NEVER in my life had one idea become so manifest in my mind, that I was willing to drop all priorities to pursue it, until the time I decided to make a magazine. This was probably because when the idea came it was not in fragmented flashes, but in a complete mental package. What was so perfect about this idea was that it couldn't have come at a better time. Moments after I comprehended what was going on inside my head, I left my Washington University dorm room and walked down the hall to see a friend. My friend had recently been elected treasurer of our Student Union. He listened patiently while I rattled off seemingly wild ideas about a new magazine, and how great it would be, and how I would need lots of money when I returned to school in the fall. He told me to put together a proposal and come talk to him when everything was mapped out.
Only a few days later I found myself stuck in the St. Louis airport, waiting for a delayed flight. David Levine, a close friend and classmate, was in the same predicament, so we went to the coffee shop to get a bite to eat. I told Dave about the magazine, and we spent the whole time discussing its potential. As it turned out, Dave had been thinking of starting a newspaper, but in the end we chose to pursue the magazine. We made plans to meet during the summer to outline the project.
My interest in journalism stemmed from my interest in writing. In high school I had been news editor of my school's paper and had become fascinated by how information was transmitted, and how journalists determine what is and is not important to report. Having such ``power'' sounded deeply intriguing. Still, because I had no real background in journalism other than my high school work, I entered the project with few ideas about how magazines really worked.
During the summer, David and I had what we called a ``summit'' to discuss the magazine's format. We wanted the magazine to be oriented around people in the school community, but we also wanted to print fiction, photo essays, and investigative reports. We decided on the number of pages to print, on the question of whether they should be in black and white or in color, on the kind of advertising we hoped to attract. We put together a tentative calendar giving us deadlines to meet. Because college students never seem to carry money, we decided to give the magazine out for free. What we overlooked was our lack of technical understanding in trying to construct a total layout for a magazine.
Without any idea of how we were going to produce the magazine, David and I brought our plans to the Associate Dean of Student Affairs. We discussed what steps to take in order to get student and finanical support. With his help, we got a table at the student activities fair (something unusual for a nonexistent publication). When people came by with questions, we signed them up to work.
We also finally gave the magazine a name: the Scene.
We set up an organizational meeting, posting signs all over the school, advertising our project. The response was quite good; over fifty people showed up at our meeting. From there we felt that we had enough support to ask our Student Union for money.
Like inventors at a fair we pitched our idea to a skeptical group of student officers. They made us put together a budget before we could have an official hearing. So we had extensive meetings with printers and typesetters who explained the various aspects of magazine production and what we would have to take into account when making a budget.
Our first shock was learning that photographs (halftones) cost about $10 a piece to print and that the only possible time to fix a mistake without spending hundreds of dollars was before the layout sheets went to the printer. This limited our layout not to our creativity, but to our funds.
With a budget in hand, we returned to Student Union. This time the student officers officially recognized our organization and approved our budget request. They agreed to support us until we got off the ground, but insisted that we get advertising. (A task very difficult to do when you don't have a product to show clients). Our first advertising staff sold only one ad, though they were able to make a significant number of contacts.
We put together a staff out of the group that showed up at our organizational meeting. We assigned stories, photos, and graphics, and prepared a group to come in and lay out the whole thing. When we got all the assignments in, we spent a weekend putting the magazine together. We chose typefaces, cropped photos, and made everything fit. By Sunday we had a 32-page magazine laid out on dummy sheets, waiting to go to the printers.
Ten days later our first issue hit the stands. Within hours every copy was gone, our indication that the magazine was a major success.
Today, two years and five issues later, the Scene has one-third of its total costs covered by advertising, and we are putting together our third editorial board. The magazine now competes heavily with the school paper for writers and artists and we have become a leader among university publications.
Next year David and I have to turn the reins over to younger editors. We hope they will continue to improve and expand the magazine. We cannot expect the magazine to remain the same, and don't expect it to. New people will bring new ideas and gradually the publication will begin to pull away from our original intent.
I hope one day we will return to school and see the magazine being produced by young people interested in gaining an understanding of what it takes to make a magazine and be proud of what they are achieving. None of this can be assured, but I am sure that young people will always have ideas and will hopefully take the initiative and time to act on them.