The future of the Review: Your suggestions wanted

Dear readers,

As the publisher of the Ryerson Review of Journalism, I am writing to ask you to contribute to the current rethinking of the Review’s operational plan and editorial mission.

You may be aware that this spring, I began asking colleagues, students and others to join in a consideration of the Review’s options. While most publicity and discussion so far has been about the roles of print and digital connections with the magazine’s audience, the key questions are about neither tools (printer’s ink; screen pixels) nor dollars (though money’s scarce). Rather, I want to make sure that the Review’s journalism identifies, reaches and engages its target audience with maximum impact—while offering a learning experience that remains highly relevant to students’ future careers.

As I told masthead students in September, this is a time in which “innovation and entrepreneurship are as important as the more traditional skills of strong research, good writing, and professional-level production…. The Review has been evolving: it has steadily increased its digital output while retaining focus on the printed magazine. In my opinion, these transformations should continue as media forms and business realities continue to evolve.”

I am happy to report that our masthead members have vigorously taken up the challenge of researching changing realities in magazine publishing, and I look forward to reading their findings and recommendations soon. Now, I want to invite you, the Review’s readers and supporters, to offer any ideas you may have on how you’d like to see the Review evolve in the years ahead.

Please tell me what you think of any or all of the above. And please spread the word through your own social networks, urging friends and colleagues to add their voices. By February, after wide consultation both within and outside Ryerson, I would like to sign off on a new editorial and operational plan to sustain and develop the Review’s continuing evolution and success.

Thanks, in advance, for your help,

Ivor.

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30 comments
  1. Ending the print edition of The Ryerson Review would be a terrible mistake. Of course it’s cheaper to go online-only. It’s also a near-guarantee of irrelevance. With the exception of news portals (like j-source, for eg), no magazine publishing serious, long-form journalism has successfully abandoned a print edition. This is why The Atlantic, Harper’s & The Walrus continue to produce a costly print edition: the print edition is not just one of many ways the publication is presented to readers: it’s the flagship that gives the entire enterprise its gravitas. Let’s think of a major publication that tried abandoning print. In 2012, Newsweek announced it was killing its print edition & moving to a digital-only format as a cost-saving measure. Tina Brown, then-editor of Newsweek, said at the time “we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently & effectively reach our readers in all-digital format.” Many seem to believe this fiction. After trying a subscription tablet edition, Newsweek realized it had lost both readers & relevance. Its stories were no longer being picked up by other media, it had lost influence. So, in 2014, Newsweek resurrected its print edition. In consulting with several other media experts I know, none of us could name a single influential mainstream print magazine that successfully went digital. I strong recommend the decision-makers deciding on the RRJ’s fate do due diligence on this. Don’t just jump on the everything-must-be-digital bandwagon, which has more enthusiasm & a novelty factor behind it than facts.

  2. I have to agree that ending the print version of the Review would be a mistake. Not only is it important to the publication’s brand that it remain on both mediums, but I also think there’s an important learning component in putting together a print magazine. Yes, lots of eyeballs are moving online — but there’s still an appetite for print, especially long-form magazines. Some even suggest that most newspapers will eventually only do magazine-style print editions on Saturdays, with their daily coverage online. That shift won’t make the RRJ any less important to student learning. I think the hand-ons opportunity the RRJ offers students is a great experience: fact checking, reading physical proofs, these are all things they will still need to do in the industry. It’s important they see that before they leave university. Keeping a print version of the RRJ not just about nostalgia, but necessity.

  3. Jeez, Ivor! I’m all for learning how the print and digital channels differ, and mastering them both. But wiping out the print version of this esteemed publication altogether would be a huge mistake. Notwithstanding the decline in glossiness over the past decade, the report of print’s death…[is] an exaggeration.* Let’s not turn rumour into reality.

    *This is a tweaked version of the actual quote by Mark Twain, not the oft-cited misquote. See what I did there? I learned to fact check in the MAGAZINE journalism program at Ryerson; something that one likely will not put to much use in a digital-only program. Sorry, folks.

  4. What David Hayes said, with bells on. And Ashley Csanady too.

    Print is not dead, it’s just of little interest to advertisers, who’ve also gulped back the Kool-Aid [TM].

    Readers still prefer hard-copy magazines over their digital equivalents by roughly 20:1 or perhaps 10:1. If a digital magazine falls in the forest, does anyone notice, or care? Nah. It’s not “real”. From what I’ve been able to tell, to readers, magazines are completely unlike newspapers or music or any other formerly tangible cultural product that has decided that the future exists only in digital format. I may not go to record stores any more, and I may buy all my music online, but I have no patience for (and very little interest in) a digital magazine, and clearly I’m not alone in this. Gravitas rocks. Find a way to keep the the print edition.

    And send me a darned renewal notice or post-expire mailing. I think my sub stopped at some point. And I miss the RRJ. Use postal mail. Emailed reminders are like, whatever dude.

    [OK but seriously, I’ll go renew online right now. The RRJ has always been excellent and it’s important as well as being engaging and fascinating to those of us who care about journalism.]

  5. In this week’s recycling bag, I put out the last of my large collection of beautiful periodicals. Nobody wanted them. Some were four years old, left in pile in my living room with the idea someone would crack them open.
    All, however, HAD been enthusiastically read — digitally, before their print versions thudded into my mail box, then to move to my living room, and finally on to the recycling bin, unopened.
    It was, is, a shameful waste of scarce and precious resources. Of time, fossil fuel and mental energy, paper.
    A few years ago I would have shared others’ horror at the very idea of losing a print Review. (I was once a long-time subscriber.)
    But I’ve cancelled all of my print subscriptions, and replaced many with digital.
    Journalism is not about paper, or the mechanics of putting ink onto it, and transporting it on trucks and in mail bags. The paper is merely the platform. If digital lets us put more resources into real journalism, instead of trucking dead trees around this tired planet, I’m all for it.
    Digital only journalism does not dismiss the beauty and value of printing text and images on paper — which perhaps is best taught, and represented, in the wide variety of arts and trades programs.
    I speak as a lifelong magazine and newspaper writer, an old school one who started with typewriters, and today as a co-publisher of a fully digital journal, wwwFacts and Opinions.com.

  6. The Review stands on its own as a respected publication. But on the learning side, a digital only publication does not teach the long and challenging process of putting out a fully designed paper magazine, making sure it’s lovely, clean, varied and factual. It may be expensive to produce so finding creative funding models should be a priority over not teaching valuable skills that grads like me use every day both when working on print publications as well as digital ones.

  7. Agree with all those lobbying for a print version. As a reader _and_ as a former student, I want to hold something in my hands that isn’t just a product, but a reflection of the true diversity of effort, learning, experience, teamwork and commitment poured into it. Much of what I learned working on the RRJ has contributed to what I do as a content strategist (and manager, editor, writer etc) for a DIGITAL agency now. Because I was taught the essentials in print, and lead through processes that required careful thought at every step, I can be more confident, effective and build on my skills in the web world, because my foundation is solid.

    Don’t lose sight of what this is about. It’s about training future journalists. And it’s about the journey, not the destination. And the journey needs to be reflected in print.

  8. I graduated in in 1985, having done magazine program. If you want to add a digital version, that is fine, but the print version must be preserved. It is an entirely different experience to read a magazine instead of a digital file, and the production of a print version gives students a totally different skill set. I am pretty sure that most journalism students today have lots of digital smarts, and digital is a nice and often necessary add-on, but you should think about the way our industry in changing. Newspapers are closing everywhere, but magazines, even some in Canada, seem to keep chugging along, even if they are magazines you would not really want to write for or read. They seem to be full of glossy ads, too, which all publishers will tell you are the real source of revenue — it’s not that a lot of people want to read your work or care if you are fairly compensated, but that they scratch-and-sniff or whatever. Please don’t put another nail in the coffin of well-written, thoughtful and often LONG stories. And to students, I say don’t lose hope. You may not become rich, but there will always be an audience for fine journalism that takes more, a lot more, than 60 seconds to read.

  9. I forgot to add that holding a magazine or a book in your hands is a totally different sensory experience. I know e-books are cheaper, but you cannot feel the paper, smell them, run your fingers over the cover illustration. Print is not dead yet, kids.

  10. As a consumer/reader only, not someone who is in the industry, I would be fine with a digital only version. I discovered RRJ many years ago on a news stand and really enjoyed it but subsequently always had difficulty finding it “in store” (or remembering to look for it twice per year). Once I discovered it online, I’ve been happy to be reading it again. And I’m someone who generally prefers the tactile experience of reading a physical newspaper or book. For some reason, RRJ suits me just fine online. I can’t speak to the experience for students of doing digital only vs print and digital; as a consumer, digital only in this instance works for me.

  11. The Review is, above all, a learning experience. It should—and it does—prepare magazine journalists for almost anything they’ll encounter working at a magazine (as a Review alumnus working at a magazine, I can attest). Scrapping the print edition in favour of a digital-only edition would rob students of an education in producing a print product in the same way that neglecting the digital realm would deprive students of online journalism skills. Both are necessary. The best magazines here and abroad pair an excellent print edition with a digital version that provides the things paper cannot: video, photo galleries, interactives. Until they stop doing that—and until journalists are no longer expected to know their way around both print and digital—it would be a great mistake on the part of the country’s best journalism school to do anything but provide its students an opportunity to learn and do both. That’s what the Review does now. Is it perfect? Of course not. Can it be improved? Yes. And it does, every year: a while ago, the Review got a blog; two years ago, it created its first ebook; this year, it has a newsletter. The Review should continue to improve as both a print and digital magazine; doing any less would be short-sighted and a disservice to the people who matter most: the students.

  12. The Review was the most valuable experience of my four years at Ryerson. It provided me with something tangible to show future employers—something that demonstrated my understanding of how a magazine is produced, and how a well-researched feature article is written. Eliminating the print version will eliminate the opportunity for students to be exposed to the inner workings of a magazine—everything from page layout to art to choosing a cover story. Quite frankly, I don’t believe students will feel the same pride or satisfaction clicking the “Publish” button online as they will after ripping open a box, pulling out a bound book of their ideas and stories, inhaling that fresh-from-the-printer smell, and holding it in their hands.

  13. It seems to me all the comments thus far (mine included) are ignoring Mr. Shapiro’s questions, engaging instead in a debate on value of print vs digital. Let’s go back to what he asks:

    “The key questions are about neither tools (printer’s ink; screen pixels) nor dollars (though money’s scarce). Rather, I want to make sure that the Review’s journalism identifies, reaches and engages its target audience with maximum impact—while offering a learning experience that remains highly relevant to students’ future careers.”

    So, let’s do our best to answer that!

  14. This is certainly not an either-or proposition, but I do think it would be extremely short-sighted not to give students the benefit of training for print, which is not going anywhere. Things that have always been top priority in print have not always made the transition to digital. I’m talking specifically about skills like proofreading and copyediting. Editing in general seems scarce in most online publishing. Don’t deprive students of these core skills just to try to seem “with it.” You’d be doing them, and us as readers, a grave disservice.

  15. Thanks for all the thoughts so far -keep them coming!

    As important as it is to engage with the changing relationship of paper and screens in Review readers’ lives, I hope that ideas will also come forward for ongoing transformation of the Review and strengthening its impact. The Review does not need #saving: it needs #growing.

    This is not only about money, though every worthwhile enterprise needs a realistic financial plan to sustain it. My mantra as chair of this School is that the best way to learn journalism is to do journalism for real audiences. This means looking outward, not inward, as students learn to thrive in a dramatically changing media landscape.

    The challenge, then, for a j-school as for a publishing enterprise, is to keep the doing and learning of journalism focused rigorously on its audience, not its producers. It has been inspirational to watch the current masthead reaching out to find new audiences on this blog, in the new podcast, through the newsletter and more. What do you, the readers, think of these efforts? Do you have suggestions?

    In short, all ideas welcome!

  16. If money is not an issue I think keeping the print edition is a no-brainer.

    It still provides immense value to the reader and student.

    Though a print grad (’98) my first major byline was in the RJJ and, as some others have echoed, that feeling of seeing my story in print and holding a physical copy was a nice reward after all the research, writing and rewriting.

    I’m also for students learning copy editing, fact checking and layout – key skills no matter what medium you end up working in.

    But it’s important to have a strong online presence as well. Maybe populate the site more regularly so it’s more of a destination point throughout the year and not just heavy hits when the magazine is published. Perhaps make the online portion accessible as an outlet for worthy stories from all j-students, not just ones at the RJJ. That’d be a nice carrot for eager up and comers.

    Whatever happens, I’ll still be a loyal reader.

  17. I like online publications as much as the next guy (I currently write for them almost exclusively) but my solid journalistic foundation was established through the invaluable learning experience of putting together a print magazine. To make the RRJ online-only eliminates that valuable learning experience and Ryerson is an institution of learning first. To go online exclusively only contributes to the editorial laziness that already exists online. Print keeps the stakes high and motivates students to get it right the first time, rather than the publish now, fix it later culture that is so pervasive in the online world. If it’s in print, it’s permanent, so mistakes are rightfully more costly.

    Online RJJ is just another website, but in print it’s something of esteem and relevance. Ryerson must teach first and refuse to bow to economic pressure for the betterment of the future of journalism. The “old ways” are the best ways for a reason.

    1. I agree it’s best to keep the print publication, for the esteem if nothing else. (Though I read all my magazines on next issue, and love it – a tablet/pdf version would be a reasonable second choice, because it still offers the lessons of proofreading, hitting publish, etc. while being cheaper. If you could talk Next Issue into hosting you, you would probably still get quite a few readers. Perhaps the number of print copies could be lowered, and go only to subscribers & the launch party.)

      I think the stories in the RRJ are a bit long. They feel longer than anything most other publications are putting out there. It would also be nice to have a bit more front of book/variety in story formats.

      I also think the idea that the RRJ replaces an internship, which I think is still the case, is false and does those students a disservice/dissuades some students from doing it.

      And I agree that if you’re going to do online, it would be nice to pick up the pace a bit. Could the school purchase Masthead Magazine and absorb it into the RRJ? Can you create a social media editor? Could you do more video content?

      One more suggestion: Apparently at Western, the school has an alumni board that the students ask questions, etc. to while they’re putting out the publication. They could meet once a month with the group and act as a sounding board.

      Good luck!

      Vanessa

  18. This discussion kind of highlights the problem, doesn’t it? Most of us are adamant about the RRJ remaining in print, but few are offering solutions to the problem. Yes, printed magazines are still perceived as more legitimate (which is why sites like Hypebeast, Highsnobiety, and Uncrate have put out luxe print editions in the past couple of years), and yes, The Review offers an incredibly learning experience because it’s a printed magazine (Like a lot of people, I got my first real writing gig because an editor read my piece in the RRJ), and yes, the RRJ provides an important service, reporting on media in Canada (and I say that as someone who works for a magazine that kind of got ripped apart by the magazine a few years ago). But, none of those truths pay for printing. In fact, maybe the greatest experience the RRJ is providing students right now is allowing them to confront this precarious situation. It’ll prepare them for the future.
    So, what is the solution? I don’t know. I mean, I can think of things that work for consumer magazines (increasing custom content divisions and brand partnerships), but they don’t really fit with the RRJ’s mandate (nor can I really think of brands that would really need to partner with the magazine). So, the best I can come up with is: try to get alumni to put their money where their mouths are. I’ve never been approached to support the RRJ. Go all NPR on us and guilt us into coughing up some financial aid!

  19. I really don’t get the cost problem. Surely the review was never funded by advertisers. The broadcast kids get video equipment – can’t the magazine kids get the magazine? Is it really that expensive to publish? Doesn’t tuition pay for the bulk of it?

  20. Some great ideas here! Thank you!

    To answer Vanessa’s question: tuition fees and government subsidies pay for teaching, ancillary fees go some way to paying for print and other technology and support across the program (including RRJ), advertising and donations help a lot, and we still fall short of meeting our needs on this and many other fronts, not only in our School but across the post-secondary education sector in Ontario and beyond.

    Keep the ideas coming, folks. Every one of them is being noted in my growing file. And later today I hope to see the current masthead students’ research findings, which will be a huge asset as we move forward toward the transformation plan.

    As I wrote to one life-long (or nearly) friend of the Review this morning: the question driving that plan will not be “print: yes or no?” The question that faces any publisher or editor today is: who are our (current and potential) audience members, what do they need, and how can we meet that need? If we start with that question, I believe editorial, distribution and sustainability solutions will flow naturally from the answer.

  21. I graduated last October. I spent last year at the RRJ and even though I finished school, it still feels like a part of me. I believe in online journalism as a cost effective method and also as a platform that could reach anywhere and everyone in the world! But I still can’t see the RRJ without the glossy print version of it. Having the work on print adds more responsibility on the journalist’s shoulder (in this case, the student): it gives the impression that the words will stay printed forever! This will give her a strong motivation to fact check and do better research. In addition to that, the print RRJ adds more credibility and value to the media watchdogs in an age where everyone with access to Internet can have a website and publish anything.

    My last year’s byline at the RRJ magazine was my greatest achievement. I want the magazine to stay.

  22. As a Ryerson alum, I can confidently say that working on the Ryerson Review was the most rewarding learning experience. I was an online editor on the spring 2015 masthead, but the skills I acquired went far beyond the web. As many current and former masthead members can attest, a Review member wears many hats. No member of the masthead is left out of any aspect of the print and online editions making it a complete learning experience for all. But without the print edition, the Review would be incomplete.

    If Ryerson takes away its print edition, it would be succumbing to a widely held belief that in order to adapt to the new we must scrap the old. If the Review wants to identify with and engage its target audience, then it would do best to acknowledge that much of its core audience still works in print. If the Review wants to remain a rewarding learning experience then there needs to be an open discussion with students about what skills they deem most valuable.

    For me, innovation and entrepreneurship isn’t dependent on the format of the magazine. Innovation also exists in new and different story ideas. The Review has been improving and changing every year, and it can continue to do so while keeping both editions alive.

    Best of luck!
    Amanda

  23. I have been subscribing to the Review since I was in high school. I used to dream about writing for it. I never imagined I would be interviewed for it one day.

    I think it is still an important publication, both for the students compiling and its readers. I always enjoy reading it and make time for it when it arrives. I loved when it came out twice a year. I think the issues it often covers are wonderful, carefully chosen and well-done. I still remember features like the one on Ian Brown or the FOB one on the Post-It notes in the Star’s Radio Room.

    I would be sad to see its print edition go away. There is still something magic about holding something in your hands. I would be willing to chip in extra money to help keep it going, despite not being a Ryerson alum.

    I know that funding (be it from the university or advertising) is more difficult to get, costs are still high and magazine jobs are harder to get than ever. But I feel like what the Review does is unparalleled in Canada, especially in journalism education, and I would hate to see its print edition go away.

    If anything, I would hope that this situation forces students and the professors in charge of the review to think seriously about improving the business side – be it broadening the events thrown to help raise money to pay for costs, how it commissions art and photography, to syndicating some of the stories to other outlets. These are skills and experience that will be valuable well after graduation.

  24. My feelings on ditching the print edition of The Review are mixed. As someone who has been in digital media (and programmatic advertising) — working primarily with online publications and understanding more folks prefer clickable content — the value of print is still high. The experience working on the RRJ in fourth year was the most unique and important in my career — from the need to be in the magazine lab for that entire school year devoting time, energy and love to an intense process that demands a meticulous mind to learning how to operate as part of a team. To this day, the effort required to put out the print edition of the Review has been the most significant. Because online features and articles have shorter lives and are usually driven less by content but by what is trending and what will attract clicks — the level of journalism involved is compromised. In extension, the professional environments have evolved and demand significantly less than the print edition of the RRJ did. But it’s the work ethic and standards set by the print edition that help raise the bar when someone from the Review enters that work culture.

    The print edition of the RRJ is more about the process and culture since the reach is already pretty niche. This publication is for folks interested in the state of Canadian journalism — exactly what will it mean if the magazine focused on producing award-winning content for folks in the industry give up trying to maintain such a high standard behind the print edition?

    If there’s a way to encourage the same level of education that is born from understanding word counts, magazine layouts and the importance of everything working on the print edition involves — then, for sure consider it. There’s a finality to print. More attention to detail required. Edits are made too easily online and the experience that comes from the print process is just so valuable.

    PS, seeing the RRJ on newsstands still makes my heart explode.

  25. Killing the print version of the RRJ would be a great loss to Ryerson students and to the magazine’s readers. Masthead students learn the rigours of intense research and writing. Their stories are edited by professionals then turned inside out by a fact-checker, their biases challenged, their presumptions demolished. The long form stories they produce are often as detailed as anything found in the real world of writing and publishing. Online publishing does an excellent job of handling fast, throwaway information. But print magazines have longevity in a reader’s home, have the ability to hold one’s attention as subjects are dissected and judged. TV didn’t replace movies; digital watches didn’t replace analog – despite all the predictions. New print magazines are constantly being launched. Their owners and editors believe there is a place for both forms of delivery. You ask about “a learning experience relevant to future careers.” Print is not dying, it is changing for the better. Your students must learn to be a part of that change.

  26. I got my very first job straight out of j-school in part because I leveraged my invaluable experience working for the RRJ. Knowing that one’s writing and editing work will be immortalized in hard copy produces a level of dedication, determination and quality that students need. And to hold the physical magazine in your hand instills a deep sense of satisfaction, especially when you can place the magazine in front of potential future employers during a job interview. Also, the opportunity for students to work in an editorial role (ex. editor-in-chief, chief copy editor, production editor, etc.) gives them months of experience at a specific job in the publishing process. To understand the process of publishing both on- and off-line is excellent and produces a more rounded journalist, but to promote digital publishing at the expense of physical publishing is a detriment to the RRJ experience and the overall experience in journalism school.

    Side note: Is the RRJ also offered as an e-book that can be read on an iPad, e-Reader, etc.?

  27. Before turning the RRJ digital is even considered, maybe we should acknowledge the fact that the mobile layout for articles on this site is seemingly non-existent/awful. The text doesn’t even align to the screen.

    I understand why this is being discussed, but A LOT of publications jump on the digital only train when they’re clearly unprepared. Online articles may be more readily available, but more often than not print is the easiest to read and digest, especially in long form journalism.

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