Michael Freidson, editor-in-chief of Time Out New York, welcomed us in an industrial-chic conference room with whiteboards covered in notes about cover and story ideas. Freidson, in beaten denim jeans and a sharp powder blue dress shirt, began with the history of the weekly print magazine. Englishman Tony Elliott created Time Out in his bedroom in London in 1968 because, said Freidson, “there wasn’t a resource that could digest all of the events going on in London at the time.”
Today the Time Out brand boasts a slew of editions and accompanying websites that span the globe, from New York to Dubai. They also publish the monthly magazine Time Out Kids, special interest books, and guidebooks for cities allover the world.
Freidson described Time Out New York’s position in the Big Apple, saying, “At our best, we are a public service and an enthusiastic friend convincing you to get out of the house. We target people 21 to 34, or those who are 21 to 34 at heart.”
Then he spoke about the print magazine’s transition to the web. “The importance of online media is bleeding into everything,” he noted. “The good thing is the blueprint for this magazine works perfectly for online.”
Freidson also answered questions about the potential of the iPad for magazines and for TONY’s future. “I think no matter what happens with the magazine industry, people will need content,” he said. “Things like the iPad can only help. Will it help the printers? No. But as long as the information we offer is something readers will select, we can maintain and thrive.”
After more discussion, Freidson took us on a tour through the magazine’s lofty office space, which was once the ballroom for the Houghton Mifflin company. Students strolled with him and got an insider’s look at the publication’s departments, including online, art, production and editorial. Along the way we met key contributors and learned how hard it is to satisfy New Yorkers every week.
“Our issues are planned three to four months in advance,” Freidson said. “All in all, it’s a demanding, multi-prong job.”
After the tour, the students returned to the conference room where Freidson invited members of his team, including features editor Sharon Steel, music writer Sophie Harris, and web editor Jonathan Shannon, to talk about their jobs and the task of putting out a weekly.
“The greatest challenge is the pacing and timing; it is a lot to manage,” noted Steel. “Creatively working on this schedule can be hard.”
“It never really ends,” added Harris, whose job as music editor often stretches into her time off. “That’s why it’s always good to have your recording devices and notepads all the time,” she explained.
However, Shannon’s plight is a little different. “With social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, a challenge is modifying your voice for those forms of media,” he said. “You have to take different approaches.”
Design director Adam Fulrath provided one of the highlights of the day with a presentation on magazine covers. He explained that magazines have about 30 seconds to catch a buyer’s attention on the newsstand, and emphasized how important covers are to the success of a magazine.
After outlining his rules for successful cover design (and more about this in our next post), we received an offer we couldn’t refuse: Fulrath and Freidson asked that we help design next week’s cover. We divided into four groups to come up with ideas. Two ideas really appealed to the editor and design director, and we hope one might be picked. We’ll tell you more about this in our next post, but for now, make sure you buy TONY next week. Check the credits on the “Letters” page to see if the M.S. in Publishing students become star cover designers.
Wilbert L. Cooper