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Class notes


This is where you'll find information from our class discussions.




Aggregator: A person or media organization that collects and assembles previously published material and distributes it in its own collection, usually online.

Architecture: How the magazine is physically constructed--what's front-of-the-book, break-of-the-book, and back-of-the-book--that supports the editorial strategy. Watch people "thumb through" magazines and you'll notice that they start front, back, or middle. Notice that editors have placed certain items in deliberate places to hook readers and get them to buy the magazine.

Demographics: The characteristics of the magazine readers, eg, age, education, race, ethnicity, income level, gender, region, etc.

Jump Lines: The lines at the bottom of the pages that say "continued on page...." These are meant to get readers sufficiently engaged in the articles to be willing to turn pages to the back-of-the-book area where the ends of the articles (called "jumps") are usually located.

Magazine: From the French magasin, meaning store or storehouse. A collection of stories published and distributed periodically for a specific audience.

Masthead: The listing of magazine personnel, including the editorial, design, advertizing, and other business staff. Usually found near the front of the publication. Standard titles include

  • Editor/Editor-in-Chief: This is the person who is ultimately responsible for making sure that the magazine consistently fulfills its editorial mission, its purpose for publishing. The Editor and Executive Editor (usually second in command) have very little to do with day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts collection of stories. They are mostly Big Picture people and will rarely if ever read pitches or queries from freelancers.

  • Managing Editor: This person is responsible for tracking editorial schedules and will usually work with a production coordinator, design staff, and advertizing coordinators to make sure that the pages of the magazine are processed in a timely fashion and the magazine is published and distributed. This person is not likely to read story pitches.

  • Senior Editor: Depending on the magazine, this person may be in charge of a section or subject area such as food, fashion, or entertainment. Some are responsible for particular departments or areas of the publication such as current events or front or back material, assigning and compiling all of the short pieces that go in these sections. This person may read pitches or submission to her or his section.

  • Articles or Features Editor: This person will probably handle specific subject areas for major pieces that are assigned, usually to regular contributors. While Articles Editors can work alone or with assistants, they often work in groups with of other editors of special packages and features. Articles Editors usually DO review pitches and submissions.

  • Contributing Editor: This person is a writer for the magazine, usually on contract or retainer, and is likely the most highly paid freelancer on the magazine. They are not part of the assignment chain and do not read pitches or submissions as a rule.

  • Associate Editor: Depending on the magazine, this person might be responsible for editing a specific area of the magazine or handling a specific subject. If so, she or he will review story suggestions as part of the job. Usually, though, this person works with a senior-level editor and the creative team (researchers, writers, graphic designers, photographers, etc) to put assigned stories together.

  • Assistant Editor: This person usually handles a lot of the administrative work of the editorial team: permissions, scheduling, fact-checking, etc. It's probably not in the job description, but the Assistant Editor can share ideas with the team of something comes across her desk.

  • Editorial Assistant: This person usually does exclusively administrative support-type work, but like the Assistant Editor might be able to share an interesting story with the higher level editors if they have that kind ofprofessional relationship.

Nutgraf: The section of a story that follows the opeing and sums up the point--usually contains the "W" questions.

Platform: A method of delivering information, whether by traditional print, broadcast or audio, or digitally on computers or mobile devices.

Psychographics: Variables, like demographics, that profile readers, but that refer to interests, needs, and attitudes, rather than characteristics.


Types of Magazines

There are two general types of magazines: consumer and trade (also called Business-to-business or B2B).


Consumer magazines are the ones most familiar to the general public. This category has many subcategories, just a few are listed here with examples. Within these subcategories are subcategories divided by demographic factors like gender, race, ethnicity, education, language, and age.

  • Entertainment (Rolling Stone)

  • Commentary (The Nation)

  • Culture (Harper's)

  • Business and Finance (Fortune)

  • Fashion (Vogue)

  • Beauty (Glamour)

  • Fitness (Shape)

  • Shelter (Architectural Digest)

  • Service (Family Circle)


Trade/B2B magazines are for business owners, managers, and professionals who want more specialized information, which they need for success in their industries. These are generally available only by subscription and are marketed to very targeted readers.

Examples include

  • Landscape Professional

  • The Journal of the American Medical Association

  • Dentistry Today


Magazine Markets

Hitting the Target

Successful freelance writers and magazine publishers both focus on a selective market or target market. Notice the subtle differences in the popular print magazines in the categories and subcategories listed below. Understanding your target market requires four considerations:

  1. Magazine Focus--categories like men's magazines, women's magazines, business magazines, entertainment magazines, etc.

  2. Magazine Niche--within the category, there will often be a special topic. For example, a men's magazine might focus on fashion or health.

  3. Audience Composition--demographics.

  4. Audience Interests--psychographics.


Categories (and sub-categories and sub-sub-categories....)

Men's magazines

  • Esquire

  • GQ

  • Men's Health

  • Maxim

  • Men's Journal

  • Details

Women's Magazines (dominate the industry)

*Women's service

  • Ladies' Home Journal

  • Good Housekeeping

  • Redbook

  • Better Homes and Gardens

  • Martha Stewart Living

  • O, The Oprah Magazine

  • Real Simple

*Women's lifestyle

  • Glamour

  • Cosmopolitan

  • Marie Claire


  • Architectural Digest

  • Veranda

  • House Beautiful

  • Elle Decor

  • Traditional Home


  • Harper's Bazaar

  • InStyle

  • Vogue

  • Elle


  • Self

  • Shape

***Small, independent women's magazines

  • Ms

  • Bitch

  • Bust

Overall Structure

The beginning, the middle, and the end

The beginning

The opening of the story has two parts. They may be separate paragraphs or parts of the same paragraph. The first is called the lead (or "lede" in newspapers). A good lead engages readers and leads them to the next part of the story for more information. The second is the "nutgraf," what some writers call the "billboard" paragraph, where the theme, the point of the story, is clarified in a concrete way.


The first line is often called an opener. It is meant to grab the attention of (or "hook") the reader and convince her or him to keep reading. It can be a provocative summary line or question meant to surprise; a powerful quote that can intrigue; or a narrative anecdote that will engage.


There is a distinction between magazine writing and news writing with opening material. In news writing, the lede does a lot of work to establish the news peg--the who, what, where, when, and why. That is because the classic structure of the news story is the inverted pyramid: the most important information comes first and then everything else is in descending order of significance. Magazine writing is different because readers have to be drawn into the story and magazine stories often do not have an apparent peg, so writers have to attract and engage readers so they'll want to read on. They will have to feel that the story is important to them, that it will inform, enlighten, engage, and/or entertain them. Because magazine stories tend to be longer, key information can be threaded throughout the piece, rather than presented at the top.


The middle

The basic building blocks of your article can be classified as

  • Anecdotes

  • Facts

  • Examples

  • Quotes

  • Exposition/Explanation

  • and the Weight and Pacing of the above

After you have effectively set up your story with your opening--telling readers what you are going to tell them with your thematic lead and nutgraf, you begin to tell the story itself, which is around 90% of the entire piece. This is what is known as the "expository" section of the story. Exposition is where the information and meaning that you are attempting to convey in the story are "exposed." Development and exposition require certain elements of storytelling, including background information to provide the history of the story, analysis to provide meaningful context, and illustration to help clarify through example and anecdote. The best structure for the magazine article is one that successfully balances the use of the blocks of copy in a well-paced alternating presentation.


The end

As with the opening, the closing of your story should be constructed in two parts. Here we consider a setup and a payoff, in telling readers what you have told them, pulling everything together, and restating the theme once more in such a way as to reinforce it.


The setup: included in the closing paragraphs of the story, it can do one (or all) of several things. These grafs can summarize the significance of everything discussed in the story; touch on details regarding the future impact of the topic; resolve a problem or answer a question posed in the story, or recommend possible solutions; and, of course, restate the theme.


The payoff: is the real conclusion of the story that, if done well, will provide some kind of message--the takeaway for the reader. Usually one sentence, the payoff or takeaway should imprint in the mind of the reader exactly what this story has been about: touching the heart, satisfying emotions  that this piece has been resolved. This is often done by way of a quote. As with the opening though, the quote selected must not only be a good one, but it must be the absolute best choice of endings for your story. This one-two punch could be an anecdotal summary that leads to a concluding quote or sentence through which you tie up everything. This works especially well when it tracks the opening in some way. A circular narrative strategy, such as the one we see in "The Reckoning" is usually effective. The closing will refer back to the opening in such a way as to connect the theme from beginning to end in a tangible way.


A tightly coordinated opening and closing will ensure that the significance of the material is communicated and that the point of it endures.



Theories of humor in rhetoric and philosophy

Superiority Theory: An ancient theory associated with the Judeo-Christian Bible, Plato, Hobbes and Descartes, laughter expresses feelings of superiority over other people or over a former state of ourselves. A contemporary proponent of this theory is Roger Scruton, who analyses amusement as an “attentive demolition” of a person or something connected with a person. “If people dislike being laughed at,” Scruton says, “it is surely because laughter devalues its object in the subject's eyes” (in Morreall 1987, 168). It is mostly considered defunct as a comprehensive theory, but can be identified as mocking or scorn as a comedic component.


Relief Theory: An 18th Century theory associated with Herbert Spencer, Sigmund Freud, and Lord Shaftesbury, laughter does in the nervous system what a pressure-relief valve does in a steam boiler. The theory was sketched in Lord Shaftesbury's 1709 essay “An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humor,” the first publication in which humor is used in its modern sense of funniness. Scientists at the time knew that nerves connect the brain with the sense organs and muscles, but they thought that nerves carried “animal spirits”—gases and liquids such as air and blood. John Locke (1690, Book 3, ch. 9, para.16), for instance, describes animal spirits as “fluid and subtile Matter, passing through the Conduits of the Nerves.”


Shaftesbury's explanation of laughter is that it releases animal spirits that have built up pressure inside the nerves.

The natural free spirits of ingenious men, if imprisoned or controlled, will find out other ways of motion to relieve themselves in their constraint; and whether it be in burlesque, mimicry, or buffoonery, they will be glad at any rate to vent themselves, and be revenged upon their constrainers.


Over the next two centuries, as the nervous system came to be better understood, thinkers such as Herbert Spencer and Sigmund Freud revised the biology behind the Relief Theory but kept the idea that laughter relieves pent-up nervous energy.


Incongruity Theory: The second account of humor that arose in the 18th century to challenge the Superiority Theory was the Incongruity Theory. While the Superiority Theory says that the cause of laughter is feelings of superiority, and the Relief Theory says that it is the release of nervous energy, the Incongruity Theory says that it is the perception of something incongruous—something that violates our mental patterns and expectations. This approach was taken by James Beattie, Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, Søren Kierkegaard, and many later philosophers and psychologists. It is now the dominant theory of humor in philosophy and psychology.


Although Aristotle did not use the term incongruity, he hints that it is the basis for at least some humor. In the Rhetoric (3, 2), a handbook for speakers, he says that one way for a speaker to get a laugh is to create an expectation in the audience and then violate it. As an example, he cites this line from a comedy, “And as he walked, beneath his feet were—chilblains [sores on the feet].” Jokes that depend on a change of spelling or word play, he notes, can have the same effect. Cicero, in On the Orator (ch. 63), says that “The most common kind of joke is that in which we expect one thing and another is said; here our own disappointed expectation makes us laugh.”


This approach to joking is similar to techniques of stand-up comedians today. They speak of the set-up and the punch (line). The set-up is the first part of the joke: it creates the expectation. The punch (line) is the last part that violates that expectation. In the language of the Incongruity Theory, the joke's ending is incongruous with the beginning.


Types of features

Articles that address a reader problem, concern, or issue that can be resolved by a writer are called "service" pieces. They create vital points of connection for readers and inspire readers to think "I can do that!." In addition to the basic "how-to" service area, rich storytelling opportunities are available through introducing people to new products, services, lifestyle choices, or simply introducing concepts. Service articles provide information that can shape readers' lives.


You've seen cover lines at the check-out counter. How to: save money, spend money, gain weight, lose weight, be healthier, sleep better, be more attractive, cope, live more fulfilling lives, etc. Traditionally, "how-to" was included in the title, but these days we tend to see numbers/listicles, like "five ways to _____." Odd numbers and multiples of five are currrently popular.


Service writers do not need to be experts in the topics that they write about--although it doesn't hurt. They just need to be curious, good researchers, with the ability to relay the information in tight, bright, easy-to-follow instructions. Sharp, detailed reporting lends authority and credibility to the how-to.


Literary Non-fiction

Most of the long-form pieces we've looked at this semester have been what we call "literary non-fiction," or narrative-driven stories. They use elements of creative writing such as character, voice, theme, conflict, and resolution to engage readers.


We construct these stories, according to the writer Tom Wolfe, by moving readers through carefully framed scenes--effectively

placing the reader in the story. The kind of detail required to do this successfully demands immersive reporting. In the end, these stories must also be factually accurate. Facts are not reshaped to fit a narrative arc or build tension through rising conflict. Facts come from thorough reporting--research, interviewing, and observation--digging with a purpose.


Essay/Personal History

Less common than service and literary non-fiction in magazine features, the personal history or essay can be highly effective as a story-telling form. While the essay may have a great deal of overlap with the other types of features--research, carefully framed scenes, "big-picture" ideas, and even how-to--what distinguishes it is the strong sense of the author's voice. The author's presence, whether explicit or implicit, is vivid. Think of Chuck Klosterman's presence in "Bending Spoons with Britney Spears," Lindy West's voice in any of her Jezebel pieces, or David Foster Wallace's presence in "Consider the Lobster." Like other essayists with distinctive styles and voices, Klosterman, West, and Wallace were hired specifically for their distinctive voices and storytelling agility.




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