Thursday, February 26, 2009

Northwestern's Medill magazine program scores again; Brings back memories

The latest product of the magazine publishing program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism is a prototype for a hip science magazine called Sci Q.
As a graduate of the program from 1993, I received a copy of the prototype issue. Like other class projects from the magazine program, it’s a stellar piece of work. A group of 15 master’s students produced the magazine and a business plan for the publication and Web site.
I attended the class presentation for the magazine in early December on the Evanston, Ill., campus and received the actual magazine earlier this month.
It’s a tough time for the magazine industry. Slumping ad sales have hurt magazines across the board. And people just aren’t reading as many magazines and newspapers – in their paper versions at least – anymore.
In the last two months alone, I’ve counted 20 magazines that have shut down, based on reports by Cision’s The Navigator. They've included Hearst’s Teen magazine, Ziff Davis’ Electronic Gaming Monthly and Meredith’s Country Home. Some were folded into sister publications and others are keeping their Web sites operating.
My hope is that the newest graduates of Medill’s magazine publishing program will find good journalism and media jobs. They’re certainly a talented bunch.
Their project, Sci Q magazine, was targeted to men ages 25-44 who are interested in cool, weird and wild science and technology stories. The prototype issue features articles on a mystery illness killing off bats in the northeastern U.S., how watching sports can be good for your brain, and the possibility of Earth getting clobbered by the asteroid Apophis in 2036.
Watching the student presentation and reading the magazine brought back memories of my own experience in the Medill program. I graduated from the master’s program in 1993.
Our class project was a comedy-focused entertainment news magazine called Inside Comedy. Our goal was to cover the world of comedy – from stand-up and sitcoms to movies and comic strips. We wanted to be “a reader’s guide to a good laugh and a backstage pass to revealing profiles, intriguing behind-the-scenes stories and entertaining commentary.”
We had a small, but talented class of 15 students working on the magazine.
The best-known graduate from our class is Clinton Kelly, co-host of TLC’s “What Not To Wear” and author of the book “Freakin’ Fabulous: How To Dress, Speak, Behave, Eat, Drink, Entertain, Decorate, and Generally Be Better Than Everyone Else.” Not surprisingly, given his great sense of style, Kelly served as design director for Inside Comedy.
Other staffers included David Willey, now editor-in-chief at Runner’s World and president of the American Society of Magazine Editors; Arlene Weintraub, now a senior writer with BusinessWeek; and Jeff Favre, now a Los Angeles writer and comedian.
Looking back, I’m still amazed by the access we got with big-name talent. Being students at a prestigious university certainly helped open doors. But we also were pretty persistent.
Our cover story was on Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Our writer spent time with her on the L.A. set of “Seinfeld” and chatted with Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards for the article.
We also interviewed the up-and-coming stars of a little-watched, but influential sketch comedy show called “The Ben Stiller Show.” Those comic actors – Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk and Andy Dick – would later find fame elsewhere.
Other subjects of the Inside Comedy prototype were writer Dave Barry; stoner comedian Tommy Chong; “Dilbert” comic strip creator Scott Adams; and Gary Dontzig and Steven Peterman, writers of the sitcom “Murphy Brown.”
Director and actor Garry Marshall visited our class and gave us some worldly advice. And I got to interview actor-writer-director Harold Ramis about his then-upcoming film “Groundhog Day” and his body of work.
Good times. Good times.

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