Guest Newsletter – Sean Wood

Once a month we invite our Patrons, publishing friends and magazine enthusiasts to guest-edit our fortnightly newsletter. 

This month our guest editor is Sean Wood, CEO of Positive News, the online and print magazine for good journalism about the progress that’s happening in the world.

Sean is passionate about how the media and business can be a force for good. Previously an editor, Sean led Positive News’ relaunch in print in 2016, from a free newspaper to a high-quality magazine, and transformed the organisation into one owned by its readers.

He’s also co-founder of the Constructive Journalism Project and has presented at events and trained journalists internationally on solutions journalism and media innovation. A new dad, he likes getting outside with his family, swimming in the sea, and when he can, contemplating life sat by a log fire.

You can follow Sean on LinkedIn and Twitter – if you like what you read below, say Hi!

What’s on your mind?

I’ve just updated our plans for the next year, and I’m thinking about the need for us to balance focus and flexibility. 

In response to the Covid crisis, Positive News created an uplift in subscriptions and we’re grateful to be among the minority (14%) of independent news publishers that have stable or, as is the case for us, growing revenues in 2020. At the same time, there’s of course lots of uncertainty. So I’m guiding our small team to double down on what we know is working, and to put other things on hold – yet in these times, I’m also feeling the need to stay open to tearing up our plans at any moment!

More immediately, I’m focused on our marketing campaign for our Christmas gift subscriptions.

What’s the best article you’ve read this month?

I’m reading a brilliant book at the moment, Humankind by Rutger Bregman, which busts the cynical myth that under the surface, people are selfish and bad.

Instead it puts forward fascinating scientific evidence of how most people are decent and trustworthy, and why we’ve been mislead to think otherwise (the news has no small part to play!). The book’s implications are profound.
It’s unrelated to the theme of the book, but an interesting and provocative article I’ve just read by Bregman – published by The Correspondent – is about how, when it comes to climate change, individual sacrifices and systemic change are interconnected and both necessary. And from the design point of view, the article has cool animations at the top and bottom.

Show us an incredible magazine cover

I was tempted to champion an indie mag cover, such as the Havana issue of Boat magazine, which shouts with joy, but I pretty much knew I had to choose a New York Times Magazine cover. The tough part was which one. I once saw design director Gail Bichler give a presentation about their process and I was blown away by the creativity and resource that went into their covers.

In 2018 they dedicated a special issue to love in New York City, where they photographed 24 kisses around the city in 24 hours. I love the concept and execution, and again it’s hard to single one out from this series but this particular option feels like a really positive and colourful affirmation of modern urban life.

What’s your top tip for publishers?

Put purpose first.

I’ve always liked learning from other industries – I got the idea to transform Positive News into a co-operative owned by readers after seeing the effectiveness of community-owned farms and renewable energy projects.

Illustration by Gregory Baldwin with thanks to Ikon Images

One thing that’s fast gaining traction in some other industries, but where the media is perhaps lagging, is a focus on purpose. Really knowing why our publications exist and communicating it. Now more than ever, magazines need to offer clear, unique value for the reader. It sounds obvious, but they need to matter. As traditional advertising-supported models decline and reader revenue becomes increasingly important, purpose (if it’s authentic!) will help create deeper, stronger relationships with readers.
For Positive News, while we’re still relatively small, key to our progress so far has been having our readers get behind our purpose. They want to support us in creating and spreading inspiring journalism, and they support our vision of a more balanced, constructive news media. They invested more than a quarter of a million pounds in our community shares crowdfunding campaign in 2015, becoming co-owners of Positive News, and they’ve contributed to numerous donation fundraisers over the years since. Their relationship with us is beyond buying a magazine about subject matter they like. As well as making our organisation more resilient, that happens to make our jobs more worthwhile too.
Print magazines have a golden opportunity to stand out from the online noise. But with people increasingly time and attention poor, print itself isn’t enough – our magazines need to offer more. This is where purpose, combined with the unique benefits of the print magazine experience, is a powerful combination.

Housty, we have a problem

What problem would you like our magazine guru, Peter Houston, to solve in the next newsletter?

My problem is: “If you wanted to launch a successful new title in 2021, would you opt for a print magazine brand with a digital presence, or an online media brand that published a print magazine?”

Can’t wait until next month? Check out last newsletter’s question from Kitty Finstad: “Housty, I have a great idea for a magazine. Should I self publish or seek an investor?

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