the world, ‘giving the reader a chance to escape the distractions of the screen and the pace of modern life.’

Her stories come from across the globe, and are accompanied by analogue photography. She introduced here grandfather, Lindsay, after whom her mag is named and described how he taught himself to take photos and produced thousands of images at a time when photography was still a specialist hobby. She now owns his cameras.

She noted the paradox that while Lindsay is in many ways a product of another time; yet it was only through technology that she’s been able to work with contributors from all over the world. Email has enabled this, of course, but she also outlined how she creates the magazine in Melbourne but prints it in The Netherlands, and that her online store has shipped her magazine to people in over 50 countries.

She ran through stories from the first three issues of her mag: a Croatian painter, Japanese Ama divers, a Hong Kong home; Luca Guadagnino, director of  ‘Call Me By Your Name’, Japanese composer Yuichi Sakamoto, the legendary Ann Goldstein, formerly head of copy at The New Yorker.

Lindsay is a complicated magazine, difficult to pin down as it’s so very much the result one person’s imagination, something Beth acknowledged in her closing statement.

Lindsay is delicate, but it is potent. It doesn’t present just one view of the world. It’s not fast and trendy, it’s slow and classic. Unlike the internet, it can’t promise to offer you everything, but it can offer you something that you can connect with. In the digital age that’s exactly what we need.’

Indie session III:
Roderick Stanley, Good Trouble

‘A magazine is an increasingly archaic and largely redundant mode of mass communication, now primarily of interest to weirdos, misfits, ne’er-do-wells, vagabonds, delinquents and otherwise unemployable wretches with too much time on their hands, questionable ethics, and messianic delusions of grandeur. There’s also a negative side.’

The third indie speaker was Roderick Stanley, the man behind Good Trouble, a magazine that uses art and culture to look at protest and activism. Having written for many youth culture magazines at the start of the millenium, it was when he became editor of Dazed & Confused in 2005 that he first found himself able to focus on the intersection of culture and social issues.

That interest remained with him as he left Dazed to work on brand projects in New York, and in 2016 two events happened that led him to launch Good Trouble. The first was the UK’s Brexit referendum result, the second Trump’s election victory.

He recalled how in NYC it felt like there were protests every night. He went to Washington for the inauguration protests, and stayed for the women’s march. The energy and hunour he saw on the streets those days led him to launch the Good Trouble website.

Interest grew in what he was doing, and when invited to produce a zine to accompany a panel discussion he was taking part in, he talked to art director friend Richard Turley, and one thing led to another and he found they’d published the debut print version of Good Trouble in the summer of 2017.

They didn’t know what how much to sell it for, so they put ‘Pay what you want’ on the cover, which although perfect in its idealsim caused all sorts of problems further down the line.

The large, newspaper format featured material from the website alongside exclusive work from various friends and artists on the theme ‘Resist’.

The magazine addressed serious subjects in an offbeat manner; an example was the complete source-code for the malware program used to hack the Democratic party in the run-up the 2016 election, run in tiny tyoe to fill an entire page.

The name Good Trouble comes from Congressman John Lewis, quoted above.

The second issue was more ambitious, building on the succesful reception to the first. A pull-out centre section featured poster-sized artworks from Wolfgang Tillmans, Scott King and others.

Rod highlighted the oft-asked question, ‘Why?,’ using another quote, this time from writer JG Ballard, in part answer before moving to todays news.

‘This is a photo of a migrant children’s camp in Texas. The truth is scary at the moment, it comes with hard edges that cut and bruise. Kids in cages in the desert; endeangering transgender rights; threatening the freedom of the press; criminalising abortion; being a white supremacist. These are all things that are wrong, and as John Lewis says, we have a responsibility to stand up and say so.’

‘I don’t want to make any particular claims for Good Trouble, which is just a small publication trying to shine a light on some great individuals and movements. But I would love us to think of a way we can get into some good trouble, neccesary trouble.’

All three indie speakers had far more in common than this brief outline can express; as well as a passion for magazines they all have a distinct message they wish to share and have overcome issues of production and distribution to make their messages available.

Jody Quon
New York

‘A magazine should catch you off guard. A great magazine should find you talking to yourself. The best magazine should render you speechless.’

‘One of the great pleasures of working for a magazine like New York is the incrdible variety of topics that we cover: politics, fashion, celebrity culture, food. We do service and we do long-form journalism as well. That mix makes it quite a special place to work at.’

Jody shared covers and interior work that reflected the scope of her magazine. It was a talk so tightly crafted that is tricky to pull out individual highlights; here we share a few examples from the seperate sections in the talk.

‘Here, how we think about ho a photograph can occuoy space in the magazine. Adam Platt, our restaurant critic, had this idea to do an essay on the loss of the New York diner as an institution. We decided that we would find the classic diner in the city and display all the contents of its menu on the counter. We scoured New York to find the ultimate diner that hadn’t been modernised, and then convinced them to produce every single item on the menu. I worked with the design director to conceive of this picture to run across three spreads.’

‘As a photo editor, Instagram has become an invaluable tool to find new talent. I agreed with Beth Wilkinson’s point that tehcnology and the internet allows you to tap talent from anywhere. I’d been following the work of Hassan Hajjaj, a street style kind of photographer, and when we got access for an exclusive interview with Cardi B, that’s when I thought Hassan would be a great match. His work is all about clash, the border on this picture is his, and thought he would make an exciting cover.’

‘Another example is artist Deborah Roberts, who works in collage. For a fashion issue we supplied her with the runway pictures from the shows and she was able a whole portfolio of different women wearing the clothes; one of those eyes is Rihannas’, you have Mohamad Ali’s fist, Michelle Obama’s arms.’

‘The magazine has a tradition of working with real people in its casting, in its street style, in its reported stories. This was Adam Moss’s final issue, and he was excited to run this great package about marriage today. All the couples here are real married couples that we found, we cast them through various postings on the internet. What’s interesting about this is that there’s no photographer.

‘The cover was inspired by the photographer Ted Spannier, who’s deceased. In the 1970s he did this incredible, long study of sleep. He would set up a camera in the couple’s bedroom and using a timer take photos all night long.

‘We quickly realised we should embrace Spannier’s set-up as an homage, but also we realised that if a photographer was in the room it would inhibit their behaviour. We set the timer at one second intervals for half an hour.’

‘This is an unused picture from a different story that our design director Thomas Alberty had the brilliant idea to put on the cover for this story about podcasts. We hadn’t unlocked the idea, but Tom took the words the editors had given him and he shoved them into the ear and that became the cover. The interplay of the language and image is so important, the contextualisation of the image to the word and the word to the image is so, so important. It’s especially valuable when photo editors are surrounded by great editors and great designers. Magazine-making is like baking a cake and every ingredient is so important, you need just the right amount of each.’

‘This is the derriere of Lizzo, the body positive singer. One of her signature moves is jiggling her derriere. I thought let’s make that picture front and centre; we can put some fashion crsits on her hands and we found this amazing body stocking that would cover her just enough. And we made this hero shot of her bottom. And when it came to publish the pictures – we have a picture meeting ahead of each issue – and the editors saw that picture and they were like, ‘uhuh?’, right, and didn’t say very much. So then we lay it out as a double page, and the editors walk over and say ‘I don’t think so… it’s a butt! This is a fashion issue, not a porn magazine… let’s show some clothes!’

‘Stella Bugbee, editor of The Cut, she was like ‘yes!’ but other editors… Adam Moss didn’t really know who Lizzo was, they didn’t know that what she does is jiggle her butt. So we published the picture as a double page spread.

‘But a lot of debate goes on all the time, every issue there’s inevitably something comes up – to publish or not to publish?’

‘This is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had working. We had a meeting at the magazine about what the big stories coming up were and I said I think we should do the Cosby women, there are so many of them, we could do a portfolio and talk to them. At the time the editor said there’s no story if you don’t have Bill Cosby.

‘People were very reticient, but togther with my team ee began to contact the woman one by one, and organise the information bhy the woman and her age, wher eshe was assaulted. You could see the ranges of the ages were from 20s to 80s; their occupations were varied, and from all over the country. The only thing they had in common was the alleged assault by Bill Cosby.

‘Once we could share this information with the editors, they agreed there was a story to work on. We continued for six months and ended up photographing 35 women. When we got the green ight, the editors said it could be four pages, six or eight, who knows. So we had to shoot it in a very elastic way.

‘It was important that a woman shoot this story, but that’s not something that was immediately apparent to me. I had initially called a male photographer, not thinking. The photographer said to me, ‘I don’t really see the pictures,’ and the moment he said that I realised he just didn’t get the story. It was a gender thing, it needed to be a woman and one of a certain age, a woman that these women could feel safewith. That’s when I called Amanda Demme and she embraced the project with such conviction.’

‘We thought this would be the final cover with Donald Trump, this was about two and a half weeks before the election and we wanted to do something special with it. I did what we often do; I called a handful of artists and gave them a brief, ‘What would summarise Trump, right now?’ One of those artists was Barbara Kruger, who we’ve worked with before, and when I called her she said, ‘Oh yeah, I know what it is,’ and I said, what? And she said ‘Loser.’ I said, really? ‘Oh yeah, Jody, of course, it’s everything he cannot be. And she went into this whole rant. He cannot be a loser.’

‘So I walk into the editor’s office and with big eyes and a big smile I said we had the Trump cover. ‘Loser!’ And he’s like, ‘Are you crazy? We’re not going to do that! We can’t call the election!

‘This is a good lesson in letting an idea simmer and gestate. This is a week and a half ahead of the issue, and I said we’d sit on it but went ahead and mocked up the cover. We found some pictures and showed them to Barbara, and she said it would be like this.

‘Then the next week Tom, our design director, polishes it up a little bit, and we show it to Adam and he can’t deny the graphic appeal of this cover, but he’s still asking for others. And I share some of the other ideas. This one is this, and this one… And Adam say let’s put the Loser cover in as an option – we always have many different covers going before we finally make the decision.

‘On Wednesday evening – we have to decide Thursday and go to press Friday – Adam decides to go with the Loser cover. He’s tweeking the langauge, he’s very excited. We focus group the cover and everyone loves it. But Friday, noon, the Comey email fiasco erupts again. Adam decides to delay the cover, see how the news settles. At the end of the day we pull the trigger and publish it,

‘That was one of those moments, I don’t do Instagram as much as I should, but I did put this up. And I said ‘Only at New York.’ I felt so proud that we would come out with a cover like this two weeks  before the election.

‘We got so much positive response from this cover. And then he wins the election and we’re still on stands.


‘Adam had to do some fancy footwork PR in order to double down and explain the cover. Even though we weren’t calling the election, that’s what it looked like. But as time will tell, just like fine wine, this cover gets better with age.’

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff

‘A magazine is a space for disruption’

Charlie set the scene for her talk with a set of statistics showing the low representation of women of colour and non binary people of colour in US and UK journalism; her figures, from 2016, showed that in the UK journalists were 94% white and 55% male; in the US, 84% of journalism jobs go to white people and that Hispanic, black and Asian women make up less than 5% of newsroom personnel.

‘As a result the mainstream media still regularly publishes racist and sexist content.’ She noted the impact that media outlets like Fox and The Daily Mail have on attitudes, highlighting the rise in hate crime in the UK post-Brexit.

‘How does someone like me, a shy, socially anxious, faintly black woman who doesn’t come from a financially stable background operate in an industry like this?’

She explained how gal-dem began as a small collective of women, the website building an audience by contrasting the experiences of woman of colour with those white people. Having started as a website, the growing collective quickly moved into events; one at the V&A Museum was a huge moment. The collective ‘filled its halls with black and brown people, rappers, food workshops and films. We danced among statues of old dead, white people.’

The print publication was launched in 2016 and built on the same principle as the V&A event. ‘We wanted to have something tangible to hold onto, we knew we were creating history.’ Print was an obvious progression, and the magazine was intended to be thick and weighty with photography as well as the illustrations the website had become known for.

She describe the magazine as an anchor; ‘It gives you prestige in a digital world.’

Other milestones include the first gal-dem book, just released, based on the childhood diaries of contributors. Another was the collaboration with the Guardian Weekend magazine in 2018; they took over one entire issue of the 100-page magazine. Everything was produced by women of colour (read more here).

The team have just spent a year arranging investment so they can give up day jobs and pay themselves for their work on the website, events and magazine. They have new offices and new ambitions: a new internship scheme which includes rent support to live in London, a redesign of the magazine for the next issue.

She ended by asking, ‘What are you doing right now to help the fight in this industry? What are you doing right now to make this industry better?’‌

Nicholas Blechman
The New Yorker

A magazine is…

Nicholas’s talk addressed the conflict between print and digital, in the context of a publication that can boast, ‘Most of our revenue comes from the print magazine, while most of our viewers are online.’

‘These two people they both are in the same family, they should be good friends, but they have this incredible sibling rivalry. They really don’t get along, they hate each other.’

You can’t explain The New Yorker, you just have to experience it. ‘If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.’ But Nicholas gave it a go: ‘Our DNA is a complicated meringue of ingredients. It includes dog cartoons, politics, pieces on how we live now, on technology as well as literature. It’s a complex gumbo soup.’

He split his presentation in two, starting with the print edition before moving to the digital (‘To be a magazine today is to have a media empire.’).

He shared the many details and quirks of his magazine that are unique to the print edition, vital parts of The New Yorker’s identity, much of which he noted that will be unknown to the digital reader.

Like many of the day’s speakers, he reminded us, ‘The ink is barely dry before the cover gets posted online on Thursdays.’

Despite the apparent lack of change to the classic design, Blechman is continually adapting the details behind the scenes to maintain the consistency. Typefaces are redrawn, non-lining numbers were introduced, spot colours subtly introduced.

‘In print there’s a sense of size, of rhythm, scale. Online it just fills your screen. If you come across a story via twitter you don’t get a sense of the larger context of the magazine.’

As well as design differences, he noted how online headlines are rewritten to be search-friendly. The magazines’s narrow Irwin headline typeface is designed to be used in briefer print headlines; the longer digital headlines look unwieldy in longer lines.

He noted how in print he has total control of the product but that online there are multiple layers of people to manage any design requests. ‘That’s a bug that will get fixed in time; five years ago the internet was awesome, it was so easy to fix and tweak. At some point it became this unwieldy beast.’

‘If somebody in consumer marketing says blue does better than red for a subscribe button, who am I to say let’s not do that. Because that’s revenue.’

Having listed the negatives of digital, he moved to the positives. People love the easy access of archived copies of the magazine; the ability to add audio tracks to articles; the podcasts; and the way we can animate the illustrations. In print the art suddenly looks very static – what other magazine have such fun with paper jams?

‘Do I commission for print or do I commission for the web?’ He’s beginning to start some commissions from the animation, before moving to the print version.

‘I try not to think too much about the medium, and concentrate on the ideas. The var for ideas at The New Yorker is very high. We have this meeting every Tuesday afternoon, the ideas meeting, and they pitch ideas for stories. It’s supposed to be a collective conversation but in truth we’re just talking to editor David Remnick.

‘There’s this myth of being platform-agnostic, which I don’t think we are, but that’s the way to think — more in terms of content than where it’s going to appear.’

‘It’s my hope that these two guys will end up being really good friends.’

ModMagNYC 2019 took place on 29 May 2019, and was presented by magCulture in collaboration with Parsons School of Art, Media, and Technology at The New School & AIGANY

Jeremy Leslie
Stephanie Hartman
Liv Siddall

Read the report on our follow-up event at A/D/O.

Our next conference takes place in London on Thursday 7 November 2017.

Event design: magCulture Studio
magCulture team: Lesley Allan, Ewan Leslie, Jamie Atherton, Thea Smith, Esa Matinvesi
Photographer: Justin J Wee
Additional help: AIGANY volunteers

With special thanks to all our partners:

Thank you to all our guest speakers, Lucille Tenazas, Geovanna Borden , Stacey Panousopoulos, Rosie Garschina, Alison Branch, Cath Caldwell, Keisha Dean, Michael Brown, Robert Newman, Mike Spriggs, Tommy Dobrzynski, Andrew Ross, Jessica Petrullo and Jean-Michelle Lopez.

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