Why print is not just a black-and-white issue
The following is reprinted, in the interests of transparency to our reader community, from our internal employee newsletter.
It’s possible to sit through the entire two hours of The September Issue, a documentary about how they put together Vogue magazine, without realizing they never talk about a single word that gets printed inside it.
The film, directed by R.J. Cutler, follows legendary fashion editor Anna Wintour as she and her team prepare for what became, in 2007, the largest edition of a magazine ever published: 840 pages. Less than 200 of those pages are actual editorial content. Although I realize some people consider everything in a magazine like Vogue to be some kind of ad, this is a publication which has, in its more than 100-year history, included articles from Aldous Huxley (“Brave New World”), Truman Capote (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and many others. Although media is about putting words and pictures together, the emphasis in The September Issue is clearly on the latter. The film follows the photographers, the models and the makeup crews as they create scene after scene of beautiful clothes draped over beautiful women. In the end, the documentary suggests the final product was something to be looked at, rather than read.

Perhaps the reason I didn’t notice the omission of scenes about actual articles – apart from the fact that story meetings and the editing process don’t make for riveting viewing – is that the pictures told such great stories. One set of photographs followed cover subject Naomi Watts on a journey through Rome. Another montage showed models cavorting in scenes that looked like they were captured in the 1920s. A pivotal subplot in The September Issue involves a 22-page spread with A Midsummer Night’s Dream feel that gets brutally chopped after Wintour decides it’s too long. Conceiving, setting up, shooting and selecting the right pictures is such a running theme in The September Issue that, somewhat after the fact, I recognized the film for what it is: a celebration of the print product.

It’s a little weird watching a movie about a magazine that ends up weighing more than five pounds, knowing that only two years later so many other publications would shut down entirely. A more recent effort from the literary magazine McSweeney’s not only alludes to the problems in the print sector but manages to transcend them. While it has sometimes appeared as a hardcover book or in other odd forms, the latest issue of McSweeney’s is being published as a broadsheet newspaper, the fictitiously titled San Francisco Panorama, featuring up-to-the-minute original reporting and the kind of journalism a paper with healthy resources could produce on an average day. Not everyone was impressed by the idea. “It looks beautiful and probably cost a fortune. What are we supposed to learn?” griped the Globe and Mail’s Mathew Ingram in a Twitter post. What we’re supposed to learn is that a passion for print can still lead to great results, and that not everyone is giving up hope.

Amid all the dire predictions that we’ll soon only access content online – and the challenges affecting the page counts and frequencies of IT World Canada’s publications – we need to seek out examples of print done well, and keep our standards as high as they’ve ever been. In the so-called glory days when I started at Computer Dealer News, the average issue size was about 70 pages, and occasionally hit more than 100. It was a hell of a lot of work, and we probably ran a lot of filler that none of us would consider publishing today. We can’t afford to run filler or treat print as an afterthought now, even if we’re tempted by what sometimes seems like higher online priorities. Even if our magazines are smaller, they help pay our bills. We have subscribers who prefer them. And if you consider every page a blank canvas, even the thinnest issues represent a lot of room to innovate and be creative in a way that’s unique to the print format.

A server will never be as sexy as a supermodel, but there are ways to explore it visually and in words that teaches our readers about its capabilities and limitations, educating them about their purchasing decisions just as Vogue helps sell billions in clothing every year. Our president, Andy White, once said that even in a Web-first company like ours, “print is still our calling card.” No matter what the market conditions are, we need to make them the kind of calling cards that people want to hold in their hands and keep.


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