It’s been said that until the magazine service journalism program began in August 1984, Mississippi was not the first state one thought of when it came to magazine publishing. Music maybe and great literature, but not necessarily the world of magazines and how they’re made. But all that changed after Dr. Samir Husni started the magazine service journalism program at the University of Mississippi.
Steve Cohn, editor-in-chief of Media Industry Newsletter, described Husni as “a wonderful representative for the state of Mississippi, especially where magazine journalism is concerned.”
“In fact, in New York and all over America,” Cohn said, “when you hear the word Mississippi today, magazines are the first things that come to mind. And it’s because of Dr. Husni’s passion.”
The magazine service journalism program at Ole Miss is celebrating 30 years.
“When Jim Autry and the Meredith Corp. funded the magazine program at Ole Miss, it brought a great deal of media attention to the department of journalism and the University of Mississippi,” said Will Norton, Jr., dean of the Meek School.
Since the inception of the program Husni has been asked to deliver seminars or consult with magazines and magazine media companies on every populated continent of the world.
Many years ago one of his students gave him the moniker “Mr. Magazine™.” Today he is considered the leading expert on magazines and magazine media publishing.
Tony Silber, vice president/Content of Folio: Min, Expo, Audience Development, and PR News at Access Intelligence, said, “Samir Husni is a magazine-industry treasure.”
“He has built a business as a consultant through his extraordinary intellect and understanding of how magazine-companies work.
“But he’s far more than just that: he’s an icon. He’s a brand. He’s an evangelist for print media who understands the interplay of print and digital media.
“The magazine industry is more successful because of Samir Husni’s work, and the good news is that he’s imparting his knowledge not just to his peers, but also to the next generation of media specialists, through his work at the University of Mississippi.”
The funding and the idea were the first steps. After Husni was hired to head the program, it was time to get down to details.
“With the help of a lot of people from the Meredith Corp. we developed five courses, and we began to offer the program,” Husni said.
Students needed “to know more than just your basic reporting, writing, editing and designing,” Husni said. That was uncommon for the 1980s. Ole Miss was the first school to include journalism and the business side of magazines in one program.
Husni developed editing by design, a course that provided everything a journalist should know about design and what every designer should know about journalism. Students in the department of art as well as students in the service journalism program took the course.
“Then we created a sequence of two courses,” Husni said, “in which students developed an idea from scratch for a new magazine and they created an entire business plan for that magazine, including developing content, design and the budget.
“Along with everything else that goes with a magazine: the media kit, the circulation plan and the advertising plan.”
The program has seen a lot of graduates who have gone on to establish impressive careers and they give Husni and the magazine service journalism program all of the credit.
Newell Turner, one of Husni’s former students, is now editorial director for Hearst Design Group, specifically Elle Décor, House Beautiful and Veranda.
“After I graduated from Ole Miss with my undergraduate degree in journalism and Southern Studies,” Turner said, “I went to work for a while. I came back to Ole Miss to go to law school and did it for about a year and a half.
“Then I found out this magazine program was launching in the journalism school and I’ve had a passion for magazines that goes back to when I was an early teen.
“So I switched from law over to the magazine service journalism program, and it was like a light came on because suddenly I knew what I wanted to do with my career.”
Turner said magazine design wound up opening up a door for him in his career.
“The first year,” he said, “I met Dorothy Kalins, then editor-in-chief of Metropolitan Home and also that year she was president of ASME.
She spoke at Journalism Week in the spring, and Samir found out that there was a job opening, and he encouraged me to look in to it and help me realize what a great opportunity it was.
“So I pursued it and interviewed for the job, and they hired me.
“Without Dr. Husni and the magazine service journalism program, who knows where I’d be.”
Clinton Smith, editor-in-chief of Veranda magazine and also a former student of Husni and the magazine service journalism program, said the program always had been unique, and that’s why it has worked.
“The foundation of his coursework has served as my compass throughout my 15-year journalism career—from intern to assistant editor to editor in chief,” Smith said.
“Dr. Husni’s magazine program has never been about textbook learning,” he said, “and that’s why it’s had such an impact on students’ lives over the past 30 years. The practical, real-world experience he instills will serve them throughout their careers.
“Dr. Husni’s magazine program has signaled to the country – and the world – that important and innovative things are happening not only at Ole Miss, but in Mississippi. His influence and the power of the program cannot be underestimated.”
The magazine service journalism program has begun many careers for students and will continue to do so in the future.
Scott Jones was executive editor of Southern Living magazine from 1999 to 2010. Then he left to start his own companies, called Jones is Hungry and Jones is Thirsty, two separate entities on culinary-related custom content, education and consulting.
“I went to Ole Miss specifically for the magazine program,” Jones said. “The service journalism program and Dr. Husni. This was in 1988 and desktop publishing was really in its infancy. So it was an exciting time to be there because the whole world of magazine publishing was changing, and you could do things then right on your own PC which before would have taken a lot of capital and a huge staff.
“The program had terrific benefits for me. It opened doors and got me up close and personal with people I would have never been connected with if not for the program.”
Cathy Still McGowin, editor of Birmingham Home and Garden, said the university did not have a graphic design program when she got to campus.
“At the time, I majored in magazine journalism to learn the graphics programs,” she said. “Little did I realize that I would not only learn graphic design in one of the most advanced programs in the South, I also would learn everything I needed to know to gain entrance into the publishing world.
“Editing by design, made the most impact on me, and the tools I learned in that class are ones I still use every day. I learned that information comes in a package—and the more the parts work together, both visually and in words, the greater the impact of the message.”
Still was hired at Southern Progress Corp. when she graduated.
“I worked at Southern Accents and later Coastal Living for 14 years,” she said. “First as a graphic artist, then as a writer, stylist, and editor. At such a large company, tasks and duties are specialized and there wasn’t a lot of crossover with skill sets.
“Now, as editor of Birmingham Home and Garden, a small city magazine, the ability to use all of my skill sets are more critical than ever.
“I still maintain that Dr. Husni’s approach to looking at things from all angles is the reason I have been able to grow and meet the challenges of my career. That, and a lot of hard work.
“Those fundamentals are timeless—no matter your medium of journalism.”
Katriina Kaarre is publishing director for Women, Family and Children Media, published by Otavamedia in Finland.
“Meeting Samir in the corridor of Farley Hall in the fall of 1987 changed my career path,” Kaarre said. “I came to Ole Miss originally only for one year.
“I wanted to learn about the Southern culture and enjoy the blues archives – and take a few classes of marketing on the side.
“After meeting Samir, I quit classes at the business school and started my M.A. in journalism,” she said. “During the three-and-a- half years that I stayed at Ole Miss, I managed to visit the Center for Southern Culture only a few times.
“I’ve stayed on that path ever since, and I still love the touch and feel of a newly printed magazine.
“I still get excited when thinking about editing by design, the mission/vision of a magazine and the tone of it.”
Clearly, Dr. Husni opened doors for many students to develop exceptional careers.
“The ultimate goal,” Husni said, “was and is to teach students about service journalism, which can easily be defined as the factual, service-oriented, active-oriented, non-news type of journalism that has in it the power to activate the readers.
“The magazine service journalism program at the University of Mississippi was designed to create the type of journalism that will activate readers and get them personally involved with the content.”
And that continues today.
* This article, the cover story of the 2014-15 Meek School of Journalism and New Media Alumni magazine, was written by Angela Rogalski.