December is the last month in the tumultuous 2010s, a decade that saw the rise of new political heroes and villains, a changing of the guard in different sectors of society, the growing concern for climate change taking a more desperate turn, and an unending cacophony of opinionated people screaming into the Facebook void. In "The Last 10 Years," a series of pieces scattered over these last 30 days, we look back at what happened to try to figure out what comes next.
At the risk of exposing my true age to all and sundry, I am going to share with you the story of the marvelous, Golden Age of print. I am going to discuss how it was creating that supposedly archaic medium of information, lifestyle news, and entertainment: The glossy magazine.
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Magazines were like the media version of slow cooking—it took a while, but the end product tasted so good. Writers were given a two-month lead time (three or four, if you were a bimonthly), photo shoots were done from scratch, and no one would touch stock photos with a ten-foot pole. You didn’t pluck something from Facebook or Instagram and called it a trend; you created the trends. The salaries and contributors’ fees were mostly paltry; but it seemed, at least to non-media people, that everyone looked great and was having a fantastic time.
I am the former editor of an erstwhile shelter and home magazine, but I did have a life before all this as an interior designer and it was something that I had always pondered going back to. After all, it started in a design office for me.
1998 to 1999: Behold the mighty Ziplock
I got my first writing assignment while I was employed as a junior designer at a big firm. Summit Media had just bought Good Housekeeping from Hearst, and then-managing editor Apol Lejano called me on my office landline (yes, landline).
“Kapatid, marunong kang magsulat, ’di ba?” she asked over the crackling phone. I vaguely remember answering “Medyo.” Whatever I said, she told me to go to the Sogo offices the next week to shoot a house for their second issue. When I got there, I was handed a Ziplock bag that contained four cartridges of 120mm film to give to the photographer and a home address, and I never looked back.
This was the pre-digital-photography/early Internet era, and it was quite a bit of a process to produce a single article. For every shoot, then-editorial assistant Mabel David would hand out the magical Ziplock bag with film (if I was lucky, they would throw in a precious pack of Polaroids, which costed P800 a pack).
Every shoot was like this: I went with the photographer to the shoot and interviewed the lovely subject. And then there was the waiting game of having the film developed at Benjie Toda’s for a couple of days, and the transparencies were chosen by the art director with a loupe (Ano po ang Loupe? Google it, son). I’d print out and fax my article to Good Housekeeping (yes, fax) at my uncle’s laundry shop, which was the only store in my small town that had a fax machine. Mabel would encode it, and Apol would edit it. Fact-checking was done through a pager (yes, a pager) and I’d have to call them back on the landline to respond. By then, a couple of weeks had flown by.
2002 to 2004: She who wields the Page Plan rules the world
After a three-year hiatus, I took on a copy/features editor position at the bimonthly design magazine Bluprint at Mega (now One Mega group). Back then, the premise of creating a magazine on the editorial part was very simple and innocent: just make a magazine that people would buy and read. It was often left to the publishers to slug it out in terms of sales and marketing, with the editors-in-chief doing whatever they wanted, with a little bit of reprimanding from the top.
Writers I encounter today below the age of 25 are often mystified by the subject of Page Plans. Before magazine offices had a decent Mac that could do this on desktop, each title was given a giant board with either cardboard pockets to slip the pages in, or a magnetic board with printouts of the magazine’s thumbnails. It was definitely an art on its own.
Here, the editor-in-chief (the EIC) and art director (AD) would plot how the current issue’s pages would run, from Inside Front Cover (IFC) to Outside Back Cover (OBC). And you also had to make sure that the final page count could be divisible by eight or four (a printing requirement). Each title had its own formula of Page Plan arrangements, and you needed a build-up of interesting stories before you got to the Well (the main stories in the middle). If your Pre-well articles were boring, the reader won’t even have the patience to get to the Well and she would never buy your magazine again.
Advertising executives also had access to the Page Plan to plot their ad placements. A few days before printing, they would all huddle around the boards in their heels, bickering over whose client would get the prime ad spots at the beginning of the magazine. And mercy on the unwitting person who would mess up the Page Plan while at it—they would definitely take a good beating from editorial and the art department the next day.
2005 to 2010: The Golden Age of magazines
It was in 2005 that I was appointed EIC of Real Living magazine; the position came at a good time, as this was the beginning of a robust era in print media. By 2009, the publishing company I was working at had around 25 glossies to its name, and it wasn’t uncommon for a fashion magazine to go beyond 200 pages — with about half of that number dedicated to ads, which was a feat for a local title.
Also, covers mattered. These days, nothing would date an editor faster than by saying the phrase: “Who’s your cover girl?” But decades ago, it was the most important part of the magazine. Unlike now, where every article’s views contribute to a whole for your website’s performance that month, a magazine cover could make or break your issue. If you had the right, perfect, and timeliest cover, people would buy your magazine, regardless of whatever was in it. Just don’t fudge the coverlines.
It was an exciting time, and the sheer variety of stories and adventures that went with it was incomparable. The editors themselves would say that working at a magazine wasn’t glamorous at all, but the truth is that even if it did entail a lot of hard work, it was glamorous, by today’s standards, at least. Out-of-town shoots were the monthly norm, especially for the big issues; style editors and EICs would go on week-long foreign junkets; PR firms would jockey for position to push products to the bigger titles; and there were even some shoots with catering (not ours, though). I think it was also because we all had the luxury of time—and for the clients, an excess of money. But then, we knew this wouldn’t last.
2011 to 2018: The beginning of the end
Of course, the irony of writing all this for a website isn’t lost on me. A colleague whose magazine was shuttered at the same time as the one I was working on likened the whole situation to the advent of automobiles when people were riding on horses. It was like these new vehicles were all driving by you, yet you didn’t trust your gut and still ordered your carriage wheels and saddles.
This is exactly what happened. Digital had snuck in, with a totally different team set up to handle it. Instead of getting aggressively involved and forcing myself upon this team, I was in denial—even when at each report, all the numbers had gone down. With each budget cut, I became excessively paranoid, and with good reason.
A colleague whose magazine was shuttered at the same time as the one I was working on likened the whole situation to the advent of automobiles when people were riding on horses
The final nail on the coffin came a week before the print title I was handling was terminated. Like a harbinger of doom, someone posted her entire Real Living collection up in a selling group on Facebook. There was the photo of my entire editorial life, in stacks of magazines and books from 2003 to 2017, with the post caption: “Reason for selling – decluttering.” I had published articles on decluttering, and now, the title had become someone’s clutter! The only bright moment there was a long thread of strangers who actually wanted to buy the whole collection.
2018 - So what now?
Right after the closure of many print titles in 2018, most of the EICs, myself included, were at a loss. We all had devoted our time and lives to being editors, and once that era ended, it took some time to figure out what to do.
Not all of us were equipped to transition to digital. I envied friends in the industry who had done that as early as 2008 to 2009, when not having a magazine was still unthinkable. The rest of us scrambled to take on every assignment we could get, getting directions from editors who were half our age—the Digital Natives. It was humbling, to say the least, but it was a learning process, too.
We all had devoted our time and lives to being editors, and once that era ended, it took some time to figure out what to do.
While magazines still exist in some indie shape or form in other countries, it isn’t the same here. So, the print peeps had to move on. Many of us transferred to agencies and content creation offices. Some went into marketing and PR work, and are doing very well. The younger and more social-media-savvy ones became influencers (it’s not a bad word, mind you, there are still some pretty good influencers out there). Others, the lucky ones, stayed at home to create their own businesses and raise the children they had neglected for so long because of the hectic media lifestyle.
And on the few afternoons the former EICs would meet up for coffee, everyone dreamed about the salad days of the magazine, like some fantasy from an ancient time. But that was it—a fantasy.
Personally, and objectively, I do think of the closure of print as a blessing for me. I am thankful that the web editors I work for appreciate the need for in-depth articles and not clickbait. There is no advertiser levelling, nor numbers or analytics to worry about. And even if one reader—just one reader—gets inspired by something that I write and put out on the web, then I believe I have succeeded.
Just don’t tell the publishers about that. :)
Photographs courtesy of the author.