On the issue of “design catching up with editorial”: Christianity Today’s Mark Galli Answers Mr. Magazine’s™ QuestionsSeptember 17, 2009
It must be the season to redesign. I have seen and heard about more redesigns of magazines this month than any other month that I can recall. The last to join the redesign crowds is the leading Christian magazine that was founded by no other than America’s leading evangelical preacher Billy Graham: Christianity Today.
In a press release from the magazine, David Neff, CT’s editor in chief says, “Redesign a magazine and you could disorient some readers. But we hope that the redesigned Christianity Today will quickly give the reader a better sense of orientation. We believe the magazine is easier to use and more thoughtful than ever.”
As with every redesign the expectations of the editors and the readers may or may not be the same. To find out why the redesign and why now, I asked Mark Galli, Christianity Today’s senior managing editor to expand on the editor’s statement in the press release and to tell me why they opted for the redesign now and what are some of the innovative ways they are doing with the magazine.
Mark was quick to tell me that “the better question would be, ‘What took us so long?’ In fact, editorial has run ahead of design, in terms of how articles are pitched, what topics we’re covering, and so forth. We’ve become an editorially younger and broader magazine in some ways, and our design needed to catch up.”
SH: Are we designing for design sake, or is there a method for the redesign?
MG: One of the goals of the redesign was to increase coherence. We want people to have a better grasp of the magazine’s structure so that they will instinctively know where they are, and where to go if they are looking for another type of article.
We begin, as we have before, with a news section, but now all our news pieces will be in this section, including the longer news pieces, which used to be put in the features area because of length. There will be exceptions to the rule–that is, when we judge that “news” has become a “feature.” This happened in the inaugural issue! At the last minute, I decided we simply had to include the story of the imprisoned Christian Chinese dissident; his life is literally on the line, and I didn’t feel we should wait another issue to publicize his case. But it will be the rare news piece that will make it into the features; we’ll keep all those together in the news section.
In addition, we now put all opinion pieces–letters, editorials, columns–in one place. Previously they were spread throughout the magazine. And we’ll continue keeping all review material together. In addition, these sections are color coded across the top, again to help with orientation. So now, the reader will always know where to go to read a certain genre.
SH: What do you consider are the innovative steps you’ve taken through this change at CT?
MG: Again, it’s a matter of design catching up with editorial. Take for example our expanded attention to younger readers: We’ve added a feature called “Who’s Next?” at the very end of the book. In one page, it introduces readers to someone who will have an increasing influence in our movement in the years to come. This ends the magazine on a forward looking note.
In addition, we’re trying to do some thing that can only be done in print. Our news section begins with a one-page, info-graphic intense summary of a news issue. In addition, factoids and quotes are stitched between columns of news. These are the types of things you cannot do as well online.
In addition, we increasingly see the magazine as a place where people in our larger community–evangelicalism–come to discuss, argue, debate issues of concern to the whole community. We still try to provide leadership though editorial–as expressed especially in our monthly editorial (a rarity in magazines these days), and by the subjects we choose to cover. But we are not a magazine just for evangelicals who agree with us. We are also a magazine of the broader movement. So we’ve inaugurated a feature called “The Village Green,” where we will have movement leaders present three view points on a different question each month. For example, in the October issue, we’re asking, in light of recent legislative and electoral defeats, where should pro-lifers put their energies in the months ahead–in works of compassion, in new legislative efforts, or what?
None of these efforts are innovative in the sense that they’ve never been done before. We’re merely taking tired-and-true magazine editorial ideas to integrate design and editorial ever more closely.
SH: How, if any, are you using digital to amplify the future of the printed magazine?
MG: We will continue posting our print articles on line gradually through the month after the print magazine comes out. Since we are in the middle of a online redesign, and since the economics of online publishing are shifting everywhere as we speak, we’re not sure how consistently we’ll do that in the future. How online and print work with one another is part of the discussion as we consider a redesign, which we hope to launch in January 2010.
SH: Thank you.
(Full disclosure: I have worked and consulted with Christianity Today Inc. for a period of more than three years from 2004 thru. 2007).