Raju Narisetti and Digital Journalism Design, Part 1

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This is the first in a two-part series about digital journalism. Check back next week for the second half.

Last Tuesday Raju Narisetti, Senior Vice President and Deputy Head of Strategy for the new Newscorp, came to West Virginia University to spread his wisdom to the journalism school. Narisetti, or “@Raju,” has a long and prosperous history in journalism, especially digital journalism, as you can see from his Wikipedia page.

I had an opportunity to have dinner with Raju and some choice faculty from the journalism school, and he blew our minds. Immediately following, he gave a presentation that rendered speechless an entire conference room of students, professors and professionals. Plus, he’s verified on Twitter. Boom!

Raju’s presentation was one of the most important perspective-shifting moments I’ve had when thinking about digital journalism. He focused on nine ideas that all future-thinking journalists should understand.

But first! An introduction. We’re in kind of a weird spot in journalism – everyone is telling us print is dead, and people are making their careers in specific mediums. Fact is, our audiences are moving back and forth between digital mediums pretty easily. Plus, there’s more people consuming journalism than ever before, which creates an interesting problem: there’s more demand for our work, but less people paying for it and even fewer creating it.

Let it be known –

1. Print isn’t going away anytime soon, and for a pretty basic reason. In many markets, print is the best way for advertisers to reach their audiences – because of that, there will always be print products and print staff, at least in our lifetimes. Most of our revenue will come from print, and we’ll always have staff devoted to it. The money’s still in print, folks. Don’t count it out.

2. Digital advertising isn’t our savior. No matter how many clicks, views or visitors we accumulate, the revenues from digital advertising is constantly falling. Why is that?

The supply of websites is almost infinite. There are currently about 15 billion indexed web pages. If you’re an advertiser, the choices where you can run your ads have expanded dramatically. Because the supply of websites is exploding (because anybody can make one), the supply of potential ad space is huge. Because of that, it’s hard to justify hefty advertising fees.

The implications of this? If you’re going to create a new website or digital storytelling experience, you have to think about including revenue-building models into it.

Look at the New York Times’s Snowfall.  Their biggest, most expensive project and their most popular web post ever originally had no advertising built into it. As Raju said,

“It’s the most insane thing you can do in a newsroom: the thing that will get you 10 million views won’t make you a penny… Snowfall pageviews are empty calories.”

Ask yourself this question when you’re creating: How can I integrate advertising into this and make money while people are reading my journalism?

I know it’s hard, because to us, journalism is art. How could we tarnish that with an ad for consumer goods? The fact of the matter is this: We will always need advertisers, and we need to think about how we can use our digital storytelling skills and audience metadata to make money. That’s how it was with newspapers, and the story hasn’t changed now that we’ve moved to the web. Always be thinking: How can I get paid from this? It’s the only way to survive digitally.

3. Paywalls are here to stay (and struggle.) There are more than 600 papers in the U.S. with paywalls. Unfortunately, the ones who think those paywalls will solve their problems are wrong. Indeed, a paywall is a significant source of revenue, but if you see it as your final solution, you will fail. Think about paywalls in this way: can we convert flyby readers into subscribers? Are we giving them such an amazing experience that they’ll choose to pay for it?

If you can put together a mindblowing, compelling media package, people will notice it and be like “Hey, I like what they’re doing and I want more. I’ll pay for it.” It’s a journalism challenge and a media challenge.

That challenge pales in comparison to this one.

4. News has to go to the readers, they don’t have to come to us. Because of social media, people are less prone to go and explore news websites. We have to be where the people are – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr (god forbid.) Imagine the challenge in that now we have to go to the people AND make money off them. Whew.

The good news is that in 2013 the definition of a journalist must include “I will do everything that I can to bring as many people as I can to my journalism.” It’s part of your mission and job description. How can you bring people in? If you think of this promotional aspect as extra work, as stupid stuff above your excellent journalism, you will fail. If you consider promotion as part of your job, you’ll integrate it into your work and be more successful because of it. If you don’t know what it is, you should wise up and sell your soul to the SEO gods. 

Raju gave an anecdote about – who else – Miley Cyrus. As it turns out, Americans don’t know how to spell her name. Looking to capitalize on our ignorance, writers could use the misspelled versions of Miley’s name in their post’s metadata – it was totally invisible on the page, but it was picked up by search engines who directed the ignorant spellers to their stories.

Gaming the system, you say? Nay, I say – if we wrote a story, it’s our responsibility to help people find it. 

Chew on that for a while. Check back next week for the second half of Raju’s list.

New York Magazine Web Redesign: The Elephant in the Room

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So New York Magazine debuted their new homepage yesterday, and from what I can tell, the internet is underwhelmed by the change.  Even the magazine itself is asking us to be patient, and I’m not sure why. Below is the before and after of the homepage.

Before:

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After:

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It’s true there isn’t much of a shift, but there’s a huge aspect of this website nobody else is talking about: the mobile version.

I don’t know why people aren’t reviewing the mobile version of the site. In fact, it’s kind of shocking – mobile news consumption is spiking to legendary levels, and everyone is ranting about mobile journalism being “the future.” If you are starting a news platform, you need to make it for mobile. Doing otherwise would be shortsighted, considering usage trends.

So why the hell is nobody talking about the New York mobile site?

Screw it. I’ll do it. This website is killer and obviously took a lot of work. If you ask me, the website looks and operates better on a mobile device, making New York a powerful presence in the world of digital magazines.

Let’s explore.

New York’s website has adopted a smooth, intuitive responsive design. The spans and divs flow together smoothly, and there are three “snaps” when re-sizing. It’s no secret New York is dedicated to this design – last year they tried to pretend they weren’t totally committed to it, but I’m not fooled. Responsive is awesome: it’s easier to code (than say, 3 different apps for mobile software), it creates continuity between platforms and it looks damn cool.

And that intuitive thing: there’s a running argument about the effectiveness of mobile UX, and this is nothing new. Hell, there’s an entire acronym dedicated to the interactions between human beings and technology: HF&E, or Human Factors and Ergonomics. (Spoiler alert – I’ll have a blog about this next week.)
My argument is that New York’s website is positively ergonomic. There’s only 4 swipe directions on the x and y axes, and the website is designed to promote that swipe. Look at this screencap from my phone.

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See how the second story is cut off from the right? The second I saw it I knew I had to swipe right, which led me to a revolving queue of top stories. Also see the same cutting effect at the bottom of the frame.

Also easy to comprehend is the tabs at the bottom of the frame. I don’t know what they mean (I’m not a regular reader) but made sense to snap through them. See how they’re framed? They look just like tabs in a web browser. There’s that UI/UX culture I was telling you about. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

Is that intuitive enough for you, ladies? Needless to say, I’m endlessly excited for New York Magazine – they keep moving up. They just won the Cover of the Year Award from ASME over the summer, and I don’t think they’ll be stopping this excellence anytime soon. I can’t believe I worked in the same office building as them.

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A Map of the Magazine Industry: A Work in Perpetual Motion

Like toys, cars or clothes, magazines are a consumer product. Anyone looking to publish a magazine must be able to identify and appeal to their target consumers. For many magazines, location is key – it’s hard to cover a specific community if you aren’t a part of it.

Below is a constantly-growing-ever-changing Google map of magazine headquarters around the world. One can observe trends in these locations, from the fashion magazines in New York, the political magazines in D.C., and the home & garden magazines in the Midwest.

These trends prove that magazines are an effective litmus test of culture. By looking at where these magazines are located, who they’re covering and who is subscribing, we can track the evolution of people’s cultural interests. For example, the success of the legendary “Seven Sisters” magazines is representative of a once-dominant subculture in the American Midwest: stay-at-home mothers with children and working husbands, all of whom are decidedly Caucasian. Now a few of the Seven Sisters are evolving to fit modern tastes, an act also representative of cultural shifts.

Hell, when I was adding magazines to the map off the top of my head, a large handful were New York-based and published by Condé Nast. Apparently this shows I’m interested in “provocative, influential, award-winning content.”

Like our society, magazines are constantly changing and moving. Stay on top of how they’re changing – both the content and how they’re delivering it – and you’ll know a lot about humanity.

 

National Geographic’s 125th Birthday Party is on Tumblr (and it’s wild)

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One of the oldest legacies in magazine journalism, National Geographic Magazine, is having it’s 125th anniversary this year. To celebrate, they’re highlighting the driving force behind the magazine: photography. They’re hosting a huge crunchy speaker series in Arizona, their October issue is full of their best photography, and they’re highlighting some of the best work on their website.

And oh yeah – like every 13-year-old girl, they made a Tumblr. And I think it’s one of the smartest things they’ve ever done.

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I know what you’re all thinking about Tumblr, and I want you to throw it out the window. If you’re an adult like me, NatGeoFound is probably the coolest Tumblr feed you’ve ever seen. It’s a daily helping of photography from throughout NatGeo’s history, with every picture dated and captioned. Scrolling down the feed is nothing short of an intense experience.

And as I’ll argue after the photography break, getting on Tumblr fits National Geographic’s strategic plans in a number of beautiful ways. The photos in this post (barring the GIF of Gary Coleman) came from NatGeoFound.  Check out the feed. I know it will be hard, but please come back.

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Photography has long been the cornerstone of National Geographic. They’ve successfully positioned themselves as the leading force in photojournalism, and many a user has been enthralled by their work. The Tumblr feed is mesmerizing.

Another interesting aspect of National Geographic Magazine is their forward-thinking bent. I guess you don’t last 125 years without learning something. Making this Tumblr signals NatGeo’s focus on adapting to the digital future of journalism, something hinted at in this interview with NatGeo Editor-in-Chief Chris Johns. He really showed NatGeo’s digital aspirations in this quote:

“We aim to be the leader in visual factual entertainment. The blurring of the lines between photography and video and between print and digital platforms has created a rich environment for us to experiment with immersive storytelling that amplifies voice and helps people connect more deeply with our coverage across editorial and social platforms.”

So why is this Tumblr a good idea? Let’s explore with a list.

If they want to stay relevant, they need to engage a younger audience. Flip through a NatGeo and you’ll notice almost all the magazines are geared towards an older demographic. The median subscriber age is around 45, according to their own measurements. And I hate to be morbid, but let’s be realistic: these folks are gonna die eventually. Nat Geo Kids is cool and all, but most of those subscriptions are coming from parents who already have their kid hooked on the actual magazine.

Having a Tumblr is a fantastic way to engage an audience that is probably heavily invested in the internet already. Get them hooked on Nat Geo photography now and they’ll be readers for life. Speaking of photography…

Tumblr is a visual platform. It’s driven by images, even if most of these images are sepia-tone shots of vintage crap overlaid with words.

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Case in point. Decidedly not NatGeo.

Still, Tumblr users have an appreciation for photography, and while they may end up slapping some pithy quotes on these photos, Nat Geo has an untapped audience here. Hell, they have an untapped audience all over the internet, because…

Everyone is visually oriented. Videos, GIFs, photos, tweets – the internet is shifting towards a culture of easily digested visual content. And that’s no surprise, considering human beings are visually-oriented creatures. Maybe that’s one factor in National Geographic’s massive success so far.

The best part about this Tumblr is the symbolism. Nat Geo is really following through with their plan to establish a powerful internet presence, which is refreshing. A year ago then-CEO John Fahey hinted at the potential end of a print product, and I couldn’t believe it. Even making this Tumblr is a good step forward for the magazine, and it represents a level of quality and forethought missing from other major publishers. Lets hope the new CEO, former NPR man Gary Knell, is just as innovative.

Take a hint, magazine world. Nat Geo is old as dirt and is still whipping all your butts.

The Covers of the Century – UK Edition

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A quick heads-up about a cool thing going down on the other side of the pond: The Professional Publishers Association, a UK-based publication organization, is hosting a “Cover of the Century” competition.

The PPA has chosen ten finalists for the competition, including covers from Vogue, Cosmopolitan, MacUser (what?) and TimeOut London.

For us Yankee users, some of these magazine covers might seem odd. (Wait, did I just call magazine readers “users?”)

Still, some of these covers are pretty awesome. From a cover featuring Darth Vader that plays audio of his iconic breathing to a photo of Kate Moss looking casual in the Crown Jewels, you’ll be entertained.

Go visit and cast your vote.

 

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Why I Paid for the Adobe Creative Cloud: A Manifesto

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So if you aren’t up to speed on the Adobe Creative Cloud software, read this blog post and educate yo’self. This is not a review, this is a manifesto.

I did it. I just subscribed to the Adobe Creative Cloud, and as I type this, I’m downloading Illustrator and Photoshop.

For what I have done, computer gurus and broke graphic designers everywhere will scoff and criticize me. They will turn their nose up at me and say:

“Why pay for Adobe when you can torrent it for free?”

"Yeah, why?" *heavy mouth breathing*

“Yeah, why?” *heavy mouth breathing*

Indeed, their question is relevant. Why would I, an already struggling college student, voluntarily choose to pay for software? Out of the people I know who use Adobe, literally all of them have pirated versions.

So yes, why would I choose to pay for Adobe?

I didn’t do it just because I wanted the best design software on the market, I did it because I stand for something. Below I justify my decision.

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Someday, I want to be paid for what I create. A few years ago, I used to sell class notes online through a now-defunct service, and I was actually making some money. It helped defer my living fees and relax a bit – students who didn’t attend class could buy the study guides I made. For the final exam, I spent hours creating a 15-page guide and sold them online for $3, advertising them through emails to classmates.

The day after I put the study guide online, a guy bought it, attached it to an email, and sent it out to everyone in our 400-person class. The email said:

“Some douchebag is trying to charge us for notes, so you’ll find them attached.”

Good Guy Greg?

Good Guy Greg?

I was crushed. I made no money off that final study guide. Upset, I emailed him and attempted to explain his wrongdoing, but he didn’t care. He held me responsible, saying I was trying to “screw over the class for money.”
It was after that I realized: this is how artists must feel when they see their music pirated. After that I swore off pirating music – now I use Spotify to get all my music and stay legal. I do the same with my software.

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I respect Adobe. Adobe has been in the game a long time, and there’s a reason they’re the best – they work hard. For their intense influence on the business (and my own work) I have the utmost respect. To continue to produce their software regularly with a relatively lax approach to internet pirates is impressive and admirable. I’m glad to see they’ve finally taken a step and offered financially-challenged people a hand.

I want to obey the law. More and more of our lives are spent online, and the lines between our corporeal identities and our digital ones are blurring. In that respect, we are becoming more transparent thanks to the internet. I will not steal something on the internet – soon, it will have the same impact as theft in real life.
Yeah, laugh at me. But see what happens after you download that last season of Breaking Bad and your Internet Service Provider knocks on your door with a subpoena. I think you’ll change your tune.

I believe in a respectful internet economy. Since Napster took off in the 90s, the internet has been a hive of illicit software trading, from music to movies and the aforementioned Adobe software. The people who share these files think nothing of the original creators, the true heroes who wrote songs, filmed movies, developed software. Sharing files adds a sense of rebellion, of refusal to participate in the Fat Cat’s scheme – I know, I’ve felt it. Adobe software typically costs thousands of dollars – beating the system and getting them for free wasn’t just a rush, it was practical.

But times have changed. The rampant downloading of illegal software has caused corporations to crack down on downloading. One only needs to look at SOPA and CISPA to see that the entertainment industry’s copyright lobby is hard at work in Washington. Thus we’ve created a warring dichotomy – the torrenters keep finding new ways to hide themselves and share their files, and the corporations are battling to shut down the free internet almost entirely.
But I believe in something different. I believe in an internet where, out of respect for the creators, people pay for software, music and entertainment. It’s not that they can’t pirate something – it’s that they don’t want to. The future internet purchaser understands how much time it took to develop software, film a movie, or create a piece of art. They empathize with the creators because they too probably create and sell things it online.

If the internet was full of more people like this who respect the law and respect the economy, the dichotomy between copyright warriors and renegade torrenters wouldn’t exist, and the free-internet-dissolving talks of industry leaders wouldn’t be happening.

I believe in a future where we can trade information freely and pay respectfully for the hard work of others. Is that a reason to criticize me?

/endrant.

Signed,
Bryan Bumgardner
A happy Adobe customer

Instagram’s Fetish for Fashion Week

Anybody with any sort of journalism experience knows that mobile, crowdsourced, and pro-am reporting is becoming more important than ever.

But, just like always, nobody talks about how mobile reporting is tossing up the magazine world. This year, mobile proved to be a valuable asset for magazines at one world-renowned and utterly fabulous event: New York Fashion Week.

Fashion Week or NYFW (#NYFW) is singlehandedly the most important event of the year for fashion magazines, especially those based in New York. It happened the week of September 9 this year. For those of you who aren’t aware of Fashion Week, you probably should be: for one week each year, all of the world’s most famous fashion designers come together in New York for a week of runway shows, gorgeous models, self-indulgent parties and rabid-live blogging. The main purpose is to show off all new lines of ultra-expensive clothing, just in time for the new fall season. Everybody shows up, including celebrities, designers and models.

And how.

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It’s so important for magazines that several devoted special issues to Fashion Week, often with several hundred pages. This guy even dropped acid and attended a runway show in the name of journalism (sort of.)

Like I mentioned in a previous post, branding is a deeply important aspect of magazines. In the industry, tight budgets are demanding a tighter grip on the audience, and several magazines have nailed it perfectly with this frickin’-sweet app you might know: Instagram.

By having a constant, intense feed of photos that expand beyond selfies, several magazines turned their Instagram accounts into mobile traffic drivers that reflect the visual style of their own brand. Check out some of these shots:

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Click on any one of those photos and look at how many people have interacted with them.

It’s complete genius. Look at Instagram by the numbers.
-There are 58 photos uploaded every second.
-Instagram gains one new user every second.
-Growth is spiking and hasn’t plateaued.
-Instagram hit 100 million users in two years. It took Twitter and Tumblr five years to get that many.
-Of Instagram users, 53 percent are female. If you ask me, that statistic is way convoluted. I only know like two other guys with a ‘Gramz.

So what better way to hit millions of girls and women who want to attend fashion week than give them a feed straight to their phone? Also, you can interact directly with the designers who obviously have Instagram and a buttload of dedicated followers. It’s a beautiful photographical social media orgy that magazines are definitely enjoying. 

Check out these great feeds from ElleVogue, and Mercedes Benz. Addenum, 10/1: Here’s a story from MPA about publishers and Instagram. 

Plus, being the reporter assigned to “Instagram all of Fashion Week” can’t be so bad, right? After all, you might meet Pharrell. (read: “dream job.”)

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G-Dragon is a badass – just like Complex Mag

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Okay stop – before you continue, click the link to read this story about G-Dragon, the Korean pop superstar slash up-and-coming fashion icon, written and produced for Complex magazine. Make sure you read it all. Protip: use the arrow keys to scroll down, and release when the scrolling temporarily stops.

Tell me: are you not entertained?

It seems that Complex Mag, the brainchild of fashion entrepreneur Marc Ecko, is trying it’s hand at some dynamic, immersive digital publishing. Internally, they’re calling this project “Future,” according to Digidaily. This intensely visual publishing platform is allegedly set up to handle at least one unique story a week, and they’re using this story of G-Dragon as their prototype.

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I’ll tell you the truth: I’m madly in love with this story. The visuals, the text, the photos, the interactive elements, the GIFs, the color palette, everything. Funny thing about love, though – only fools rush in. 

Therefore, I’m going to break down why I believe Complex has stepped out as a potential digital magazine leader with “Future” – if not in subscription numbers, in content production.

1. The interface

Complex is not the first to implement this “while-you-scroll” interactive layout design. Arguably the most publicized is the New York Times “Snow Fall” feature, and Pitchfork ‘s sporadic Cover Features are similarly coded. However, Complex is building on the weaknesses of it’s predecessors: Snow Fall took 6 months and (allegedly) than $1 million to make, and Pitchfork’s productions are all uniquely coded, meaning they’re usually released months apart.

Plus, it gets worse: Snow Fall, a huge 11-person project, was reproduced in less than an hour by a single tech developer, much to the NYT’s chagrin. And Pitchfork is full of hipsters – ew.

Here’s why Complex is doing it right: it’s simple.

The interface isn’t a unique design, nor is it a pile of unintelligible code. Although the images, text and video may have taken lots of work, the animation is simple while immersive. The source code is relatively short, the GIFs easy to make, and the animations straightforward. The transitions in this work are a little less… flamboyant than some of the Pitchfork pieces. 

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Speaking of flamboyant. G-Dragon in Vogue, 2009

“Future” is designed as a platform, a template that promotes creativity but allows for fast turnaround. The framework was designed over a period of three months and is easily customizable, according to Complex CEO Rich Antoniello.

Hmm, it sounds like this platform was designed for…

2. The rapid ability to produce stories

The best part about this initiative? It’s not a gimmick. Antoniello boasted that Complex will be publishing “1-2” of these features a week, which craps all over NYT’s and Pitchforks special editions. Complex is making this a consistent form of publishing, which is a step towards raising the bar on digital print media. No longer can you just regurgitate print stories on a webpage and let it fly – if this initiative takes off for Complex, you’ll see everyone rushing to keep up. And finally…

3. Future’s shortcomings are superficial

Sure, the design doesn’t include music (which would have been instrumental in G-Dragon’s story) and it doesn’t have videos, but Antoniello assured these features are incoming. This only leaves one big problem: the website isn’t adapted for mobile. Could you imagine seeing this on an iPad? There’s no way this hasn’t been discussed in the Complex developer office.

Still, my hopes are high for Complex. I’m genuinely impressed by this step forward from a relatively average-circulation magazine, and I think we’ll be seeing big things from them in the future.

In the meantime, I’ll spend my time trying to comprehend G-Dragon’s fashion sense.

Vogue, 2009

Vogue, 2009

Vanity Fair’s New Logo (Kate Upton is Still Gorgeous)

So when it comes to fashion magazines, reputation is everything. Of the top names in the business, one is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary this month: Vanity Fair.

And to celebrate, they really have gone all out.

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Notice something? Anything besides Kate Upton sporting a Monroe-esque hairdo?

After years with their iconic font, Vanity Fair has officially changed their logo – and interestingly enough, they’ve gone in a direction opposite of other industry leaders.

Here’s the old logo:

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And here’s the new:

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See the difference? The new logo is a serif font.

What I’ve noticed recently is a design shift towards sans serif fonts. This may be driven by a number of reasons, from the demand for futuristic fonts for digital publishing to the crackpot argument that sans serifs are easier to read.

Either way, the font is a wise move in my opinion: while iconic, the old Vanity Fair logo was very 80’s-chic, and for a younger reader, it probably invokes images of Francophone-themed winter sports posters hanging in their mother’s bedroom.

At least that’s what it does for me.

But then there’s the cultural standpoint: Fashion Week is coming in hard with vintage pieces, and the trend shows no sign of stopping. The film The Great Gatsby made flapperwear cool again, and Gatsby-themed parties – while horribly, terribly ignorant – are all the rage. Also, all of the other major magazines, like Elle and Vogue, have strong, timeless serif logos.

My only lament about this rework is that I still can’t read Vanity Fair in my student union without being judged.

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Dammit.

My Most Influential Blogs

Here are some blogs I’ll be following, all of which are excellent sources for commentary, news and information about publication design.

MagCulture
This is a longstanding blog about editorial design. While not focusing on new and upcoming magazines, this blog will still be a good source of insight.

SmashingMagazine
This is an online mag about internet and mobile design.  It has a lot of articles, but the majority of them have a slight editorial lean. It reads like a blog and sounds like a blog, so I’m treating it like a blog. I’d call this one of the “new-school” magazines that redefine the “print-only” idea of a magazine.

MrMagazine
Samir Husni is allegedly the “world’s expert on new magazines,” according to Forbes. Needless to say his blog will be beneficial to my endeavors.

PrintMag
Allegedly the best magazine design blog, I think I’ll be visiting this site often. They even have a space for design jobs – major plus.

MagSpreads
Basically the same blog as mine. It will be interesting to compare perspectives with them.

MagazineChat
This will be a good place to engage with others in magazine design. Curious to see if this can blossom into a community.

DesignerDaily
A huge mine of all the design information I’ll need in the future.

The Society of Professional Designers
The single greatest resource for publication designers. There’s a lot to learn and absorb on these blogs.

Computer Arts
An awesome overseas resource for computer arts and print design. Their print magazine is awesome as well.

Wired’s Design Blog 
A great blog about digital design in general, which will be influential when discussing mobile apps and breakthrough website design.