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Faces Magazine: Authentically Educating Children About Faraway Lands Or Simply The State Next Door With The Turn Of A Page – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Elizabeth Crooker, Editor & Nicole Welch, Art Director…

January 24, 2021

“I would say that having a print magazine gives the readers more ownership of the magazine. It gives them a closer relationship with it. And to be honest, I think a lot of us are tired of our kids staring at screens these days and so we encourage them to read magazines. They should be able to hold the magazine in their hands, flip the pages back and forth easier than scrolling, mark it up if they want. It’s their magazine and they can do what they want with it rather than just looking at it on a screen.” Elizabeth Crooker…

“I can say specifically with our magazine, Faces, they’re used educationally, so especially with the whole remote situation that everyone is in these days, these printed magazines can be used as extra learning materials outside of the classroom. We try to make everything, such as things that can go in teacher’s guides and materials like that. So we keep it educational.” Nicole Welch…

Faces magazine takes young readers to places as far as the other side of the world and as close as the next state to get an honest and unbiased view of how children in other places live. Whether it’s planning a trip or just wanting to learn about faraway places, Faces gives then the information they need to feel like a local. From common customs to rules of the road, unusual foods to animals found in the region, games to housing, Faces uses breathtaking photography and authentic local voices to bring the entire world right to young readers’ mailboxes.

I recently spoke with editor, Elizabeth Crooker and art director, Nicole Welch, about this charming magazine that is one of Cricket Media’s prized possessions. Faces readers are usually between the ages of 9 and 14, and as Elizabeth proudly says, they are never talked down to inside the pages of the magazine. They are treated with sophistication and respect in both content and design. Nicole is as adamant about that in her design methods as Elizabeth is in her editorial talent. It’s a winning combination – Elizabeth and Nicole. They genuinely care about the kids who read their content and they genuinely care about their brand. 

Now please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Elizabeth Crooker, editor and Nicole Welch, art director, Faces magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

Elizabeth Crooker, Editor, Faces magazine

On what role a printed magazine plays in a digital world (Elizabeth Crooker): I would say that having a print magazine gives the readers more ownership of the magazine. It gives them a closer relationship with it. And to be honest, I think a lot of us are tired of our kids staring at screens these days and so we encourage them to read magazines. They should be able to hold the magazine in their hands, flip the pages back and forth easier than scrolling, mark it up if they want. It’s their magazine and they can do what they want with it rather than just looking at it on a screen.

Nicole Welch, Art Director, Faces magazine

On why they chose to reinvent the magazine now, during a pandemic (Nicole Welch): One of the biggest reasons was that the art director for Faces actually retired and I was taking over the magazine. And when I take over magazines, the first thing I do is sit down with everybody and I see what works and what doesn’t and it’s part of an art director’s job to do so. And we decided that a lot of the pages weren’t templated as well and we just wanted to make something a little more modern-looking and engaging for our readers. So with that, we did a full redesign of the magazine before I took over.

On the biggest challenge Elizabeth faced in 2020 as editor of a children’s magazine (Elizabeth Crooker): Part of the challenge was that we work so far in advance that we didn’t really touch on any of the big changes that were going on in kid’s lives with our 2020 issues. It’s not until now, which we’re working on our February issue, and we’re talking about global health and we’re talking about how vaccines work and how different organizations work together to get vaccines from the factory to places all around the world. So for us, 2020 was almost a wrap. We already had our themes chosen.

On whether she feels a stronger responsibility to her readers as an editor of a print magazine versus online (Elizabeth Crooker): Our audience is from 9 to 14, so we have to take into consideration where these kids are and what they’re learning at school so it can supplement that, but we also need to give the kids the benefit of the doubt and let them come to their own conclusions, present the facts and you come to the conclusion you want.

On the role the audience plays in the magazine’s design (Nicole Welch): I do a lot of research and I look at a lot of magazines. I look for different colors to bring into the magazine; different fonts that are easy to read; stylistically and visually easy to flip through. I try to make it as engaging and interesting for our readers as possible, to draw them in, almost like I’m telling a story, so that they can follow the editorial but they can also look at the pictures and get a good idea by just looking at those pictures what the features are about. And that’s a big part of it.

On whether the job of editor is getting easier or harder as she moves forward into 2021 and beyond (Elizabeth Crooker): Well, I would never admit it if my job were getting easier. (Laughs) It’s definitely evolving. When I first started at Faces we were probably a very different magazine than what a kid would pick up now. We’ve always been a magazine that doesn’t talk down to the kids. And Nicole’s design reflects that too; her design isn’t too young and it’s very sophisticated, which I think the kids appreciate.

On how they put an issue of the magazine together (Elizabeth Crooker): The first thing we do on an annual basis is select our themes. I’ve been doing this long enough that I know which themes we’ve covered recently and what themes we haven’t covered at all. And if there’s something that we haven’t covered in a while, for example we’re doing South Korea again in May and June, which we haven’t done in seven or eight years, so the thought is to add to what we have and update and then with new information, like the global health issue, it will be much different than the global health issue that we did 15 years ago.

On the role diversity and inclusion plays in the brand (Elizabeth Crooker): Because of the nature of Faces, diversity has always been at the top. Even when we do issues that have more of a general theme, I always make sure I have something from all over. If we’re doing music, I have something from Asia, I have something from Africa, something from Europe, South America, North America. It’s always been part of the planning process. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making sure the diversity is there, but for Faces I feel like it’s always been there. But there’s nothing wrong with being sure.

On anything they’d like to add (Elizabeth Crooker): I’ve always been Faces biggest fan. And today, when everyone is kind of turning in toward their homes, Faces is a way to still connect with the outside world. So, it’s more important now than ever. I really hope people know that it’s here and a resource for them to use and parents are giving it as gifts.

On what makes them tick and click and get out bed every morning (Nicole Welch): Just the excitement of designing; it’s always something new when I’m designing magazines. It’s like a new story, I’m telling these kids stories and I like to engage them and I like when they engage back with us. So I try and create my magazines in that way so that we have that type of communication, even though it’s on paper. And I like to keep it fun. And like Beth said, we’re always learning something new from our own magazines. We definitely hope the readers keep on reading.

On how they unwind in the evening (Nicole Welch):  I do a lot of freelance work on the side as well and I have two small children, so they keep me very busy, making dinner and doing the mom thing. We try to watch movies together at night sometimes just to relax and let my mind sink into something different. 

On what keeps them up at night (Elizabeth Crooker): Probably just worrying about my kids. I have a freshman in college and a sophomore, they’re older, but you still worry. Once a mom always a mom. 

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Elizabeth Crooker, editor & Nicole Welch, art director, Faces. 

Samir Husni: We live in a digital age; there is no doubt about it. What role does a printed children’s or teen magazine play in today’s digital world, whether it’s Faces or Muse or any of the other magazines that your company publishes?

Nicole Welch: I can say specifically with our magazine, Faces, they’re used educationally, so especially with the whole remote situation that everyone is in these days, these printed magazines can be used as extra learning materials outside of the classroom. We try to make everything, such as things that can go in teacher’s guides and materials like that. So we keep it educational. That’s what we do specifically on our end, I’m not sure about teen magazines, but I assume it’s a similar process.

Elizabeth Crooker: I would say that having a print magazine gives the readers more ownership of the magazine. It gives them a closer relationship with it. And to be honest, I think a lot of us are tired of our kids staring at screens these days and so we encourage them to read magazines. They should be able to hold the magazine in their hands, flip the pages back and forth easier than scrolling, mark it up if they want. It’s their magazine and they can do what they want with it rather than just looking at it on a screen. 

I have a whole stack of them in my office, so it’s easier for me to go back and look and I hope that’s what the kids are doing too because we’re talking about the world, we have issues that will touchback. We did an issue on birds and then we did an issue on New Zealand where we talk about birds, so you can go back to the bird issue and see that one. And it’s easier when you have them right in front of you rather than on a screen where you have to turn on a device and make sure it’s charged. 

Samir Husni: Why did you decide in the midst of a pandemic and during these times of immense unrest in our country to reinvent Faces or reinvent Muse? Did you have so much time on your hands working remotely that it seemed like the right moment for a reinvention?

Nicole Welch: Absolutely not. One of the biggest reasons was that the art director for Faces actually retired and I was taking over the magazine. And when I take over magazines, the first thing I do is sit down with everybody and I see what works and what doesn’t and it’s part of an art director’s job to do so. And we decided that a lot of the pages weren’t templated as well and we just wanted to make something a little more modern-looking and engaging for our readers. So with that, we did a full redesign of the magazine before I took over. But that’s the only reason why, not because I had more time, because trust me, I did not. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: What was the biggest challenge you faced in 2020 as a magazine editor for a publication aimed at children and how did you overcome it?

Elizabeth Crooker: Part of the challenge was that we work so far in advance that we didn’t really touch on any of the big changes that were going on in kid’s lives with our 2020 issues. It’s not until now, which we’re working on our February issue, and we’re talking about global health and we’re talking about how vaccines work and how different organizations work together to get vaccines from the factory to places all around the world. So for us, 2020 was almost a wrap. We already had our themes chosen. We did intersperse – we have a young girl in New Hampshire named Kylie who pen pals, and it kind of seeped in through her organically with her correspondence with people around the world. Talking about wearing masks at soccer and things like that.

Samir Husni: Do you feel a certain responsibility as an editor of a print magazine rather than someone posting on social media or online?

Elizabeth Crooker: Our audience is from 9 to 14, so we have to take into consideration where these kids are and what they’re learning at school so it can supplement that, but we also need to give the kids the benefit of the doubt and let them come to their own conclusions, present the facts and you come to the conclusion you want. And I’m thinking about an article we did on the Amazon and we talked about how the current administration wasn’t supporting legislation so the rainforest was getting cut down at a faster rate. So, we’re just presenting the facts and we’re leaving it up to the kids to draw their own conclusions and hopefully go on and find out more with their own research. 

And with print, I feel like it’s going to be around longer. I think if you read a magazine online you’re done with it once you’re finished reading it. With print magazines it might lay around on your coffee table; you might share it with a friend; you might donate it to a library, so it has to have timely information in it as well, you don’t want it to be so current that it becomes useless. It needs to be timely and timeless, and that’s the tricky part. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: What role does your audience play in the design of the magazine?

Nicole Welch: I do a lot of research and I look at a lot of magazines. I look for different colors to bring into the magazine; different fonts that are easy to read; stylistically and visually easy to flip through. I try to make it as engaging and interesting for our readers as possible, to draw them in, almost like I’m telling a story, so that they can follow the editorial but they can also look at the pictures and get a good idea by just looking at those pictures what the features are about. And that’s a big part of it.

I also feel that research is huge. I do a ton of research; I take photos and I sit down and I analyze everything. I do that because I want to keep everything modern and I want to make sure that I’m staying within the guides of what’s going on in the world.

Samir Husni: Based on what’s going on in the world, do you think your job is getting easier or harder as you move forward into 2021 and beyond?

Elizabeth Crooker: Well, I would never admit it if my job were getting easier. (Laughs) It’s definitely evolving. When I first started at Faces we were probably a very different magazine than what a kid would pick up now. We’ve always been a magazine that doesn’t talk down to the kids. And Nicole’s design reflects that too; her design isn’t too young and it’s very sophisticated, which I think the kids appreciate. 

But where the challenge comes in is that kids today do have access to all kinds of social media. They get their news from so many different sources, so making sure that we have accurate and unbiased content is important. Like Nicole said, research, research, research, so that we can back up all of our facts, just so that we know what the kids will be reading is true and accurate. That’s probably the biggest challenge. If a child is doing a project for school on Brazil, I hope that they would do more than just google Brazil. I hope that they’re looking at magazines, books and newspapers. So, I would say that my job is definitely evolving and challenging.

Samir Husni: Can you tell me about how you put an issue of the magazine together, from the creation to the birth process?

Elizabeth Crooker: The first thing we do on an annual basis is select our themes. I’ve been doing this long enough that I know which themes we’ve covered recently and what themes we haven’t covered at all. And if there’s something that we haven’t covered in a while, for example we’re doing South Korea again in May and June, which we haven’t done in seven or eight years, so the thought is to add to what we have and update and then with new information, like the global health issue, it will be much different than the global health issue that we did 15 years ago. 

That’s the initial thing and then Nicole will make suggestions. She was the one who recommended Costa Rica and Central America because of the vibrant colors and how much fun it would be. Then the education team will make suggestions. We’ve worked with the Smithsonian before on topics. We talk to the editors. Our global issue is coming out at the same time Cobblestone is doing an issue on Clara Barton, so we try and match up with other magazines to expand the type of content that we have across the company. 

Then when it comes to deciding what articles to put in it, that’s probably my favorite part of my job, going through the queries, doing the research. And for me it’s just trying to find that wow factor, something that is unique about the culture, but hopefully we’re looking at it in a different way. If we’re going to do an issue on Italy, we’re going to cover the ruins, but we want to do it in a way that’s different from what kids have found other places. 

Then Nicole and I will meet and talk about the articles and I’ll suggest photos and art and then which ones I want illustrated. And then she’ll suggest illustrators. 

Nicole Welch: At that point we’ll have a design meeting after Beth has done her research. And we sit down and talk about every single feature or department that’s in the magazine. She’ll add a lot of primary source photos for us to use and from there it’s just going into designing. Before designing I read every story and try to get a good feel for it. I do additional research on photos myself if I want to add different elements or maybe I might suggest a sidebar or a fun fact to bring into the feature to kind of elevate it. We work really well together and we’re constantly communicating. And I think that’s what makes our magazine successful. 

We have professionals from all over the world adding to our issues, whether they’re illustrators or people who are writing the stories. So we try to just bring in people from the areas to add to it which helps our magazine tell the story that it needs to tell. 

Samir Husni: Being a global magazine, you’ve covered social issues. What role does diversity and inclusion play in the brand? 

Elizabeth Crooker: Because of the nature of Faces, diversity has always been at the top. Even when we do issues that have more of a general theme, I always make sure I have something from all over. If we’re doing music, I have something from Asia, I have something from Africa, something from Europe, South America, North America. It’s always been part of the planning process. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making sure the diversity is there, but for Faces I feel like it’s always been there. But there’s nothing wrong with being sure.

Nicole Welch: I think everybody is making sure there’s more diversity and inclusion, but specifically with Faces, as Beth said, we cover specific areas like New Zealand or Africa, so we’re covering the kids that are within those areas no matter what their ethnicity. It’s not forced with that specific magazine, but yes, we want to make sure everybody is included and that our magazines are accessible and that they feel accessible to everyone. 

Elizabeth Crooker: There are times when illustrating or using photos for an activity, we’ll make sure that there is a very diverse group. 

Samir Husni: Is there anything either of you would like to add?

Elizabeth Crooker: I’ve always been Faces biggest fan. And today, when everyone is kind of turning in toward their homes, Faces is a way to still connect with the outside world. So, it’s more important now than ever. I really hope people know that it’s here and a resource for them to use and parents are giving it as gifts. 

Nicole Welch: We like to say it’s the gift that keeps on giving. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click and get out of bed in the morning?

Elizabeth Crooker: Coffee. (Laughs) My favorite part about this job and it sounds really weird, but I feel like doing a research paper every month. I was the nerd in school that always read the book, so for me that’s exciting. I love to learn new things. I am an excellent Jeopardy player. (Laughs again) If you ever want to go on Jeopardy, read our magazines, you’ll learn so much. Learning new things is the exciting part for me. 

Nicole Welch: Just the excitement of designing; it’s always something new when I’m designing magazines. It’s like a new story, I’m telling these kids stories and I like to engage them and I like when they engage back with us. So I try and create my magazines in that way so that we have that type of communication, even though it’s on paper. And I like to keep it fun. And like Beth said, we’re always learning something new from our own magazines. We definitely hope the readers keep on reading. 

Samir Husni: How do you unwind in the evening?

Elizabeth Crooker: Definitely a book. I read a lot of fiction, because for work I focus mostly on non-fiction. So my escape is fiction, although I love historical fiction, which is a little of both.

Nicole Welch: I do a lot of freelance work on the side as well and I have two small children, so they keep me very busy, making dinner and doing the mom thing. We try to watch movies together at night sometimes just to relax and let my mind sink into something different. 

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Nicole Welch: I’ve had that problem from the very beginning of time, I think. (Laughs) Being in the creative industry, that’s where I get most of my thoughts. There’s a lot going on in the world politically and with the Coronavirus, it’s just been awful. But for me what pops up in the middle of the night is different creative ideas that keep floating into my head. 

Elizabeth Crooker: Probably just worrying about my kids. I have a freshman in college and a sophomore, they’re older, but you still worry. Once a mom always a mom.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

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