How Magazines are Pivoting During a Pandemic

Saturday, August 08, 2020

In mid-March, as we were all discovering just how widespread COVID-19 was, I was in the midst of producing two different lifestyle magazines. One was a startup I’ve talked about before on The Muffin.  

As an editor, I don’t think I had realized just how heavily we relied on local events and movers and shakers in the community until all of our content prospects started to fizzle. How do you produce a “Wine and Dine” section when bars and restaurants are only offering take-out, if they’re open at all? How do you cover a nonprofit benefit when it has to be rescheduled? How do you put together a calendar of events when nothing is happening?


For the May issue of one of the magazines, CURRENTS, we did a community-focused issue where the publisher wanted to produce at cost and run ads for the small businesses that support us for free. It seemed like a great idea at the time, except I had no budget to hire any writers. I found myself researching and writing stories of how the community was pulling together and shifting their business models to stay afloat, all while relying on whatever photos I could take myself or that were provided. It was hard, but I kept telling myself that at least I still had a job.


For the next issue, we tried to do a theme that we could still sell around, which was “Classic Cars.” Again, we had to get creative with the stories, and the dining section still looked a little different, but we were still maintaining a presence in the community. 


For July, we created our annual pet issue, which was a great way to get our minds off the shelter-at-home orders. Who doesn’t love cute photos of animals? It also provided more sales leverage because people were still taking their pets to veterinarians and dog boutiques and grooming services.


August is normally our back-to-school issue. Again, that looked a lot different because most of our public schools in the area (North Carolina) are not returning to school in person full-time just yet. Instead, I planned content around what schools were doing, ran a profile of a local tutoring service, a nearby “glamping” resort where people could get away, a teacher who authored a children’s picture book and a nonprofit that provides laptops to families who can’t afford to pay full price for them.


As I write this, I’m editing articles for our September issue, which is focused on the arts. The arts in our area have suffered. I’m interviewing the local organizations on how they’ve had to cancel their programming, offer virtual performances and gathering what types of art work have been created by local artists and artisans.


Again, I still feel fortunate to have a job. Both magazines are still being produced and I only had one month where I couldn’t pay writers for one magazine and had to fly virtually solo. Writers have been grateful for the work, and I feel like we’ve all become stronger and more creative individuals during this crazy time.


How have you had to pivot your career or writing during the pandemic? Have you been inspired to write about the process?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I wrote one piece about how the pandemic has made me embrace the simplicity of life. This publisher has a long response time, but given the results over the last year or two, I'm not too hopeful.

The arts... I imagine some arts have resurged because of the pandemic. Arts like quilting, for example. I haven't quilted in years--I used to do it feverishly--but picked it up recently. (It might have helped that I have a new grandbaby, which called for a baby quilt.)

Good luck with these magazines (not that you need luck; you have talent and determination ;). I've done some major pivoting as far as work (reconfiguring my classroom... keeping virtual teaching in mind because the virus will spike again soon, I'm afraid) and was compelled by the tragedy of George Floyd to write an essay--which I submitted to a contest.

Thanks for this post, Renee. It's making me think about how I can pivot more as a writer.

Amber Polo said...

Thanks for a great post. For five years I worked with a regional magazine and for the last half of 2019 did it all when the owner/ editor went into hospice without leaving passwords to her files. I'd written, sold ads, and delivered issues for about half the region. I loved the challenge and opportunity to do-it-all. I especially liked a closer relationship with the writers. I called advertisers outside my area and asked them to send me checks for the same amount as for the previous issue (even though they'd never met me). And they did. When a new owner took over in January I decided to resign. After a few weeks of enjoying a slower life working at home on my own writing, the shutdown arrived and there was no place to go. Staying home was not a choice. Distribution locations were closed, advertisers were closed, and no one knew who advertising would reach.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Love that you are looking for, and finding, ways to reflect the present in your magazines. So much of what I'm reading in terms of national magazines completely ignores what is going on - the best appetizers when you entertain? How about "appetizers that also work as dinner?"

Me? At this point, I wonder if I'm going to have to reinvent myself as a writer. I went from equestrian writer to book reviewer to how-to write to educational activities to educational books. So I've got versatility on my side. Where oh where will I end up next?


Jeanine DeHoney said...

Renee, this new normal has indeed been very difficult and I can only imagine how difficult it has been as an editor of two different magazines. Kudos to you for being able to produce both magazines and offer writers work. That's a great accomplishment. In regards to your question, yes, I have definitely been inspired to write about how this pandemic has affected my writing because it has in so many ways.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Yes, good for you, Renee, writing content that reflects the current situation. Newspapers have certainly had to pivot,too, and I've smiled sometimes at the stories now..."How to Wash Your Hands." Or "Making Chicken 87 Different Ways."

As for my pivoting, I suppose it's more along the lines of deciding what's important for me to write about now. I've pretty much pivoted into little writing at all!

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