Visitors to a weekly magazine near the close of the next issue might encounter high stress, with editors and art directors running around making last-minute changes. Covers fall through. Ads come and go. Tension rises. But a group of NYU SCPS M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media graduate students visiting Time Out New York (TONY) were instead welcomed to a remarkably calm office. The spacious loft was decorated with great Time Out covers. The office even has its own photography studio complete with mannequins for in-house photo shoots of fashion, food, and the occasional star. “We get some pretty cool celebrities [once in a while],” said Assistant Managing Editor Carolyn Stanley, who gave us a tour of the office. She also briefed us on the 18-year old publication that provides a comprehensive guide to the best things to do in the Big Apple: 60 editions worldwide, 47 issues a year for Time Out New York, and 35 editorial staff members.
Once we settled into the TONY conference room (which had an awesome view of the Empire State Building), we met Acting Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Shannon and Senior Editor Amy Plitt. Shannon and Plitt kicked off an informal chat by explaining how they see Time Out as a brand. “We don’t look at is as a magazine but as a global media company that inspires people to go out and explore their neighborhood,” Shannon said. With the multiple ways people now absorb content – print magazines, the web, on tablets and smart phones –looking at the brand in just one medium such as print would limit its mission. When a student brought up the question of how TONY decides which material lives in print and which online, Shannon compared it to a “two-way stream.” “At the moment, we take the approach of no division between print and online,” he said. Since each section editor is responsible for both their print and digital content, Shannon explained how material such as lists of the best New York City songs, for example, may start online but will then be tweaked and put into the print magazine—especially if the online content was well-received by readers.
Shannon and Plitt also spoke about how the editorial team develops fresh story ideas, particularly for franchised content that runs every year like the New York Best lists. They try hard to focus on topics and events under the radar that readers will think are cool. Plitt sometimes asks critics not to call out the same best museum or concert venue again, but to always keep an eye on the upcoming and new. In addition, the New York team collaborates with other Time Out publications such as those in Chicago, Los Angeles, and London to get unique material. “There are a thousand ideas out there,” Shannon said. “More and more, we are working with the Time Out network.” He mentioned, for example, talking to the Time Out Chicago editorial team about new story ideas for the New York City marathon since they had just covered the Chicago Marathon. “My best advice, “Shannon added, is to “collaborate and spit ball ideas.”
When asked about TONY’s competitive set, Plitt smiled and said: “Everything. When I started here eight years ago, it was clear [who the competition was]: New York Magazine and The Village Voice. Now the competition has exploded.” She mentioned publications such as MetroMix, Flavorpill, and The L Magazine as some of TONY’s current competitors. Shannon added that every form of entertainment from Netflix to Groupon is a competitor since they offer alternatives to going out and even inspire people to do new things. “So much stuff is competing for your attention,” he said.
We concluded our session with an invitation to submit pitches for the front-of-book column “Public Eye,” a profile of a regular New Yorker who participates in cool activities. This column changed recently from one focusing on a random person on the street to profiling pre-selected subjects. In many cases, they are tied to new trends, events and holidays. As we tossed out ideas, the editors liked some and asked us to follow up by email. And guess what? If they like one of our ideas, we might even get to report and write it for the magazine! So stay tuned: if that happens, we’ll be sure to blast it on social media and in this blog. All in all, our day at TONY showed us the many opportunities of life in New York.
by Jordanne Pascual