Chapter 5

Chapter 5 - Magazines

Magazines and Photojournalism's Golden Age

Mark Twain and travel writing

Magazines are an important part of the profession of journalism. They have a long and distinguished history, and they continue to make significant contributions to the news of the day.

Magazines have contributed or pioneered a number of important aspects to American journalism, including

• investigative reporting
• photojournalism
• the personality profile
• narrative journalistic writing (in the newsmagazine style)

Magazine journalism is attractive to young people who are interested in the field because they do not have to work under daily deadlines, magazine articles are long and more in-depth, the articles receive better display, magazines have more prestige than newspapers or television journalism, and magazine journalism allows for a more creative writing style. Still, the journalism for magazines is just as difficult to produce -- maybe even more so -- than that of newspapers.

Most magazines have surprisingly small staffs. That is because, most of the writing is contracted to freelance writers -- people who are hired by the magazine to write a single article. Some people make their living doing freelance magazine writing, but it is very difficult to do that. A few magazines pay very well for articles, but many do not.

Magazines are much less stable financially than newspapers. They have to appeal to an audience that is much more narrowly defined than that of a newspaper, and the audience is generally harder to find. Many magazines go out of business after only a few issues. One estimate is that between 50 and 75 new magazines are begun each month, but most do not survive.

Study questions

  • What makes a magazine distinctive from other news media?

  • Describe the general organization of a magazine staff

  • What are the three major elements necessary to produce a magazine?

  • What are some of the factors that make magazine journalism attractive to people?

  • Describe the way a "freelanced" article makes it into print.

  • What is demassification? Why is that concept important?

Chapter notes

Job definitions.
Check out this site's version of the magazine organizational chart that is found in the book (page 90). By clicking here or on the image, you'll get a page with the chart. Click on selected positions, and a new window will open up describing those positions.

Mr. Magazine.
One of the most interesting and up-to-date people keeping up with the magazine world is Samir Husni -- or, as he has tagged himself, Mr. Magazine. Husni is especially interested in monitoring magazine startup. These are new magazines that appear on the scene. Take a look at his web site ( and look at some of the latest magazines that are just begun. This chapter says that any magazine needs a clear editorial idea, an well-defined audience, and a set of advertisers that wants to sell products to that audience. Select one of the magazines that has just started and see if you can identify each of these three elements for that magazine.

Photography's golden age. One of the extras on this site is a short essay about the golden age of photojournalism. That age was spawned by magazines, particularly Life magazine, which began publishing in 1936. You can find more about this topic at the Library of Congress' American Memory web site, particularly in a collection from the 1930s and 1940s. It's worth noting that many of the great photographers of this era were women such as Dorthea Lange, who took the often seen photograph of a migrant mother in the 1930s (right). (With a little digging on the web, you can probably find the story of how this photo was taken.)

State of magazine journalism. The Project for Excellence in Journalism has produced an extensive report on the state of the news media in 2004. The section on magazines begins this way:

Magazines often are harbingers of change. When large social, economic or technological shifts begin to reshape the culture, magazines frequently are the first media to move, and the structure of the industry is one reason. Unlike newspapers, most magazines are not so tied to a specific geographic area, but are instead centered on interests or niches. Writers are looking for trends. Publishers can more quickly than in other media add and subtract titles aimed at specific audience segments or interests. Advertisers, in turn, can take their dollars to hot titles of the moment aimed at particular demographics. (More)

Key concepts and terms

• Magazines are different from newspapers not just in the frequency with which they are published but also because they deliver news and information with more depth and perspective.

• Writing in magazines does not conform to all of the strictures that writing in daily newspapers must observe; the requirements of accuracy and good writing are just as strict, however.

• Most magazines are produced with relatively small editorial staffs.

Freelancing – writing articles for magazines on an assignment basis; freelance writers are paid for each assignment but are not part of the magazine's permanent staff.

• Magazines are created because someone (or some group) has an editorial idea and can identify an audience that would be interested in the idea and a set of advertisers that would like to sell products to that audience.

Demassification – appealing to audiences that might be widely scattered but that have a common interest.

Related web
sites for
Chapter 5

Magazine Publishers Association

Folio Magazine

Mr. Magazine

Periodical and Book Association of America

Section I | 1: News and Society  |  2: Culture of Journalism  |  3: Becoming a Journalist
Section II  |  4: Newspapers  |  5: Magazines  |  6: Television and Radio  |  7: News Web Sites
Section III  |  8: Reporters  |  9: Reporting  |  10: Writing news and features  |  11: Style  | 
12: Editors13: Editing and headline writing  |  14: Visual Journalists  |
  15: Graphics Journalism  |  16: Photojournalism  |  17: Publication Design  |
  18: Broadcasters  |  19: Writing for Broadcast
Section IV  |  20: Beginnings of Journalism  |  21: Journalism Comes of Age  | 
22: New Realities, New Journalism  |   23: 20th Century and Beyond
Section V  |  24: Law and the Journalist  |  25: Ethical Practices  |   26: Present and Future
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