Housty, is there a way we can attract graduates into magazine publishing?

Each month we pose a question to the brilliant Peter Houston, co-host of the Media Voices podcast, who will answer in his fabulously inimitable way. This month’s question comes from award-winning freelance graphic designer Angela Lyons.

Housty, we have a problem

Peter Houston

After feeling very old visiting UAL, is there a way we can attract/help get graduates and young ’uns into magazine publishing?

If you feel old, how do you think I feel?

I wrote a piece for MediaTel almost 10 years ago about my path into magazine journalism. I grew up on Clydeside in the 80s just as all the yards were closing and I told myself I’d never work in a ‘declining industry’ – only to become a magazine editor… LOL!

But I don’t regret my career choice, and the biggest thing the magazine industry can do to attract young talent is to get students past those ‘doom and gloom’ headlines.

Magazines make a difference

Yes, there are fewer magazines than there used to be, and yes, fewer jobs. But not everyone wants to be a bond trader making bond-trader money. From my own experience, most publishing students don’t want to stripmine society; they want interesting jobs where they can make a difference.

That’s magazine publishing. The mission might be educating kids about climate change, feeding food enthusiasts’ passion for cheese or helping an analytical scientist decide which technique to use. Magazines make a difference to people.

We need to talk more about the work, the sheer variety of work that magazine publishing involves. Every publishing brand is like its own mini-economy. Even – especially – with smaller staffs there is a huge range of tasks that need to be done before the product gets shipped. Across content creation, audience development and revenue generation, there is something for everyone.

And although the page-sniffing purists might not like to admit it, there are magazine publishers at the absolute cutting edge of digital communications, forging online communities, pushing ecommerce boundaries and even making money on NFTs.

The feelings

We also need to talk about the transferable skills that magazine people develop. Not everyone who starts their career in magazines will end their career in magazines; some are exiled, some escape. But everyone that works in magazines has had the chance to build an incredibly impressive skill set, from communications skills to project management, research to budgeting. 

And we need to talk more about the feelings. Magazines challenge people to own their ideas, but within the framework of a pagination and production schedule. You get to collaborate with people who do other things better than you can, and they get to work with you. If you’re lucky enough to work in print, you get the incredible buzz off that new issue landing. And with digital, the satisfaction of knowing your work is out there for the whole world to see.

So, to attract more students into magazine publishing, we need to get better at telling them about the good bits. Hiding the bad bits won’t work – anyone stupid enough to fall for a ‘This Is Fine’ view of magazine publishing isn’t smart enough to work in magazines. But there are so many good bits in magazine publishing, we can balance out that narrative.

A good start

And what can we do to help? Paying entry level staff decent money – especially interns – would be a hell of a start. And look at underrepresented groups that might never have considered a career in magazines; they will bring as much to your organisation as they get from you.

And if you’re not hiring, share jobs within your network. Point students at resources like Journoresources, Freelance Writing Jobs and Journalism.co.uk. Maybe even visit your local school and tell the children what a great job making magazines is. 

And obviously, tell them to become an International Magazine Centre patron.

With thanks to Frania Hall and Ali Warner for their insights on this question.

Peter Houston is one third of the Media Voices podcast, a magazine publishing consultant and trainer, and a freelance writer.

Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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