In the life of every publication there is a rhythm. For readers it is felt when the fresh edition arrives, and is quiet until the next one. But for those who produce the publication, the beat is incessant. To help convey to readers something of the pulse rate inside a major journalism organisation, I asked two editors to describe their typical week, day by day.
Melissa Denes edits Weekend, the magazine accompanying your Saturday Guardian, and Harriet Green edits the Observer Magazine, which arrives with that paper on Sundays. As they gave me their finished accounts, both independently remarked on how exhausting it was to think about and chronicle all their weekly processes.
The two magazines are produced by separate teams, but their operations are sufficiently similar for the editors’ descriptions to be blended here for brevity. My aim is to give readers an appreciation of the disciplined planning, attuned creativity and sustained endeavour required to produce magazines of such consistent quality. In what follows, bear in mind that the editors need to have eyes for both the printed and digital versions, which inhabit very different reading and advertising environments.
While you are reading a newly published magazine, the editors are monitoring responses to it on social media, reacting to queries, making tweaks online and assessing their competitors’ offerings. Already their next issue is deep in preparation, with the next two or three or more under way. They have a rough idea of covers for the next two or three months – recognising, always, that news is dynamic so they have to be agile.
The combinations of content in each issue receive careful thought. Denes aims to give readers “a satisfying mix” including great writing, strong covers, “lifestyle content that is useful and relevant”, and surprises. For Green “a typical shape is a celebrity interview, a more chewy reported piece – the rise of vaping, perhaps – plus something first person or zeitgeisty”, and then the regular columns covering food, gardens, travel, beauty, relationship advice and more.
Both editors are involved in details, especially covers. Early in her week Denes is “reading through all the pages ... unpicking any clashes, getting back to editors, writers, designers if I think something needs more work – a better picture, a stronger headline, another edit”.
Photography and design are crucial to magazines. Green: “Some shoots – particularly cover shoots with celebrities – are extremely labour intensive ... Photographers/studios need to be booked – these can be in London, Los Angeles, New York. We need stylists, hair and makeup artists ... We are dealing with [and receiving pitches from] publicists around the world ... [We] often work LA time if we are dealing with Hollywood stars.”
Denes: “For our cover story on the new season of The Crown, we had few images from behind the scenes and no shoot with Olivia Colman – so commissioned a classic red first-class stamp with a Queen Colman turning to face the reader. Often restrictions like this produce our best or most creative work.”
As deadlines approach and the week’s production pace picks up, the editors have to step into other rhythms too: meetings with advertising and sales, marketing, legal; discussion with other section editors; listening to writers; and perhaps “looking at different inks” which the design team has been testing.Close to going to press – production requirements mean this is days before the papers which will contain the magazines – proofs need to be read, headlines finessed and promotion considered. Then it’s done. The finished issues arrive in the office and it is time to “start worrying about the next one”.
• Paul Chadwick is the Guardian’s readers’ editor