Starting and Running a Magazine

by Jordan Hylden, Harvard ’06

Jordan Hylden was the founding Editor-in-Chief of Harvard’s Ichthus.

Step 2: Who’s With Me?

Building a Team

You know those old Captain Planet cartoons? “With our powers combined… (Earth! Air! Fire! Water! Heart!) we are… Captain Planet!” Then, they would go out and defeat the evil corporations that were polluting the environment, or the forces of darkness, or something like that.

Well, your magazine is sort of trying to do the same thing (minus fighting the evil corporations). You need to build a group of diverse yet cohesive team members, all of whom are excited about your common vision. Oftentimes, the core will be a small group of friends from the same church or fellowship, but it can’t stay like that if it’s going to be successful. You need to reach out. If your magazine doesn’t embrace the spectrum of Christian believers on campus, it’ll be branded as “just evangelical” or “just Catholic” or “just academic” or “just artsy.” Ideally, it’ll engage the entire campus—and if you’re at a large university, that means the professors and graduate students as well. The more people you draw together, the more chance you have at making a broad impact on your school. So, you need to start talking.

Get a core group together first—people whom you know, that you can trust, and that are as excited as you are about the project. Then, once you have a core together, move beyond it. If you’re all evangelicals, go talk to the Catholics. If you’re in the pipe-smoking bow-tie-wearing conservative crowd, go talk to the social justice urban ministry folks. If you’re grad students, go find the undergrads. Whoever you are, start talking to the professors and campus chaplains. Basically, put together the broadest possible group that you can. Cast a vision, and get people excited. Host meetings, go grab lunch or coffee with folks, go to your prof’s office hours, or do whatever it is you have to do. Just get people together. Start thinking about whom you’ll need to fill certain positions, too.

It’s pretty essential, in my opinion, to find (generally speaking) people who fit these criteria:

Bookish kids who write well, think rigorously, and are interested in ideas. These people will be your editors. They’ll provide the creative drive behind the magazine, and moreover, will be able to tell a well-written, interesting article from a poorly-written, badly done piece. These people are essential.

Organizationally-gifted kids who are good with details, business-oriented, and responsible. Someone needs to be in charge of the business end of things; keeping tabs on finances and deadlines; and making sure that things like printing, advertising sales, sensible budgeting, and payment of debts run smoothly. In my experience, it is often the case that the bookish, ideas-driven kids are not necessarily also gifted in the arena of business and financial management. On the one hand, you need people who think deeply about books and ideas and vision and goals—and on the other hand, someone needs to make sure the trains run on time.

Computer-savvy kids who know how to lay out a publication and build a website. Your magazine’s design, layout, and web presence are your responsibility, and if no one on your publication can handle these sorts of tasks, you’re up a creek without a paddle. Find someone who worked on the newspaper in high school, or is currently working on a magazine or newspaper in college (the essential programs for layout are Quark and/or Adobe Pagemaker). Additionally, find someone who knows how to create and maintain a website. These people are essential for giving your magazine a professional appearance and strong Web presence.

Literary/poetic/artistic/musical kids—people who know good poetry from bad,
important music from pop ephemera, beautiful art from modern excreta, and quality novels from trashy dime-store lit. Building the Christian worldview is about so much more than philosophical and logical argument—it’s also about casting a poetic, artistic, and literary vision. A publication that lacks this is missing out on the legacy of T. S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, Gerard Hopkins, Walker Percy, and for that matter, Milton, Dante, Bach, Michelangelo, and so on. C. S. Lewis thought that Christian art existed to reflect the beauty and glory of God. Your magazine can help show forth the beauty and hope of the Christian worldview, and in so doing can provide an important counterweight to the deconstructive, libertine, and confused nihilism of so much modern and post-modern art, literature, and poetry. (Which, if I may editorialize for a bit, is very needed in today’s university!)

Science/math/engineering kids—people who know and have a passion for the natural sciences, like biology, physics, and mathematics. I hardly need to tell you about the deleterious effects of scientific naturalism on the Christian faith—or, the inadequate response of many Christians to it. If we are to confront the modern university with the claims of the Church, we can neither despise nor be ignorant of science. This area of your publication needs to be done well, and with care. You run the risk of being dismissed as “superstitious,” “unscientific,” “fundamentalist,” and basically soft intellectually. But if done right, you can spark a real conversation on your campus, and begin to challenge the university in an arena which is, at present, essentially the sole possession of dogmatic atheist materialists.

Political/social policy kids—Most college campuses are saturated with politics, one way or another. Even if nine out of ten of your friends know nothing more about religion than what they picked up from The Da Vinci Code, they more than likely have some sort of opinion about the war in Iraq, President Bush, the upcoming presidential elections, or whatever. Politics sparks discussion, and although it can be dangerous to over-politicize (or to hew to a party line), when done right it can serve as an important way to draw attention to your publication and spark interest. Additionally, the Christian witness for social justice and care for the poor is an essential part of proclaiming the Gospel, and on many campuses, can be an important way of reaching out.

That, I think, pretty much sums up the broad categories of students that you’ll want to find. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, ideally these students won’t just come from one area of the school (like the college or the law school)—they’ll be generally representative of the entire university.

Finally, I also have to reiterate the importance of faculty and chaplaincy involvement. If you can get a core group of professors interested in sponsoring your publication, you’ll have gone a long way towards getting the entire university involved in the conversation. Students come and students go, but faculties are forever (almost)—they’ll provide ballast and institutional memory, whereas students will move on. If you can get some professors on your masthead, and even better, to contribute articles, you’ll be a much stronger and better-respected publication.

Additionally, campus ministers can be a big help, especially in the areas of finances, advice, encouragement, and institutional stability. Campus ministers often know their schools inside and out, and will serve as invaluable sources of wisdom and advice as you make decisions and set goals. They’re more permanent than students are, too, which helps in terms of stability over time. (A note of caution, though—you probably don’t want your publication to be “owned” by one particular fellowship or church, since that will diminish the comprehensiveness and overall witness of your magazine.) That should be it! Once you’ve formed a team, you’re ready to move on to nuts and bolts, starting with The Constitution.