Starting and Running a Magazine
by Jordan Hylden, Harvard ’06
Jordan Hylden was the founding Editor-in-Chief of Harvard’s Ichthus.
The Life of A Gumshoe Reporter
So. At this point, we’re assuming that you more-or-less have put together a staff and found several sources of funding. It’s a bit misleading to say that these steps have to follow each other one by one—really, you’ll end up doing several of them at once—but, for the sake of argument, now let’s say that it’s time for you to find some articles. Which is another way of saying, now that you’ve done all the hard work of putting together a magazine, now you have to find something worthwhile to say! Much of this you’ll have already thought about, back when you were just kids with a dream casting a vision while eating pizza and drinking root beer somewhere. In fact, if your vision has carried you this far, you probably have a pretty darn good idea of what you want your magazine to talk about. If you’re still fuzzy on it, go back to the publications we talked about before, like First Things, Books and Culture, and even maybe my own personal baby, the Harvard Ichthus (www.harvardichthus.org).
Generally speaking, however, you want to find students and profs who write well and have something interesting to say, on a subject about which they are knowledgeable. This can mean all sorts of things—in the Ichthus, we published articles on Dostoyevsky, Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, global poverty and AIDS relief, dueling Christian political perspectives, stem-cell research, the Church’s response to homosexuality, and etc., along with reviews of Anne Rice’s book Christ the Lord, Harvey Cox’s When Jesus Came to Harvard, the movie Garden State, the latest Switchfoot and U2 albums, and more. Use your imagination!
Try to come up with articles that have particular salience to your campus, and try to find contributors who’ll attract attention, from campus figures and noted professors. You’ll probably find that the various Christian fellowships will provide you with a good source of contributors, along with local churches popular among students. You might want to post bulletins up around campus asking for submissions (which is, incidentally, a good way to get publicity). You also will want to make full use of email lists and Facebook messaging, especially to Christian groups. There will probably be some very good professors who will be happy to contribute, which will be especially good to give your publication credibility.
Each of your editors, of course, will be responsible for their own sections, but if you’re editor-in-chief, don’t be afraid to make suggestions. There isn’t any special advice to give, really, on how to find articles: it all has to do with knowing people, using networks, and a whole lot of elbow grease. You’ve just gotta be persistent. A few helpful hints: Don’t feel like you need to talk about “Christian” books and music all the time. In fact, to a certain degree you want to be wary of that. The last thing you’d want to do is become a sort of running commentary on the American Christian subculture, with little or no relevance to the larger world—that, I’d imagine, is rather antithetical to the purpose of your magazine.
When you’re asking people to write for you, make sure not to make any promises. You’re never obligated to print something, and it’s best if your contributors know that. Talk regularly with your writers to see how it’s coming along—don’t just assume that it’s getting done. Offer help and advice. Be encouraging.
And, one last word of wisdom: if you need four articles for a section, ask for five or six. Always assume that at least one of the articles will fall through. Even with the best-intentioned of writers, things happen. If you end up with more than you need, then all you have to do is run the extra piece in the next issue. If you don’t have enough, you’re up a creek without a paddle.
Next step: How to Edit.