Magazine Editing and Writing in San Francisco
June 24, 1997
Two magazine editors discussed the growing pains of redesign at the June meeting of the Bay Area Editors’ Forum.
“We had been trying to change the magazine’s name for three years and finally obtained approval [from two lawyer executives] this spring,” said Maria Streshinsky, associate editor of VIA (formerly the American Automobile Association’s Motorland).
VIA debuted with the March/April issue, and diehards among the magazine’s 2.4 million AAA-member/readers were not shy in saying they hated the new look and name. “We got lots of angry letters. One wrote, ‘I am old and don’t like change,’ ” Streshinsky shrugged.
Motorland’s loyal base of readers had long accepted gray, copy-heavy pages and staid design, but editors viewed the pages as unappealing. They hoped to expand the readership to include young people and knew they could not succeed without short stories and modern type and design.
“We are not the New Yorker. We needed to rein in copy and change to quick bytes of information and more white space. Our mix is 80 percent travel articles and 20 percent service.”
Early criticism turned to encouragement by early summer. The editors’ favorite letter came from a reader who confided, “VIA moved from Motorland in the bathroom or slung in a corner to my coffee table.” A staff of eight editors double as writers and work on all aspects of the magazine. VIA rarely accepts outside pieces, although freelancers query often.
Change and finding a new way is also the convergence point at San Francisco Focus. The magazine is forging a new identity, separate but friendly toward KQED. Senior editor Jonathan S. Keats said the magazine will continue to publish KQED’s program guides, although the station spun off the magazine a year ago.
The subscription base consists of 290,000 KQED members “average age in the middle forties with household income of $120,000, 70 percent suburban and 15 percent in San Francisco and 3 percent outside the Bay Area.”
The reader demographics “keep our advertisers happy” and the new ownership intends to increase newsstand presence both locally and at airports, Keats said. The name will change to San Francisco Magazine beginning with the October issue.
Editors plan “to reflect San Francisco in the way New York magazine used to reflect New York or Texas Monthly used to reflect Texas.” The redesign of San Francisco Focus will take into account perceived past failures, tendencies Keats described as “too parochial, too regional, and not the best writing.”
The magazine will divide into sections, among them, perhaps, culture, places, names, and food. It will include service stories like the tale of a kayak ride and its river stops in the July issue. A new department called Foot Notations is traceable to the idea that “academics cram their best stuff into footnotes.”
Keats, a 1994 college graduate, was a restaurant reviewer and says he stumbled into his current position in January when a senior editor departed and he was “left standing.” The magazine is 90 percent freelance driven with editors doing some writing and lots of rewriting, said Keats, who wrote the lead article in the July issue on boutique hotels.
Keats said he sometimes sends articles back to writers “tens of times” for rewrite, a frequency he later revised to “two or three times.” He said former newspaper reporters generally do not provide the tone and style his magazine seeks, and he looks for fiction and nontraditional writers such as graphic designers to write.