Starting and Running a Magazine
by Jordan Hylden, Harvard ’06
Jordan Hylden was the founding Editor-in-Chief of Harvard’s Ichthus.
One important thing to think about is how you want to structure your staff. Now, there are plenty of ways to skin this particular cat, but generally speaking, you should follow a simple rule: Everyone has specific responsibilities, and everyone is accountable to someone above him or her. I can’t stress enough how important that is—if you give people wishy-washy “areas” of responsibility, but not specific tasks; and if you don’t have a functioning chain of command, things will fall through the cracks. Proper organization is very, very important.
Staff structure isn’t something that’s set in stone—you’ll want to adapt your own structure to the people you bring aboard. So long as everyone has a specific job to do, and everyone is accountable for actually doing it, you can set up a staff almost any way you’d like. Generally speaking, you want to make your structure fit your people, not the other way around—if you have two super-talented fiction-and-poetry people, but had only envisioned one Fiction and Poetry Editor, you can be flexible—try putting one in charge of fiction, and one in charge of poetry. Or whatever. It’s all about working with the people you have, not the people you wish you had.
So: although this is how I did it, it doesn’t have to be how you do it…
1. Editor-in-Chief – The big kahuna. The buck stops here. Ever read The Federalist Papers? Energy in the executive is important—there’s a reason why the Articles of Confederation didn’t work. Someone needs to be responsible for general oversight of the entire magazine. You can bet your boots that things will go wrong; that staff members will turn over; that things won’t always be done right. The editor-in-chief needs to be prepared to do what needs to be done, no matter what it might be. Everyone, of course, needs a specific task, and the editor-in-chief is no exception: you can’t just be a general presiding officer. I’d recommend that you take charge of a certain section of the magazine, probably the featured articles section. Beyond that, delegate as much responsibility as possible. Then, follow up on your entire staff to make sure things get done. Expect that you’ll end up doing some of it yourself. You’ll also need to serve as the “face” of the magazine, particularly when raising money. And, of course, to set regular meeting times. More broadly speaking, the editor-in-chief has to be authoritative without being authoritarian. You’re a leader, yes, but don’t get a big head—none of it would be possible without staffers, donors, and writers. You’re the leader of a movement, not the dictator of a banana republic. Learn to listen to people. Don’t hesitate to acknowledge your mistakes, and apologize when you screw up. Treat people as friends, not as underlings. Don’t forget how easy it is for others to feel intimidated by those in charge. But, that being said… you also can’t be afraid of telling people what their responsibilities are, of enforcing rules, and of making decisions. If an article isn’t good enough, or something isn’t getting done, say so. But in a nice way! This is a balancing act, I know, but you’ll learn it as you go along. One more thing: if this sounds like a major commitment, that’s because it is. It doesn’t, however, have to be something that dominates your entire life. Expect to spend some time on it every day, and plan to be particularly busy around publishing time. But I managed to edit a magazine and still stay involved in all sorts of other stuff. You’ll have to make some trade-offs, and maybe cut back on other activities if you’re over-committed, but you’ll still be able to have a life. Really.
2. Business Manager – The money man. Financial wizard extraordinaire. If you love the idea of a magazine, but don’t think that writing and editing is necessarily your thing, then this is the job for you. Sound financial management is indispensable; thus, the Business Manager has a very important job. Your task is to plan a budget, figure out sources of funding, supervise advertisement sales, keep tally of income and expenditures, oversee circulation and subscription sales, pay the bills, deposit the checks, deal with the folks over at the bank, apply for the grants, and generally speaking do what it takes to keep the books. After the editor-in-chief, the business manager is the busiest person on the staff. You’ll need to have a good working relationship with the editor-in-chief, since you two will essentially handle the day-to-day business of the magazine. Much of your responsibility can be, and in fact should be, delegated. That means you’ll need to be responsible not just for specific tasks, but for several staff members as well. Likely, you’ll want to delegate certain tasks to an Advertising Manager, Circulation Director, and perhaps a Fundraising Director (although that might be something you’ll want to keep to yourself). Like the editor-in-chief, you’ll also likely have to spend a certain time every day taking care of business, but the job isn’t overwhelming. My business manager was a trusted friend and roommate, who also managed to sing in the Glee Club, take some wicked hard computer science and economics courses, and have a normal life besides. It’s a commitment, sure, but if you’re into business, you should have no problem. Plus, might I add, if you’re hoping to go into business or finance after college, it’s pretty darn good experience, and doesn’t look bad on a resume.
3. Associate Editor – A somewhat misleading title, which we used because “Front Section and Endpiece Editor” sounded funny. In our magazine, we had a section in front with shorter pieces (something like newspaper columns), and a more anecdotal, personal piece in back. Most magazines have something like this, and you’ll probably want to as well—which means that it’s probably a good idea to have someone as the editor in charge of it. Generally speaking, that’s how magazines work: the editor-in-chief is in charge of everything in general, as well as something in particular; and then every other section of the magazine has its own editor who reports to the editor-in-chief. You’ll be responsible for finding articles to fill up your section, communicating with your writers throughout the process, and then working with them to edit the articles when they come in—while, of course, keeping in touch with the editor-in-chief throughout. Editing itself is a rather tricky process, having a lot to do with managing egos and diplomacy than I’d ever imagined… so much so, in fact, that it merits its own how-to section.
4. Books and Arts Editor – Assuming you want to have a books-and-arts review section, you’ll want to have an editor for it. This position is just like the Associate Editor’s job, only in a different part of the magazine. You’ll have to decide what books are worth reviewing, what new CD’s merit attention, and what movies should be talked about. (New artwork, like painting, architecture, and sculpture, can conceivably also fit under this rubric, but it’s easier, and might be all you can do well, to limit yourself to books, movies, and music.) As a general rule of thumb, try to keep the section to recent works—usually, within the last 12 months, or at least within the last 5 years. This isn’t really a place to be reviewing your favorite Pink Floyd album, for example—that’s been done already, 30 years ago. One possibility for this position is to split it up among three different people: one for books, one for movies, and one for music. That probably isn’t ideal, but if you’re trying to find a place on staff for several talented people, it’s a viable option.
5. Fiction and Poetry Editor – Again, assuming you want to publish short stories and poetry (which is probably a good idea), you’ll need to have someone in charge of it. A word of warning, however, is probably due: never underestimate how many people out there think that they can write poetry. Most of it, sadly, isn’t very good. You’ll need to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Fiction, on the other hand, is (in my experience) hard to find, period. Writing a short story ain’t easy, and not many people try. Nevertheless, encouraging young Christian writers is a noble task, and I’d strongly recommend you give it a shot. One thing to keep in mind: editing fiction and poetry is not the same thing as editing a normal essay or column. Stories and poems are art, and writers are apt to be very wary of changes made to their work. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but know that it’s a delicate task.
6. Design Editor – Although it doesn’t necessarily have to be its own specific position, someone on staff needs to be able to use layout programs like Quark and Adobe Pagemaker, as well as have a savvy eye for professional-looking design. The first issue will take the most time, as he or she will have to create a brand-new design template. After that, the position won’t take a very large amount of time, save for the week or so before publication, during which the layout of the magazine itself will need to take place. You’ll probably want to find someone who’s already done this sort of thing in high school.
7. Online Editor – Again, although it isn’t necessary that this be its own position, you do need to find someone web-savvy enough to create and maintain a website. Ideally, you’ll find someone dedicated enough to update the website regularly, which can sometimes be a challenge. Generally speaking, however, a well-designed and maintained website can increase your readership significantly, and widen your circle of influence beyond campus.
8. Circulation Manager – Quite simple: someone needs to be in charge of subscriptions and distribution. The biggest spike in activity, of course, comes at printing time, when he or she has to come up with a way to find a small army of volunteers (usually, from the various Christian fellowships) to distribute the magazine around campus. Selling subscriptions to alumni is also a good way to raise some extra cash. This position will likely fall under the supervision of the Business Manager.
9. Advertising Manager – Again, self-explanatory, yet important: this person needs to sell advertisements for each issue. This task is important, since advertising has the potential to make up a significant part of your annual revenue. At Harvard, we were able to sell $1,000 dollars worth of advertising per issue, accounting for a third of our budget. This position will also likely fall under the supervision of the Business Manager.
That’s probably just about it… you may, of course, find it expedient to condense some of these positions into fewer spots, or expand some of them into more. Once you have a staff, however, and once you get your papers in order at the University office, you have, just like the old Virginia Slims, “Come a long way, baby.” Unfortunately, there is that bit of unpleasantness related to just how you plan to pay for it all… As a rule, people need to be followed up on. You can’t simply assume that things are getting done—you need to make sure that they are. That means regularly checking up on people to see how things are going. I know, I know, this sounds harsh, but I don’t mean it that way. It’s just a fact of life. College kids are busy, and few of us have spent real time out in the real world, where responsibilities are taken much more seriously. I’m a professional procrastinator myself, and I’d wager that most students aren’t too different. This doesn’t mean that you turn all paranoid and stop trusting people. Instead, it just means that things need to be laid out very clearly, and checked up on regularly. I’d recommend that you require, as a general expectation, that every staff member give regular status reports on what they’ve been up to—probably, an email, phone call, or meeting each week will suffice. You need that to counteract the universal college-kid tendency, which is to leave everything for the last minute and put it together in a rush. That may work for Basket Weaving 101, but it doesn’t make for a professional publication.
Next step: Finances.