Thursday, January 03, 2008

Magazines vs. Newspapers

This came from a job listing I had in my box this morning that gave the writers guidelines for 5280 Magazine, a local Denver publication. The difference between newspaper and magazines articles has been long debated and I found it interesting that the editor placed this in their guidelines. What do you think, do you agree?

We're looking for writers who understand the difference between newspaper and magazine writing. This is a subjective matter, of course, but it boils down to a difference both in how we approach a story and how we tell it. Newspapers (and television) typically cover the Who, What, When, and Where. That leaves us with the Why and How. Put another way, a good magazine article should answer the question "What does it mean?" Because our readers are well-informed, they may already be aware of the topic you're covering. This means that your article must offer insight that goes beyond a simple recitation of facts. For example, the dailies may be reporting that monthly home sales figures continue to soar. It's up to you to step back, put the numbers in perspective, and offer guidance to the reader who wonders whether now is the time to put his or her home on the market. Newspapers tend to rely on official sources. It's our job to also include the voices of the people whose lives are actually affected by the issues being covered. If the newspapers report that burglaries are up in a particular Denver neighborhood, it's up to us to find the victims of those crimes and to convey their experiences in a compelling way. Finally, a magazine story is told with style. Tom Wolfe once likened newspaper writers to golf announcers, whispering in the background so as to not interrupt the play. The magazine writer's aim is to craft a story that is every bit as entertaining to read as it is informative. WHAT WE EXPECT Too often, writers who are new to magazines think that they have been freed from the drudgery of old-fashioned reporting, and can now exercise their long repressed literary aspirations. Not so. Because we have longer to prepare an issue, our articles deserve to be held to an even higher standard of accuracy and professionalism than those published in the dailies. But unlike a newspaper story, which typically presents both sides of an issue and leaves the reader to draw his or her own conclusion, our writers must be able to formulate a reasoned and well-grounded reaction to the subject matter. Again, your article should answer the question "What does it mean?" Articles should be strongly organized and clearly presented. Unlike the newspaper's inverted pyramid, magazine articles have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The magazine writer has many of the novelist's tools -- dialog, description, narrative, and point of view, to name a few -- at his or her disposal. Your writing should have personality. It's worth pointing out, however, that this is not a license for self indulgence. Remember that Picasso was an accomplished traditional painter before embracing more abstract techniques. In particular, the first person should be used only when it truly advances the story. No one cares that you arrived late for your interview, or that you ordered the fish and she had the veal. Above all else, of course, your finished product must have a strong local feel.


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