Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Patrick Walsh's Tips for Rich Editorial in Cash-Poor Times

Last Friday, at the Alberta Magazine Conference, editor Patrick Walsh shared his experience and insights in a workshop that explored cost-effective ways to generate editorial content under financial constraints.
“It’s always a creative challenge,” he said. Walsh is currently the editor of Outdoor Canada and president of the National Magazine Awards Foundation. He used to edit Masthead, the magazine industry trade journal. Here are some of his key points:
  • Have the right mindset. Essentially think like a publisher, a reader, an art director and editor so you’re always keeping in mind financial constraints, editorial excellence and the reader’s desire for strong voice.
  • Be a good manager by getting staff contributors onside with your cost-saving means. Try to plan ahead in advance and get buy-in from your staff to pick up extra work as well as stepping up to do editorial yourself.
  • Brainstorm until it pours. Exhaust all available resources and get your staff involved.
  • Do-it-yourself. Walsh says he does one major feature a year for his own magazine. However, he warns to be careful to not overdo it so the magazine can keep a diversity of voices.
  • Use pick-up photos or found art. He suggests taking photos and banking them for use later. If you’re out covering stories that have similar concepts to what you do each year, take your own photos instead of paying for them. Utilize in-house talent for graphics like maps and charts and try to discover these skills among your staff during brainstorming.
  • Buy in bulk. Bundle studio shoots or pay retainers and set a fee for a certain number of issues. Freelancers are happy because they are guaranteed income and this tends to be cheaper for the magazine than prorating the assignments. This is particularly useful for regular departments, columns and web stories.
  • Create vanity projects. Essentially, let others do the work for you. Collect and package content that you cull from “experts and consultants.” People want to see their name in print so you can easily get them to comment on your topic (via email forms or interviews) and then you edit and shape the content.
  • Plagiarize yourself. Recycle and resue previously published creative. This is more so in terms of images you’ve shot and paid for. Try to keep a database of images that can or likely will be used again in another context.
  • Go online. Work the web for more time-sensitive stories or consider your blogs as overflow for where you don’t have room or space in the magazine to do such articles.
  • Stretch it out. Work closely with your art director to play around with enlarging the photos, typography and illustration if you’re in a crunch to fill space in a quick turnaround. Walsh also discussed how one of the fixes at Outdoor Canada to fill two extra pages was to turn a double-page spread opener for a feature into a TOC of sorts. PDFs of the following pages were shrunk to become images for each story in the feature package and page numbers were treated graphically.

No matter how each magazine chooses to adopt and use these tactics and solutions, Walsh reminds us to “always surprise readers with something every issue.”