Yale Publishing Course builds magazine publishers' leadership skills

Despite dire predictions about the demise of print, magazines have not reached the end of the road; they just need to blaze a new trail — albeit a challenging one.

That was the hopeful message stressed by many of the expert presenters at the Yale Publishing Course (YPC) session dedicated to print and digital magazine publishing. The course was one of two sessions on “Leadership Strategies in a Time of Transition” held at the Greenberg Conference Center this summer. Another YPC week-long program is devoted to print and digital book publishing.

Staff members from publications across the country — from popular magazines like “O” to specialized journals and international periodicals — came to Yale to learn how to improve and expand their product from leaders in the industry, Yale faculty and each other.

The experts behind the podium included individuals who worked for or had founded a veritable newsstand’s worth of publications, including Glamour, Town & Country, Newsweek/Daily Beast, People, The Atlantic, Consumer Reports, Dwell, Time, the Atlantic Wire and Flipboard. There were representatives from Facebook, advertising and marketing agencies, and graphic design studios, as well as several “home-grown” presenters.

The latter were Jack Balkin of the Yale Law School, who used the Wikileaks case to explore issues of freedom of expression in a digital age; Richard Foster of the Yale School of Management (SOM), who talked about creative destruction; Amy Wrzesniewski of SOM, who discussed how to manage organizations in the midst of change; and E.C. Schroeder, director of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, who led a tour of the facility. The “home-grown” experts also included the editors of two Yale-based all-online magazines: YaleGlobal Online and Yale Environment 360.

“Every year I’m amazed at the breadth of expertise we are able to tap into for the course, and the wide variety of styles of the presenters,” said Tina C. Weiner, director of YPC, noting that an additional benefit of the program is that participants have the opportunity to meet and talk with the presenters during scheduled office hours and meals and receptions throughout the week.

One of the major themes explored in this year’s course was how to expand audiences through online publication and the use of social media. While Glamour magazine is “still strongly committed to print,” said Cynthia Leive, editor-in-chief, it has been working to build an online audience through its website, which shares some content with the print version but primarily includes blogs, slideshows, videos and content contributed by readers.

“Use print for what print does best — spectacular images. Use the web for what it does best — bonding with readers,” she advised, adding that publishers should “take the readers’ pulse constantly” and “go where your readers are.” Toward that end, she noted, Glamour recently launched a subscription for iPad users, who, they’ve discovered, actually spend more time reading the magazine than those who buy the print version — probably because they’ll carry around the iPad wherever they go, whereas they wouldn’t do that with the magazine, Leive suggested.

Nick Grudin, who works in strategic partner development for Facebook, talked about the power of social media. “People are now discovering content in a new way,” he said, “one that allows the web to be more like real life, where you find what you’re most interested in.” He noted that individuals spend an average of six hours and nine minutes on Facebook each month, and that 50% of its members return daily. Media outlets that have partnered with Facebook have seen an average of 300% increase in traffic from the social network, he added.

Grudin advised those interested in building audiences through Facebook to employ the following “best practices”: make your Facebook page personally relevant to your users; make sure it is built with sharing in mind; and keep current because “the space is evolving incredibly fast.”

Editors Nayan Chanda of YaleGlobal Online and Roger Cohn of Yale Environment 360 shared the challenges they faced launching and maintaining an all-online publication.

When developing YaleGlobal, “we began with an idea and a rolodex,” Chanda told the participants. The publication, launched in 2002, aims both to explore how the phenomenon of globalization is shaping the world and to “serve as a bridge between the academic community and policy circles,” he explained. It features original articles, which have been reprinted widely, and content “harvested” from other publications, as well as Flash media presentations. A three-person operation, YaleGlobal attracts 40,500 visitors per month from 215 countries, and is available in Chinese via its Fudan edition.

Yale Environment 360 — popularly known as e360 — was launched in June of 2008 with the goal of “doing for the environment what YaleGlobal had done for internationalization,” said Cohn.

Like YaleGlobal, e360 is a three-person operation that offers a mix of original and re-published content. “We wanted a mix of reporting, opinion and analysis,” with an emphasis on “accessible writing,” Cohn said, noting that early on he made the “key decision” that “the publication would not be much different content-wise from a print magazine — that the work would be to add on multimedia.” Toward that end, e360 has co-produced a number of videos for its site, one of which — “The Warriors of Qiugang,” by filmmakers Thomas Lennon and Ruby Yang — was nominated for an Academy Award in the Documentary (Short Subject) category.

Both Chanda and Cohn said one of the benefits of producing an all-online publication is that there is no need to budget money for printing. Asked if they would choose to switch to a print format if the money was available, both said “no.”

“If there were more money, I’d rather spend it on creating more and better videos,” said Cohn.

For information about both sessions of the Yale Publishing Course, visit the website: publishing-course.yale.edu.

By LuAnn Bishop

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