Do you need help with Article Planning?

article planning
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In order to help an editorial team come up with article ideas, many editors use an article planning worksheet. It is a great tool to use during team planning meetings.

Get started with this article planning worksheet. Adapt the questions to the kind of articles you are looking for, and give this sheet to your staff members to help them prepare for planning meetings.
Tips for a successful planning meeting:
  • Ask your staff to prepare for the meeting and give them plenty of advance notice—at least one month.
  • Give them a list of questions to answer (see Article Planning Sheet). Or, have them ask questions of people they know who are similar to your readers.
  • Get away from the office. Hold your planning meeting in a conference room in a hotel. Or meet in someone’s home, or a local church, or even go to a park. It is important to get everyone away from ringing phones and the pressures of immediate responsibilities. A new environment promotes creative thinking.
  • Consider going on a field trip. Take the staff to a bookstore, a library, or a newsstand for one hour. Ask them to write down 10 ideas that could be adapted for your magazine.
  • Ask the staff to pray ahead of time for God’s wisdom, guidance, and creative ideas in the meeting.

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The United States has more than 20,000 printing businesses. When it comes to producing magazines, you can probably ignore at least 98% of those.

Lots of printers can print magazines. But most magazine publishers need a printer that can do more than print.

Magazine publishers usually ask their printers to receive, process, and store page files from a variety of sources, including ad agencies that increasingly don’t know how to create a print-ready PDF. We need them to bind a variety of cards, cover wraps, and inserts that are supplied by other printers, then to print addresses onto some copies but not onto others.

Printers presort our subscriber files, keep us in compliance with postal regulations, manage the shipment of some copies to far-flung places, and put others into storage for future use.

Tip #1: Choose a publication printer, not a printer that happens to produce publications.

Unless you publish the simplest of magazines—with no externally produced ads, no mailed copies, no versions, and only local distribution—you probably need a printer with real expertise and deep experience with our industry.

Some publication printers specialize in producing magazines and catalogs. Others serve a more diversified set of industries, but have plants, employees, and equipment dedicated to and optimized for publications. In any case, you don’t want a printer who has to learn the magazine business from you; you want one that has worked with enough publishers to understand your needs and to offer new ideas.

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Check out our sample printer questionnaire.

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Your magazine is a friend to your readers. They like its personality, they know its moods and what to expect. Would you like a friend who looked and acted differently every time you saw her? While readers appreciate freshness, the content inside needs to be consistent with the message and fit your ministry’s purpose. Articles should be evaluated on more than just how appropriate or well written they are. They need to have the right fit and feel to your readers.

So how do you decide if an article fits?

Well, first you schedule a fitting.


Imagine a tailor holding a measuring tape across your shoulders. Now hold a “measuring tape” to the article and consider:

  1. “Does the article help fulfill your mission?”
    • What is the purpose of the article? What is the writer trying to accomplish?
    • Is the writer’s purpose compatible with your mission statement?
  2. “Is this topic important to your readers?”
    • Is it appropriate for their age and lifestyle?
    • Does it speak to something they deal with in their daily lives?
    • Does it answer a question they are asking?
  3. “Does the approach fit your magazine?”
    • Is it the type of article you publish? (Is it first person, interview, new story, essay. etc.)
    • Does the writing style and tone fit you? Is it personal enough? Too personal? Does it quote too many Bible verses, or not enough?
  4. “Is it fresh?”
    • Have you seen lots of other articles similar to this? Have your readers? If so, why publish it?
  5. “Do you agree with what the article is saying?”
    • Doctrine?
    • Author’s main conclusions?
  6. “Is there a clear benefit for the reader?”
    • Does the writer seem focused on serving the reader, or their own agenda?

If the answer to any of the above questions is “no,” then the article doesn’t fit. The article might be well written and perfect for another publication, but if the measurement is not right, this is an article you should not publish.

If you can answer with a confident “yes,” then publish the article and relish your latest wardrobe addition. You need to fulfill the mission God gave you for your magazine, and not every article will fulfill that mission. So discard the articles that don’t, and treasure the ones that do.

How do you evaluate articles? Which of the six questions above is most important? We’d love to hear what you think.

fake news
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Of course not! We would never do that, you say. Possibly not, if fake news is defined as flagrantly false stories that you know are fiction, but that you present as true. But if your magazine is typical, at some time you have printed a story that you assumed was true, but that actually was not.

There was the Internet story about birth defects that women were convinced were the result of fallout from bombing in a nearby country. Difficult to check out; after all, there was no research on the topic. But the women’s story was dramatic and you wanted to use it.

Perhaps it was a feature that a writer gave you at the last minute when you were on a deadline and didn’t have time to check the writer’s information. Or maybe–horrors!–you never check the “facts” that appear in your publication. If you don’t, you are not alone. In today’s fast-paced news cycle editors at most big newspapers no longer check every spelling, statistic, attribution, date, or detail of the articles that pass through their hands.

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The answer is: It’s both. But how can that be? You might argue that the Scripture says we cannot serve both God and money (Matt. 6:24). So how can you possibly treat your magazine as both a ministry and a business? Perhaps it is time to redefine the word “business.”

Because business is often associated with greed, Christians don’t want to connect their publishing ministry with business. We are not “selling” the gospel, so we should not make a profit, they say. However, the Scripture also teaches us to plan wisely (Prov. 15:22), measure the cost (Luke 14:28), and be good stewards of the talents God has given us (Matt. 25:14-28).

The business community can teach us how to better manage the resources at our disposal. Business principles including managing people, accounting, strategy, research, production, and distribution are not contrary to Scripture. When we use these tools with a heart to serve God faithfully and efficiently, we can operate Christian magazines according to business principles without hindering the ministry taking place between the pages.

Managing your magazine using business principles means you can avoid the pitfalls of trial and error. Instead of randomly trying to distribute your magazine to a new audience, you can use the principle of research to find out ahead of time if that audience is ready for your publication. Rather than hoping you have enough money to pay the printer, you can use accounting and cash flow projections to know if you will have enough funds to meet that responsibility.

Typically, Christian magazines don’t fail because of poor motivations or intentions. Most commonly, they fail due to lack of funding. Even if you have a completely volunteer staff, operate out of your home, and can somehow manage to avoid other basic expenses, the printer still must be paid. The fact is you need money to cover your expenses. Knowing what those expenses are and planning for how they will be covered does not make you greedy. It makes you a wise steward.

Does using business principles mean you don’t have faith in God? It doesn’t have to. As Believers, we seek God for wisdom in our decisions. We look at our expense reports and ask God to help us meet those obligations. If you can’t sell subscriptions, perhaps God will lead you to donors who can provide the funds you need. Or, you can sell advertisements to other Christians who would like your audience to know about their product or service. Using these tools does not mean you don’t seek God for wisdom and provision.

You wouldn’t attempt to build a building without the proper tools and the money to pay for it. Operating your magazine using business principles simply means you are using the tools available to you to be a good steward of the resources and responsibility God has given you.

For additional resources on management, login to MTI Online for free videos, on-demand webinars, and e-books.

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By Adam Tinsworth, One Man & His Blog

During one of my lecturing sessions at City, University of London last week, I made the point that just because you’re most associated with digital, doesn’t mean you don’t – and can’t – love print, too.

That’s certainly the case for me. My first love was print, and two decades ago, my major goal was to be a print magazine editor by the time I was 30 (a goal I only missed by a year or so). There’s no doubt that the advent and growth of the web has changed how I perceive print. More than that, it’s changed how I consume print. About 10 years ago, print started a precipitous decline in my life, one that was only hastened by the iPad and the Kindle.

It’s rare that I pick up a printed book or newspaper these days. But I’m buying more magazines than I ever have – they’re just better and more expensive.

In that sense, I’m an addict. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is my dealer:


The Magculture shop seen above sits just down the road from City – which, in its journalism department, probably has one of the greatest concentrations of print enthusiasts left in the country. And it’s chock full of the sort of magazines I actually like. Big. Thick. Printed on good quality stock. Limited adverts. Superb design. Sticker shock prices.

Here’s my theory about the long-term future of print: it’s going to turn into theatre.

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If you are new to magazine publishing you may hear a bunch of terms that you are not familiar with. Here is a list of common jargon and their definitions to help get you started:

Bleeds: If type or imagery extends beyond the trim edge of a page it is called a bleed.

Callout: A quote from the article printed in large type. It is usually placed on the second or subsequent spread of an article. Callouts serve as a design element and create reader curiosity about the article content. This is also referred to as a pull-quote.

Cutline: Another term for a caption used to describe or annotate photographs and illustrations in a magazine.

Department: Features you want covered in each issue that have a more consistent and identifiable format from issue to issue.

Dropcap: This is sometimes included in the opening paragraph of a magazine article, it is a relatively large, one-letter design element (usually a capital letter, and usually the first letter of the opening word of the paragraph) that “drops” down alongside several lines of copy in that paragraph. It is used for aesthetic appeal and to draw the reader’s eye.

Editorial: All non-advertising content in a magazine issue.

Eyebrow: A text/design element often used at the tops of article pages which give readers a quick look at a magazine’s content; mostly placed above the name plate.

Feature: A special or prominent article in a magazine. The cover story is usually considered to be one of the feature articles, but an issue may contain several other features as well.

Folio: The information at the bottom of most non-advertising magazine pages, often including the page number, magazine title and issue name.

Fractional ads: A generic name for ads smaller than 1/2-page (e.g., 1/3, 1/4, etc.).

Gutter: The inside margin where two pages of a publication join. 

Kerning: A design-specific term for the spacing between letters. Kerning can be adjusted narrower or looser, depending on space needs and limitations.

Layouts: The arrangement of text and graphics on a page or spread.

Leading: The spacing between lines of text. It can be adjusted as needed.

Masthead: A small section of the magazine, usually located near the front, containing a list of magazine staff and contributors, issue volume/number information, copyright information, ISBN information, legal notices, etc.

Nameplate: The logo.

Perfect binding: A binding process in which the gutter edges of the interior of the magazine are ground down a bit, coated with adhesive, and bound to the sheet containing the covers and spine. Ask your printer if your magazine has enough pages for perfect binding to be a good option.

Resolution: This refers to the amount of detail a digital image holds. Printers recommend “high-resolution” or “high-res.” Images with lower resolutions may appear pixelated in print. Medium-res images are often suitable for online flipbooks and digital editions, and low-res images are standard on websites.

Saddle-stitching: In saddle-stitch binding, the magazine is laid flat, then stapled from the outside (cover) toward the inside (centerfold), then folded to the final size. Ask your printer if this type of binding is appropriate for your magazine because it has an upper page limit depending on the stock used.

Sidebar: A short article related to the main article and placed next to it.

Spine: For perfect-bound magazines, the spine is the strip of cover between the front and back covers. Often contains the magazine title, issue volume/number, etc

Spreads: A design or article that extends across the two pages of a magazine that face each other.

Stock: Alternative term for paper.

Stock images: Photography and illustrations that can be purchased/licensed through various websites. Stock can be very helpful in cases where hiring a photographer for a custom photo shoot is impractical/unaffordable.

Typography: Refers to the use of various fonts/typefaces and the style and arrangement of the headline and subhead letters on a page.

White space: The blank areas of the page. Good design provides for deliberate use of white space. Also known as “negative space.”

Purchase one of our manuals that cover writing, design, management, and editing. Each manual contains an extensive glossary of terms.

Click here for more definitions.

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In order to learn more about subscribers, most magazines use some form of research. The results of the surveys are used in various ways:

  • Editors use information gained by surveys to find out how to more effectively serve readers.
  • The advertising department uses the information in dealing with prospective advertisers.
  • The circulation department may use the information in making decisions as to how to obtain new subscribers.

Surveys are disseminated in several ways. Some are printed in the magazine, while others are sent to a select number of subscribers in a separate mailing. Normally, when magazines mail surveys to subscribers, a cover letter is included, and sometimes a reminder postcard is mailed later.

Are you ready to get started and gain valuable information about your readers and what they need? Take a look at our samples of reader surveys now for inspiration.

issue wrap
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An issue wrap is a second cover on a magazine. They are not usually put on magazines to be displayed for single-copy sale. However, they are sometimes used on magazines mailed to subscribers.

Issue wraps not only provide extra protection for the cover, but can serve as a tool to:

  • advertise special offers to subscribers,
  • welcome new subscribers, or
  • announce subscription expiration.

See samples of issue wraps

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Subscribing to periodicals for the common good

By Mark Galli, Christianity Today

This issue celebrates the 60th anniversary of this magazine. That is no small accomplishment in our media environment. Our continued success is in large part due to the fact that you, gentle reader of the print magazine, have subscribed to receive it.

But you, O Subscriber, are becoming an endangered species. And that is a serious problem not only for our livelihood, but for our nation and the church.

While watching the movie Spotlight, I couldn’t help marveling at the team of journalists doing the painstaking reporting—phone calls, interviews, research, and so forth—required to uncover something as entrenched as child sexual abuse. Of the newspapers left standing amid today’s digital revolution, few can afford to give a team of journalists the time and budget to report a story that took years to unfold.

Everyone agrees journalism is crucial. It’s fascinating. It’s worth reading. It’s just not something we want to pay for.

And there are fewer outlets that can do this. Metro dailies that have closed in the past few years include the Baltimore Examiner, The Cincinnati Post, and The Albuquerque TribuneAccording to Columbia Journalism Review, reporters covering state capitals, for example, fell from 524 in 2003 to 355 in 2009. As that report put it, “What is under threat is independent reporting that provides information, investigation, analysis, and community knowledge, particularly in the coverage of local affairs.” One only has to remember Nixon’s Watergate or Clinton’s “emailgate” to realize that if journalists aren’t watching our leaders, their power often becomes more absolute—and more corrupt.

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