Piecing it all Together

Before I started working on Speed News, I worked for a couple of publishing companies that produced titles on everything from women’s golf to wakeboarding. Upon learning what I did for a living, people often would ask, “What does a magazine editor do every day?”

A colleague of mine at one of those publishing companies would tell the people asking to hold out their hands, palms up, and close their eyes. At that point he’d take a magazine, put it in their hands and tell them to open their eyes, saying, “That’s what I do every day.”

I suppose it was an clever way to respond to the question, but I was never convinced that it answered the question. So, in the space I have here, I’ll try to explain how a magazine comes together.   Briefly put, it comes together in pieces. Lots and lots of pieces.

Because Speed News is digital, we’re working on a given month’s issue the month before. Not printing “the book,” as we call it, saves us about two to three weeks time. Usually around the first of the month, I go to the editorial calendar, which is planned a year in advance, and start filling in the “run sheet” for the coming issue. If I have assigned writers properly, their features usually begin to arrive in my inbox around that time, too.

When you look at Speed News, realize that every letter you see represents a keystroke. Every photo involves coordinating with a photographer or a Regional Director or a Series Leader. Some photos involve travel to get the shot. Some involve digging into our archives. “I know I have a shot of that car from Road America … somewhere.” Every headline has to be written — and sometimes rewritten. Every piece of quoted material results from an interview, either in person or by phone. Every interview recording needs to be transcribed. I have tried dictation software, but none of works well enough to save me any time. Maybe someday. Every story, caption and headline has been read, edited and proofread several times over to make sure they say what they’re supposed to say. And that’s just the editorial side.

All those photos don’t just install themselves attractively on the pages for you to read. Our art director Ashley Horne has to pull the copy, captions, photos, videos and graphics from a shared online server and lay them out using the Adobe software InDesign. She makes corrections in PhotoShop to ensure each photo looks its best. The quality of her layouts and photo work often surprise even me. She’s that good.

The run sheet I mentioned is nothing more than a spreadsheet hosted on Google docs. I fill in all the boxes so the Ashley knows what stories go where and what each department will be covering that month. Once I have it all filled in, we go over it by phone. Then we take that “punch list” and start plugging away at it. When I turn in a story and photos, I mark it on the run sheet and move on to prepare the next one for layout.

I try to knock out the features first, then start tackling the “departments,” which appear each month. All the while, the Regional Directors and Series Leaders are sending in race reports from around the country. I really enjoy seeing lots of regional reports in Speed News, because the magazine really is for you and about you, the NASA member.

Naturally, there are always the little “fire drills” in the production process. Missing photos. Things I forgot. Things that come up at the last second. As stressing as they can be, they’re part of the process, as is writing this column. It’s always the most pleasurable yet difficult thing to write in the whole issue, and now that it’s done, it’s time to move on to the next item on the run sheet. And that’s what a magazine editor does every day.

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