How to Produce a Student Magazine

Magazine production is one of the ways through which activities of a university or students' associations are chronicled or trumpeted to a large public—both internal and external. A soft sell magazine is identified by its name, contents and the paper quality which all differentiate it from a hard-sell magazine. A hard sell magazine treats serious issues like politics, infrastructure development, education, scientific breakthrough, healthcare matters and other similar issues while a soft-sell magazine deals with issues such as sex, love, gossips, fashion, bugging, style, relationships and on and on. In fact some student magazines combine these functions, that is, a blend of both the hard-sell and soft-sell in their contents.

A student magazine, like other campus publications such as news letters or newspapers, exists essentially for the purpose of training students the art of publishing their own ideas and thoughts vis-à-vis their immediate environment. It gives a room for them to assess their writing skills as well as improve on them. Through their participation in producing such copy, they are able to polish their grammatical and semantic acumen thereby improving their expressions and language use. They will also have the opportunity of independently managing related projects for success after graduation. Another advantage is that students can easily make reference to their engagements in it after their programme as this will constitute part of their profile that will separate them from total rookie at the start of their career.

If the magazine is a new one, it is important to christen it a suitable name based on the philosophy and aims and objectives of those behind it. Is it to propagate the general interest of students of that institution or their professional association or department? Or is it to contribute to the development of the institution as part of the social responsibility of such students? And so forth. This, as a matter of professionalism, should reflect in the name-plate and folio line of the magazine.

Constituting the editorial board (those to be charged with the writing and the lay-out of the magazine) is next. In achieving this, students should not politicise the positions by merely dictating who assumes what but involve either a teaching staff particularly from mass communication specialisations or language studies, or other professionals like the public relations officer as editorial adviser (or editorial consultant depending on the appellation they choose)to oversee their activities. The staff may choose their editor, photo editor, sub editor, features editor and other positions based on brief interview to determine each student's area of competence. Is it writing or cartooning or editing or story embellishment? Experience has shown that situations where students impose themselves on editorial positions hardly yield quality magazine production. This is further justified by the fact that an outspoken student (well, many of the so-called loquacious students these days speak terribly bad English!) may not necessarily make the best of editorial position and vice versa.

The editorial consultant has a number of roles to play. Since he sees the project as his own, he plays the role of a parent, a guide, a tutor and a mentor to the editorial board members. He sees to the selection of materials as he charges students on writing and prompt submission of write-ups.

It is no news that not less than 80% of students on editorial board usually shirk their tasks of writing, attending meetings and other leg-work, yet they delight to see their names on the editorial mast or as byline. Most students consider these additional reportorial activities to their normal academics as hectic thereby coming up with excuses for not attending meetings. Some students even end up with others writing their stories for them. However, those who endure to accomplish the production eventually garner more experience and knowledge beyond what is taught in the four walls of the classroom.

Story file? Yes, this should be created. A story file is the file where all the written and visual materials are kept for the production. The appointed editor is the custodian of the file(s) as he collects every story and presents same at editorial meetings for editing, proofreading, headlining and page-planning. The photo editor will not only provide pictures that will accompany each story but find suitable captions or cut-lines for them. There should be a set deadline for the submission of all stories, articles, interviews, advertisements and pictures as this will give room for early planning of the pages based on the available materials. In determining what goes into the publication, certain write-ups that are badly written or not relevant will eventually be 'killed' while better write-ups may be culled from other publications or websites as 'fillers', or requested from professionals or academics to fill the 'holes'. When articles are culled, authors and sources of such work must be published alongside to preclude litigation on intellectual property. Otherwise, the magazine editor may be charged with copyright offences. It is instructive that students will learn acknowledging sources of their write-ups right from their days in school.

The editorial board should know what it will cost financially to produce the magazine through the range of pages and quality of paper they are prospecting. If the institution has no printing press, they should find out from a reputable publisher and negotiate in advance based on their budget. How many pages the editorial board is going for is a good consideration at the beginning or in the middle of the editorial assignment. A fold of an A-3 paper constitutes four pages of a good magazine copy size. Ideally, the numbering of a magazine starts from “3” as the front cover and the inside front cover constitutes pages “1” and “2” respectively although it is professionally wrong to label them so in our production.

The nature of magazine stories is that about 70% - 80% of them are featurised (written in features) rather than written in straight-forward news as in newspaper style. This is not to say that magazine feature stories do not appear in newspapers. Some newspapers do feature stories on certain events to make them more in-depth and interesting to read. Thus, your magazine stories should be packaged in such a way that they do not get stale quickly as in most newspapers. Since they are different from text books or novels, your magazine should be devoid of too many 'grey' pages or point listing. And the columns should be varied to avoid monotony. For instance, if one page has two columns, another may have three columns for good rhythm. Likewise the headlines. Two decks here, a one-line headline there, screaming headline elsewhere for good contrasts and so forth.

Typesetting should start as early as writing of stories. Or better still, in some instances, soft copies of write-ups may be submitted for direct editing on the computer. One sensitive finishing aspect of the production is proof-reading of the printed pages after editing. A good readable publication is determined by how well proof-read it is. Typographic errors should be well checked to minimize, if not eradicate, the 'printer's devil' to the barest minimum. This means two or more people should read and re-read the print-outs for this purpose. All pictures should be well cut-lined for proper identification of objects or personalities photographed.

Also, getting the magazine registered for International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) so that it could be quoted internationally is equally important. This is done through application to the national library with copies of the magazine and payment of required fees. The assigned numbers are quoted on the imprint of all editions of the publication.

In this modern age of The Internet, it is very important that the soft copy of student magazine edition be posted on the institution's website as this will project the students' activities globally.

For any student magazine (or any campus publication for that matter) to have better production in subsequent editions, a review of the previous edition should be done by a professional in terms of cover story, material contents, visuals' quality, page-planning, headline casting, photo caption and house style. The list is not exhaustive.

· A Public Relations practitioner, Mr Idris Katib writes via [email protected]

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Articles by Idris Katib