NYT Magazine redesign: for students, textbook “Design and Disruption”

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Early word last week on the redesign/reinvention of The New York Times Magazine gave a good indication this wouldn’t be just a cosmetic exercise, a shuffling around of fonts with a few new editorial features. Instantly I suspected this would offer great lessons for the coming week for my class, “Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption,” at the University of Montana School of Journalism. (With NYT Editor Dean Baquet coming to speak to us April 16, and channels like The Upshot garnering great buzz for innovation and audience development, the Times is big on our radar this semester in Big Sky country.)

I posted to Facebook my intent to assign a deep dive into the NYTMag – along with my lament that the print version was not easily (or perhaps not at all) to be found in Missoula, due to distribution cutbacks. A gentle follower chided: Ron, have you not heard of this thing called the Internet? (i.e. – you idiot, just assign them to read it online and get on with it).

But getting their hands on print copies, and enjoying and dissecting it, would be critical, I knew, to understanding the significant disruption (reinvention/innovation) happening in the news media today. With the greatest number of ad pages in the NYTMag since 2007, I knew there was a substantial marketing and advertising lesson to be studied here, a particular one that doesn’t translate at all to online. And with the campus newspaper being reinvented for the fall into a robust news weekly (and yes, expanded online offerings), it’s important for them to learn issues of pacing and flow for print.

A quick review of the magazine this morning proves my hunch was right on. (I snagged one at O’Hare en route to a quick weekend away, designing/disrupting Crain’s Detroit Business for a big relaunch March 30). Back in Montana Tuesday, our class will have a rich discussion of the great work of the NYTMag team, from editorial and design innovations, to multimedia and overall brand strategy to sponsored content. (On that topic, haters, be gone. What I teach: if you’re gonna do it, do it right.)

Yes, great writing, photography, illustrations and design details abound in the NYTMag, as always. (My dear friend Dr. Mario Garcia highlights the design details with great insight here.) But its reinvention as a robust multi-platform brand (they hate the buzz words as much as I do, deal with it) is made clear on Page 46, in an article titled Beyond the Page:

“Crucial to this latest reimagining of The New York Times Magazine is the idea that it shouldn’t be confined to print. In the next year, you’ll be seeing more of us outside the bundle that lands on your doorstep on weekend mornings. You’ll be able to find us on the daily web, in your earbuds during your morning commute, on social media and onstage.”

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Here are some great things to look for, and for my class to study:

  • An all new Daily Magazine. They admit they’re a bit late to this party, but I’m excited about the mass of web-only, 24/7 content they promise.
  • Enhanced digital-feature design. More Snowfall, anyone? For teaching purposes at least: Yes, please.
  • Podcasts. Who knew audio would be making such a comeback? Great timing riding the wave of Serial. I look forward to the reinvention of the long-standing column “The Ethicist,” sort of reverse-engineered as a podcast. A panel will chew over the issue at hand, with excerpted transcripts later published in the magazine. Furthermore, it’s in partnership with Slate, expanding affinity and engagement for both brands. (Related: “Why journalism schools should join the new ‘golden age of radio,’ ” a great post for PBS Mediashift by my UM colleague, associate professor Jule Gardner Banville.)
  • Events. The NYT as a whole has been doing great events for years (as just about any large media company is doing, including, in spades, my clients at Crain) and now the magazine gets in the game. And they’re taking the show on the road, to specific events this year around the country. (Missoula, please?)

Bingo. Welcome, students, to the new world of media design (of brands, audiences, affinity, and revenue) and disruption thereof.

My class is filled with 18 promising writers, photographers, designers, and producers, none of whom would apply just any one of those labels to themselves. They’ll all enjoy reading the rollicking new mashup “The Thread,” on Page 48, a modern twist on “letters to the editor” with reactions from all social media regarding a recent profile of pop-culture provocateur Eddie Huang. It’s a lively, thoughtful roundup of audience feedback that pushes the conversation forward. It also complements the button-pushing columns written this semester by a student in my class, Suzie Chiem, for the increasingly ass-kicking campus newspaper, the Montana Kaimin. (Guess who might be called on first to comment on the new NYTMag?)

I’ll update this blog post in the coming days with comments from the students. Till then, thanks for reading!

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  1. Blog: The New York Times Magazine: a celebration for print—and some key lessons × García Media

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