Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Taking the Bird's Eye View

Fran, our research director, likes to say that the only constant thing in life is change.

He likes to mention this when he brings us a new fact-checking assignment, or when he drops off the salad (or gumbo or fried rice or paella--I know, Sheri and I are so spoiled) he made the night before. But though he’s referring to everyday changes, his philosophy also strikes me as very fitting for the magazine he’s worked at for more than three decades and my experience working there now.

Reader’s Digest has certainly evolved since its early days as a pocket-sized aggregator of the best stories. It’s still pocket-sized and curates content, but the brand has become bigger than just the publication.

At every intern lunch Sheri and I attend with the RD editorial staff, we learn how the magazine has expanded beyond worrying about newsstand sales. The redesign showed just how important this point was: The black bar running down the left side of every cover serves to familiarize readers with the sections, despite occupying what little space is available for cover lines and art. As Liz, our editor-in-chief, likes to remind us, RD’s readership is loyal and much more invested in interacting with the magazine, so branding it this way helps tie together all of the components:, the apps, the books and of course, the magazine itself.

To be honest, I find all this incredibly fascinating, mostly because I’ve never been this exposed to the business side of producing magazines. RD is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, and it’s crazy to think how much the magazine has grown and how it’s had to overcome the glaring obstacle of being a news curator when the amount of information has only increased online.

So, back to Fran’s point: While it’s probably cliche to say that I’ve changed from when I started this internship, it’s true. I was innocently naive, setting goals that focused just on editorial work and networking. And sure, I’m still honing my editorial skills by fact-checking every day and working on the web, but as the end of this internship approaches, I’m glad I’ve changed my mindset from a stubbornly editorial point of view to one that is willing to see the big picture.

Of course, this is all thanks to the wonderfully supportive editorial staff Sheri and I get to work with every day. Every editor we’ve met is willing to teach and help us (plus, the food from Fran is always nice), and that has made this internship the most rewarding and enjoyable experience. 

- Shirley Li | Northwestern University | Intern at Reader's Digest

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