Friday, November 28, 2008
So, it would seem many of us magazine types have a love-hate relationship with Toronto Life. It wins many awards and (admit it) a lot of you would want to work there (if only to have the name on your resumé). Yet, I've heard and read many negative things about the publication – the most recent, a comment on my post about how to come up with great ideas. An anonymous commentator said
Toronto Life isn't usually associated with smart ideas... its voice is certainly bratty enough that Toronto Life must think itself sharp... its "genius" doesn't usually surpass Spy magazine ol' schtick, and that got tired fast 20 years ago. The "new" Toronto Life believes its youth in leau of experience is the dawn of brilliance, whereas the magazine isn't breaking ground anywhere new and keeps crashing with aloof mistakes in both the editorial and art departments.
I debated not publishing the comment because it seems a tad bitter and doesn't back up its claims, but to each their own opinion, right?
I've heard the "it's skewing young" argument a few times now (which I know Sarah Fulford disagrees with), but shouldn't that be considered a good-ish thing? The complaint I heard most often about the John Macfarlane version of the mag was that it was too old-money, old-establishment Toronto.
So, this is my invitation to all of you to weigh in – let's get a conversation going about what makes Toronto Life a good and a not-so-good magazine. What works; what doesn't work? Don't be shy! (Please keep it civil, though.) If this "crowd critique" is successful, I just might make it a regular feature of this blog, because I think we can all learn a lot about how to be better editors by critiquing the magazines we read. Let the debating begin!
[Be sure to check the comments both on Masthead's site and at Dream Job TK's home base.]
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Do you ever find yourself rolling your eyes at the necessity of inane chitchat? Does anyone really care what their co-workers did on the weekend? Does anyone really want to discuss the negative impact cold weather is having on your day with that PR rep? Ok, it's not all bad, and there's certainly a good reason for making small talk. An article on the Guardian website reminds us that without it, work mightn't be as pleasant.
Small talk with colleagues might make you feel like the office-equivalent of a cow, just blankly chewing on the same old cud over and over, but what, I ask, would you rather do? Just launch straight in with the purpose of your call with no initial niceties whatsoever? Face it, there are people who do that already, and they're the ones you think are really weird.
These little observations we make to each other on the phone, on email, or even in person, may be petty and inane, but in their own shy way they are rather lovely. You're essentially saying to whoever it may be that, despite the fact you don't know each other and never will, you are willing to spend a few moments talking pointlessly at one another to indicate that you regard each other as more than just another obstacle to be surmounted in your separate scrabbles for professional advancement.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
In a job interview
One approach is to be reactive, to sit where you're supposed to sit, have your resume appear just so, wear what you're supposed to wear and answer each and every question in the safe and secure way.
The other approach is to put on a show. To be in charge, to lead.
- Seth Godin, posted on Seth Godin's blog
[Thanks to Kat Tancock.]
Friday, November 21, 2008
I'd like to go back to something that came up at the Ed2010 Toronto's Sarah Fulford talk. She mentioned the importance of being able to come up with good ideas, that having a knack for this would make you a valuable employee. And one audience member asked whether this was a talent a person could develop – how do you become good at thinking up good ideas?
In response, Sarah talked about being critical and developing a sense of what makes for a great magazine piece. To do this, she recommended reading and really dissecting stories, figuring out what contributed to making them successful: The writing – how was it written? The packaging – what made it work? Why do you suppose the editors and art directors made the decisions they did? Familiarizing yourself with every aspect that makes up excellent work will provide you with the knowledge to do excellent work yourself.
Likewise, familiarizing yourself with the world will arm you with the fodder for great ideas. In an interview with Advertising Age published back in October, superstar art director George Lois (famous for his Esquire magazine covers) talks about, among other things, his book George Lois on his Creation of the Big Idea, in which he reveals the influences behind some of his best work. In the video, he explains that you have to expand your knowledge, expand your passion and expand your experiences in order to open you mind to making connections and giving it the base on which to build great ideas.
"[A great idea] is not a lightning bolt out of the blue. ... What it is, is an understanding of 5,000 years of art, an understanding of 5,000 years of human civilization, understanding of film, understanding of great movies, understanding of comics, understanding ballet – having that kind of well roundedness. ... It didn't come out of the blue; it came out of my experience."
And I think he's absolutely right. Consume everything. Everything. Read not only your competitors' magazines, but magazines on every topic. Read lots of books. Go to museums. Watch lots of films. Learn piano or skateboarding. Go scuba diving. Just consume – consume ideas, consume experiences. The more you know, the more you'll be able to draw from all those different aspects to pull together things that others may not have thought of, mainly because they don't have the same knowledge or experience that you do.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Q. I noticed in one of your blog entries that Sarah Fulford recommends finding a mentor. How does one find, then approach a mentor? Especially if that person is not a friend, a friend of a friend, or in the industry one currently works. Sarah was fortunate to have John Macfarlane. What advice, then, for the rest of us?
A. First, don't be so quick to dismiss those who are around you. Colleagues and supervisors, both former and current, can be great mentors. Keep your eyes open and really think about the people you know – they needn't be "celebrity" editors; you just need to respect and admire something about them, and feel like there's something they can teach you.
Inc.com has put together a collection of past stories and tips on the mentoring relationship. Most are business related, but here are a selection of tips that I think are applicable:
• Consciously think about where you are in your career, and where you would like to be. Honestly assess what type of personality you have, and which personality types complement your style. Consider your strengths and weaknesses, and define how a mentor might guide you through your growth.
• Keep an open mind regarding who this person might be: A mentor is someone who will help you grow in the area(s) most important to you. This person is not necessarily your supervisor, or anyone with a high-ranking title, or even someone in the same business. Look for someone who exemplifies the traits and skills that you want to adopt.
• Good sources of mentors include your management team, industry associations, online communities, your clergy and/or congregation, and professors. Also consider people in your non-workplace communities, such as retirees, local business owners, and people associated with your hobbies. (Note: Some personal coaches advise against choosing your supervisor as a mentor because of a possible conflict of interest.)
• [P]utting all your mentor eggs in one basket can be a mistake. "I think people really ought to think in terms of multiple mentors instead of just one," concludes [Kathy] Kram, the author of Mentoring at Work.
• [H]ow do you persuade him or her to sign on to your cause? Would-be mentors are most receptive to people who ask good questions, listen well to the responses and demonstrate that they are hungry for advice and counsel, Kram says.
• You need someone to give you very realistic, appropriate, frank, personal feedback -- someone who has the same perspective, someone whose experiences you can learn from so you don't have to do everything the hard way -- and you don't always have to make the same mistakes. [Dan Caulfield, CEO of HQ Group, in Oceanside, Calif.]
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I ran into a couple of editors from Wish yesterday. Since the magazine's closure, they and their colleagues are facing the reality of unemployment. It's a scary thing, and an experience that I just cross my fingers and pray doesn't happen to me one day. Although reality is, all of us are likely to lose a job at some point in our careers, for whatever reason.
And what happens when we do? Hit the pavement. But is the same-old approach of contacting your network and sending out resumés still going to work? David Meerman Scott argues "not so" on his blog Web Ink Now.
He suggests beefing up your online presence with a blog, a Twitter feed or online videos featuring your expertise.
Create information that people want. Create an online presence that people are eager to consume. Establish a virtual front door that people will happily link to. And one that employers will find.
I'm a good example of this concept at work: my new boss asked me to come in for an interview in part because she liked what she saw on this blog. Unlike my resumé or clippings, Dream Job TK is a good representation of my viewpoints and work ethic and demonstrates my passion for the magazine industry. I'm not suggesting everyone go out and start a career advice blog (I don't need the competition), but consider what you're good at – delectable food writing, understanding the nuances of copy editing, or any other niche – and build something around that.
But even as I agree that putting yourself out there is important, just writing a blog or an ebook and sitting back to await the knock at your door isn't going to do it. You also have to work your network. If you've taken the time to nurture it when you're not in dire straits, you will not be that annoying person Meerman Scott talks about:
It seems like every day I learn of another person who is on the job market. Usually that's because when they need a job, all of a sudden people jump into "networking mode" and I hear from them after years of silence.
Stay in touch with people and you'll be surprised at how helpful they can be in your time of need.
Monday, November 17, 2008
I start a new job this morning (see my bio for details, if you're curious), which means last week I was busy wrapping things up at my old job. And I'm making not a New Year's resolution but a new-job resolution: be more organized.
As organized as I am (I colour code my assignment letters), I've always been horrible at managing my address book. In fact, I rarely even enter contacts into it – I let autofill or a search for the last email from someone yield the info I'm looking for. The problem with doing it this way is that when your email account is scheduled to become defunct imminently, you're stuck trying to build your address book from scratch by going through all your past correspondence. A nightmare, I assure you. Because I also have the bad habit of not deleting old emails. I had thousands to go through. So that's part of my resolution, too – delete and file emails as I read them.
Anyway, back to the address book. The reason why I bring this up is because, in magazines – well, in any industry – who you know is important, and your contact list can be one of your greatest assets. Knowing who to call to get a certain job done (say, a writer in Winnipeg for a feature on the city) and being able to reach them makes you a valuable employee. Likewise, it benefits you to have someone whom you can call to sniff out possible openings at a company. So, if your address book isn't up to date, make a resolution with me to get on top of it.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Everyone at some point in their magazine career, and especially those just starting out, will be asked to do editing or writing work for free. It seems to be the nature of creative industries that because it's hard to quantify their value, people have no qualms about asking to have work done without paying for it.
I know a well-established artist and illustrator who, many years ago, did some work to appear on a concert t-shirt of a superstar world-famous band (i.e. they're filthy rich). When the subject of payment came up, the band's rep said the artist should be willing to do the work for free since it was an incredible opportunity, great exposure and a great honour to do work for said band. They could afford to pay so the artist dug in her heels and demanded a fee, which she got.
There are, however, times when working for free is ok. In a guest post on New York Times' Shifting Careers blog, veteran freelancer Michelle Goodman writes
[C]onsider when giving it up for nothing can work in your favor:
You have no clients or portfolio. If you left your staff position without any customer testimonials or work samples, you may have to do a freebie or three for a worthy small business to prove to paying clients that you’ve done this before. Pick short-term projects (several days, tops) so you’re not stuck working pro bono until the next decade.
Your dream client has shallow pockets. Writers, artists and performers are all too familiar with this phenomenon. Example: The indie magazine that barely pays its freelancers but, thanks to the power of PIE [Paid in Exposure], has landed many of them agents, book deals and art shows. For business consultants, speaking at a highly publicized conference might yield similar results, in the form of new clients and paid speaking gigs. Be sure to build such unpaid work into your annual promotional plan (which can be all of two paragraphs) so you don’t give away too much time each year.
You’re donating time to a worthy cause. When donating your services to your favorite nonprofit or charity, my motto is, “Give big.” Think high-profile auctions, galas and fund-raising marathons; the more PIE potential, the better. Although you’re doing the job gratis, send the client a short, informal contract clearly stating what you will and won’t do, and when.
Goodman also lays out when to avoid unpaid work, citing payment schemes like "credit for your work" and being paid on spec as red flags.
[Thanks to David Hayes of TFEW for drawing attention to this.]
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
In the process of looking for, applying to and interviewing for a job, you might find that you have to write more than just a resumé and cover letter. The Possibilities website rounds up a list of resources and advice on professional correspondence you might want to be prepared for, including the thank-you letter, the counter-proposal letter and the declining-a-job-offer letter.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Thanks to everyone who made it out last night to hear Sarah Fulford, editor-in-chief of Toronto Life, as part of Ed2010 Toronto's speaker series. For the rest of you, here's a taste of what you missed out on:
All editors need to write at some point in their career in order to exercise their "empathy muscle" says Sarah. To get a good idea of what writers go through on a piece, you need to experience it yourself, because the better you understand what a writer needs, the better an editor you can be.
Have a mentor. Or many, many mentors. Sarah surrounded herself with people she could learn from, and especially recommends newbie editors key in changes and read notes made by more experienced editors on stories. You'll get a sense of how their minds work and what they look for.
The most attractive qualities in an applicant (even more important than experience): Passion, enthusiasm and commitment. And you have to have good ideas. Lots of them.
Two questions you must know the answers to when you go into a job interview: What are your favourite magazines? What would you do to make [magazine you're applying to] better?