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Publishing 101: How to Start and Run a Magazine or Newspaper
The art of publishing books, magazines and newspapers has never been as streamlined as it is today with the advent of digital publishing methods which have transformed high-overhead processes into reasonably affordable ventures. Modern desktop publishing (DTP) software and computers are available to experienced professionals and to less sophisticated users at corresponding prices. And because of the Internet, it is possible to have an entire editorial/production staff that exists online. Keep in mind that a lot of the information that follows is in need of updating.
Equipment and supplies you’ll needEdit
(Assuming you’ll be creating a publication with a print run of over 1,000, as opposed to a small photocopied zine)
A good computer with a lot of memory. A good computer, with at least twice the minimum amount of RAM installed, is preferable if you're going to try to do everything on one computer. As one person wrote, "It is worth spending as much as you can on your computer." Another absolute in today's society is having a processor that is fast. In fact, as with any computing needs, the faster the better, but a processor that's at least 1.5Ghz should be considered an essential, dual or quad core is even better!.
Apple (aka Macintosh) computers are what the majority of printing companies and professional freelance designers use. If you are looking to produce a newspaper of any size with a team, you will want more than one machine. Page layout takes time, so the more availability you have the better, but this has to be balanced with cost, as well as warm bodies that will be using the machines.
A Flash drive, or DVD writer, and a External Hard Drive for long term backups. This is one important way, aside from FTP software, that you’ll move your digital documents around. They are also good for backing up your data. A DVD writer should be less than $50. Flash drives are even cheaper. As of Sept 2008, for USD$155, you can get a 1 Terabyte internal hard drive, so relatively speaking, that's cheap, especially when you look at prices from even three years ago.
A good printer. Laser is best and can be had for little money, new for less than $100 but look into spending around $400 for good one with network support built in. Laser also eats up a lot less ink than inkjets. It’s more pricey up front, but cheaper over the long haul, and they last longer.
A good digital camera. Film is not cheap. We recommend the Canon or Nikon point-and-shoot series. They’re fast, reliable and less than $400 new. When shopping around, find a digital camera with at least six megapixels, but eight or ten would be better, if possible. However, megapixel by itself is not a guarantee of quality, because other factors, such as lens quality, focal length and lag time, must be taken into account in comparing cameras.
Desktop Publishing Software. QuarkXpress or Adobe InDesign (successor to Adobe Pagemaker). You may also want to look at Adobe Photoshop for tricking out your pictures. This can cost a lot, sometimes over $1,000 for each program when you buy the latest version. If you're just starting out on a shoestring budget, check up on eBay for older versions, as you can pick those up a lot cheaper. None of the programs are really difficult to use, and there are tutorials available on many Web sites. Also, do a search for email discussion groups and Usenet newsgroups focused on the specific piece of software, as well as your area of interest, such as "launching newspapers" or "launching magazines" -- there are newsgroups and discussion lists for everything! Extremely important: learn conventional typesetting methods and study what good papers are doing to turn out a superior product. Learn and be conversant in all the typesetting terms, and buy a copy of the latest AP Style Manual so you can edit correctly to an industry standard. On the other hand, if your job is putting out a church newsletter, then you don't need to get this fussy.
For many things today, and to be able to find a printer that can accept your files without reformatting everything, you will want to get copies of nothing earlier than QuarkXPress version 3.3 or better or PageMaker 5. Be sure to check with the printer that will be publishing the final product to find out if their software -- likely within one version of being current with the newest release of the software package -- can open or import your files without issue.
As far as photo tools, look for at least Adobe Photoshop CS or newer. Other solid photo manipulation tools are Gimp and SnagIt, although they aren't as fully developed as Adobe Photoshop.
While there are other desktop publishing programs available, they generally aren't supported by actual printing businesses. If you must use a tool other than QuarkXPress or PageMaker, a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) package, Scribus, is good. It isn't a feature-rich as either QuarkXPress or PageMaker, but it can help you come up with an end product. Scribus can natively print to portable document format (PDF), but sometimes the actual PDF doesn't work well for some printing companies. Be sure to run a test to ensure the actual final product will work for you, meaning that it will do everything you need and want, but also that the company printing your publication can open the final file to print your newspaper.
Website Software. If you're going to have a Web site for your newspaper, check out Adobe Dreamweaver (formerly Macromedia Dreamweaver), Adobe Pagemill and KompoZer are good WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors for designing a Web site.
While we’re on site creation, make yours a dynamic site that uses PHP or .Net if possible. This software, available for free online, allows you to update your site as easily as sending an email from any computer. Instead of PHP, you could also consider using SSI (server-side includes) if your site is hosted on a Unix server. Using SSI is relatively simple. All you do is create and upload one file with the HTML coding, reference the file name from a static page, and everything changes. Be sure to research server side includes to get a full understanding.
Other options for simple and easy-to-create and easy-to-maintain sites are to use a blog-based tool, such as WordPress for a self-hosted site, or EzyMedia and WordPress.com for hosted sites, meaning the site's files and primary headaches will be handled -- for free -- by your hosts. The disadvantage to using the hosted package with WordPress is that you cannot entirely customize the theme. You can modify the themes offered in the package, but beyond that, you don't have the option of uploading additional files to change the theme. The self-hosted option can serve you better for a personalized site. TypePad is another blog-based tool that many sites use as a mini-CMS (content management system) to maintain the site.
If you're experimental, geeky, and can understand technical stuff fairly quickly, check out fully-fledged CMS tools, such as EzyMedia, Drupal, Joomla, or other CMS packages. Many are FOSS packages for the download. Setting up most CMS packages is relatively painless once the files are uploaded to the server. Maintaining sites through blog-based and CMS-based platforms are easy, as you use a simple WYSIWYG editor interface to enter the stories (use a simple copy-and-paste approach), add a headline, a title (or "slug") -- which then becomes the URL, click SAVE, and you're done.
High-speed Internet. Yeah, it’s $40 a month, but it’s also indispensable for maintaining your sanity. You can also share WiFi with a neighbor, but be certain to read the Terms of Service for the plan's stipulations about sharing a connection.
A phone number and business cards. Voicemail is only about $10 a month and you can get 1,000 business cards from Staples for about $20. It sure beats writing your name on scrap paper, trust me. If you have a cell phone with unlimited use, or one with cheap rates, you could also consider using NetZero Voice (aka PrivatePhone.com), which offers free voicemail, a free voicemail number, and 10 free 10-minute "return" calls that display "your" phone number and business name (as you entered it when you create the account) per month. You can receive up to 10,000 calls per month for free. If you don't mind using a cell phone or other means to return calls -- even email, which many companies do these days -- this could be a possible alternative.
NOTE: On a check up of the PrivatePhone service on 12/14/07, it has been indicated that PrivatePhone will be discontinuing their service on 12/31/07. They recommend searching the internet for "Free Phone and Voicemail Service" to find other comparable services.
Web Hosting. You can register a .com or .org. for as little as $8. You can get good, reliable hosting for $15 to $35 a month for a basic site. Many Web hosts have packages with 200 gigs or more of space, with 2,000 email accounts, unlimited email aliases, and other features, for $19USD per month. Packages with less space can be had for $4USD to $14USD per month.
- PRIVATEPHONE SERVICE ENDED ON FEBRUARY 19, 2008 **
If running your project out of your home isn’t an option, inexpensive space is available in local artist spaces, from progressive community groups.
A business checking account. Small business checking accounts are free at many local banks. The banks may tell you they require an IRS-issued EIN (Employer ID number, similar to a Social Security Number for businesses), but if you explain you do not expect to receive over $9,000 this year in income and that the IRS doesn't require an EIN until you reach that threshold, they generally use just the principle owner's Social Security Number in the U.S. Other countries may have other requirements, so check.
At the state and local level, you may be required to file documents with the Secretary of State and the county and/or city where you are located. Some cities and counties require business licenses, and if they do, it's generally cheaper to get the license than to get caught doing business and not having one. A call to a local business attorney can get you the general information, as well as a call to your local city hall.
An accountant. Although sometimes expensive, you can find accountants that will charge only $50 to $80 an hour for a consultation. This could help you tremendously in keeping your books, and it doesn't have to be an on-going alliance. Sit down, get the basics, find out what you need to learn, and check back as appropriate. Also ask for an ad! Be sure to at least read a book on the subject before you DIY.
Finding a teamEdit
Depending on the size and frequency of the newspaper you are starting, you will need to staff a number of different positions, from the publisher's chair on down. The smaller the paper, the smaller the number of employees you will need. At the bare minimum your paper will need a publisher, an editor, a sales manager, reporters, photographers, sales staff, copy editors/page designers, a production (graphics) team and someone to handle classified ads. Someone in accounts receivable is probably a necessity.
At smaller operations, such as a weekly or monthly publication, many of these roles may overlap and be filled by a single person. A reporter, for example, may take their own pictures. A sales manager might also be the salesperson; and the publisher may also be the editor.
There are several ways to staff your paper. There are a number of media-specific job websites that cater to both employers and employees. Many prospective employees and journalism school graduates keep a close eye on these sites as they seek out employment opportunities. Placing employment ads online and in other publications is also a good way to let people know you are hiring. It also can't hurt to contact journalism schools directly and let them know you are hiring. Whichever method you choose, be sure to be specific in the qualifications you are looking for in a potential employee. The idea of working in the media is appealing, and many applicants think no specialized training is required.
Who’s doing what? You’ll need to determine if you’re going to function as a democratic collective, a top-down construct or some other organization system. Some papers operate as a democratically driven hierarchy. They ask the entire team to give consent to what we do. The democracy is integral to the mission of the magazine. Editorial decisions, design questions and ethical considerations receive round-table speculation by everyone involved in the project. Complete consensus is not necessarily the goal; in fact; Encourage debate. No matter what the outcome, consider staff input crucial to the operation. It takes a little longer to consult staff members, but you’ll find it’s worth it.
Communication Communicating with a staff of 12 can be more difficult than reaching 12,000 readers. Use an Internet message board to keep in contact with your team and make sure everyone is on the same page…or Web page. We use topica.com to network our team. It’s a free service. This is a listserv, which functions as an email broadcast system. Send a message and it goes out to the whole team. If Joe Smith replies, his reply goes out to everyone, like on a party line. We also have monthly meetings where we meet in person and parties where we hang out.
Developing your prototypeEdit
Start with a statement of purpose. Our first directive was to democratize media by sharing the tools of journalism with the general public. Let your statement become your guiding light, your prime directive. You will never have more time to debug your magazine or newspaper than right now. Take your time and develop a working model with actual stories and photos (stuff that’s not time sensitive so you can actually use it in your first issue). Look at magazines you like and determine what stylistic aspects you’d like in your own. Develop a consistent page size (determined by printing press specifications) and margins, font, font size, standard leading and spacing, headline standards, number of columns and logos. Then again, maybe your zine’s just too avante garde for that stuff to matter. That’s okay too, the rules are yours to rewrite. Figure out how often your publication will come out and what size and format you want.
There are many printing options available. What you can achieve depends largely on your budget. When you see something you like, call the publisher and find out where they print. The cheapest game on the block is web press on newsprint. You can get a 1,000 copies of an 8-page tabloid size in black and white for about $500 per print run. Then again, 5,000 of this same rag might be only $1000. Basically, producing plates to print newspapers represents a significant part of the costs, as does getting the print run ready and doing the admin. The paper and ink is less expensive. The first 1,000 papers will usually be very expensive, but after 10,000 copies you'll be paying very little per 1,000 'run-on'.
Feel free to ask your printer questions on what they need and how they need it. Good printers should provide you with information on how best to produce pages to print well with them. Stick to the deadlines you negotiate with them. They can be among your best allies. Modern page layout software exports to the Adobe Acrobat format (PDF). Sending pages in this format is as close to 'what you see is what you get' printing as you can hope for. The format allows fonts to be embedded and avoids the newspaper coming back barely legible due to a substituted font face. Other methods include sending across EPS pages and our fonts on disk - if a font is missing the story that uses that font will degrade into another font (often Courier). That screws up all the spacing and layout and could cause you to lose the end of a story. Take your first issue in early, be prepared to head back to your office, fix the problems and return. It is very common for printers to accept files by internet (FTP) transfer.
Finding sales people willing to work on commission only can be a very difficult process. You may well have to do this yourself. Only the most dedicated staff can and will do it well.
Determine the cost of the ads by looking at your local competition and peers. Your magazine or paper is published in regular cycles; monthly, weekly, etc. Your operating expenses (paying contractors, paying rent and other regular expenses) come in cycles as well.
The following formula works well: (Total printing cost divided by total number of pages) = Cost per page. Simple. Now you know what that paper real estate costs you.
In the planning stages for each issue, you look at many things in determining the number of pages. Some publications use a ratio of 50 percent advertising to 50 percent content, while others use a 60/40 ad-to-content ratio, and still others use a 70/30 ad-to-content ratio. While each publication determines its own ratio, the closer to a 50/50 balance you maintain, the better your publication will be viewed by your readers. The reason: it will seem like they have actual content to read -- not just ads to pass by in a vain attempt to find your content.
Fundraising and Grant writingEdit
Unless your operation is a non-profit, it's doubtful you'll be able to secure grant money. Look for fundraising opportunities that serve your niche readership.
Distribution and SubscriptionsEdit
The way you choose to get your magazine into people’s hands will be an important determining factor of how you’ll be spending your time on your publishing project. You can basically create a free distribution model or a pay-at-the-newsstand/subscription/street hawker model. Both have their benefits and drawbacks. There are companies that handle either sort of job, but it’s a lot cheaper to do it yourself. Most business owners are glad to have new papers in their shops. Most importantly, maintain a stable fulfillment plan. Do what you say you’ll do and deliver the magazine or paper on time.
In delivering on-time, be sure to not over-commit yourself to a specific number of pages for any specific issue.
In the end, consistency, integrity and respect will get you farther than anything else and dogged persistence will help you go beyond yourself and allow you to realize your vision. Remember one thing, if you are the owner of a newspaper, you have power. Power has its advantages and disadvantages, so it's up to you how you use this power. For example, the media mogul Rupert Murdoch is the owner of News Corp. the biggest newspaper company in the world, and guess what? He has dinner with the President of the United States, oops, I mean the President has dinner with him! Reflect on what was said and good luck.
Local and national media networks and eventsEdit
- The Underground Publishing Conference - in Bowling Green, OH. Find info at http://www.clamormagazine.org, see our story at http://www.goxray.com/media
- The Independent Press Association - A good professional networking organization for progressive and alternative press. 385 members including The Nation, Mother Jones, Juxtapoz, San Francisco Bay Guardian and XRay. http://www.indypress.org
Web hosting and Web site building sitesEdit
Hundreds of sites on the Web provide the tools and resources for Web development. These are just a few starting points.
- Webmonkey.com is an amazing resource for all levels of Web production and experience. http://www.webmonkey.com/
- Learn the ins and outs of HTML at HTMLGoodies.com. http://www.htmlgoodies.com/
Open source and free softwareEdit
Often times you can obtain quality software for free or nearly so. Be sure to check all your options before purchasing expensive software. On the flip side of the coin, be sure that the software you use can do what you want it to, or you may have to spend time converting your previous issues.
- Scribus is an open-source page layout program that has commercial support available to purchase. It is available for Linux. It exports to PDF.
- The GIMP is a GPL (GNU Public License) photo-editing program (similar to Photoshop) available on Linux, OS X and Windows.
- Inkscape is an open-source vector graphics program for Windows, Linux and OS X.