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. 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.]
About Me
Corinna vanGerwen


Corinna vanGerwen is a freelance editor and writer. She has worked as senior editor at Style at Home, senior design editor at Cottage Life and is the former Canadian Director of Ed2010. She has also held the position of operations manager at a boutique PR agency, where she handled strategic planning and daily operations.

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