The saying goes that you have three seconds to capture the attention of your online reader, so I guess I’m already wasting time. It’s the digital generation, baby, and it has its own rules. If once journalists could focus all their efforts on delivering a decent print magazine, now things got more complicated. Magazines have become brands, meaning their content must be spread through a plethora of social media, blogs and digital platforms. The sum of their parts shapes the identity of your brand and the quality of those parts tells the reason why your readers should scroll through your articles, retweet your tweets and like your content. Persist, our social justice-inspired student magazine, has been quite the journey, and here are a few things I learned about what it means to create a new brand, how to make it work and the importance of understanding the power of listings.
Walk the Brand, Talk the Brand
A brand needs a strong identity. Write a clear mission statement. In our case, we wanted “to encourage Kingston University students to remain Persistent, despite the many obstacles we face in life”. In order to do this, we decided to “provide a platform for news, voices, and opinions” and, at the same time, “to act as an active resource for students looking to continue the fight for social justice.” This is why we had to reiterate our core themes, house style and leitmotivs in editorial items such as headlines and topic choices. Good brands become readers’ daily habits. Know your target audience, love your subject matter.
Love your Stuff
You’ve chosen your topic. You know your audience. Brand identity is important, but content is king. What you need to do next is diving deep into your subject. As News editor of a social justice magazine, I reported on issues such as the transgender community in the UK and gender disparity in West End. In retrospect, I wish I covered more local events and stories but I feel we provided a wide range of thought-proving themes.
The Principle of Newness
Former Radio Times editor Gill Hudson once described magazines as a new surprise on every page and a small treat for every reader. This remains true in an almost digital-first culture. Give readers a reason to come back. Be consistent and offer novelty. Play with genres and formats. For Persist, I tackled the op-ed, the social-themed story and the news longform feature. As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message”.
Say It Out Loud
Take a stance. Many people found their voice online and communities who were once marginalised are now using digital media to craft their own narratives. This is why I wanted to write a thinkpiece about how gay characters in Hollywood movies are often played by straight actors. Internet can still be a way to fight stereotypes and to promote democracy and inclusion.
The Power Of Listings
It might be their bullet-point structure. Or their straight-to-the-point appeal. But listings always work. They are low-commitment pieces and they often do the trick of attracting more website traffic. Go on and give them a shot. They contain all the main traits of the digital era: attention-economy friendly, direct, full of humour and flair. Your readers will appreciate.