During my last block of Writing Science in February, where we all received the marks for our magazine project, my lecturer was really complimentary about my groups’ magazine. So much so, that he brought up the idea of showing our magazine to his contacts at BBC Focus magazine.
I was really happy with that offer, and last week I got to take the proffered opportunity: I was able to spend 5 days at BBC Focus learning more about science magazines and how they’re put together. So, here’s how my week went…
Heading into my first day, I was very nervous, mostly because I didn’t know what to expect or what they expected from me. I wasn’t sure whether they’d be expecting a complete beginner, or someone already knowledgeable. I was worried about being thrown in at the deep end, or doing tasks wrongly. However, I didn’t need to be too worried, as the team seemed friendly and the person in charge of keeping an eye on me was very nice- I was even ok asking him questions about the software by the end of the day.
My main task today was taking an essay written for next month’s issue, and laying it out as a set of pages for the print magazine. This was mostly placing and formatting the text, researching pictures and adding them, then putting them together into a readable page.
I found that the task itself wasn’t too difficult; the biggest issue for me was my lack of experience and knowledge with InDesign, which meant I took the most inefficient route possible and made the process more work than it needed to be. (For example, the template used for essays had text boxes set up to automatically reflow text from one text box to the next. I didn’t know how to make those, so spent far too much of the day moving text around manually every time I changed anything.)
After finishing off the essay layout today, I then got to work on redesigning a cover. The original cover is above, and mine is below.
I’m fairly happy with mine, although now I would change a few things, such as the size of the small titles on the side, and how the hand is in relation to the C in Focus. Also, I was given printed proof versions of both the essay and the cover, so having a tangible version of what I’d been doing was really cool.
My major regret was not practising more on InDesign before coming in- I feel like that would have been helpful as finishing projects more efficiently would have helped me see more.
One part I found strange was the amount of passes and people every article goes through to be produced. Each article can be seen and signed off by multiple people for each aspect of its creation (writing, editing, layout, and publication), and I found that level of collaboration unfamiliar as I’ve never worked in a role that required it.
Day 3 was my first day working on the digital side of Focus. centred on making the iPad and iPhone versions of articles in this month’s magazine. Again, there were quite a few templates and guides, so it was easier to get started than I expected, while the part I was worried about (adding the interactive elements) was simple thanks to some cool proprietary software that handled the behind the scenes parts. My major difficulty was the level of precision and exactness required- my first layouts were almost embarrassingly messy by their standards, needing the person I was reporting to to go back through and align elements properly.
The main page I worked on was this Science in the City page, as it was an easy to place to start. Getting to see an interactive element (the information which appeared only when the corresponding number is tapped) was also really fun.
Spending more time with InDesign over the week meant I learnt how to use the tools better, with the biggest difference being the numerical tools- using them instead of trying to eyeball measurements made this day’s work better.
Today was spent on the Discoveries section, adapting the horizontally-arranged articles into a infinitely-scrolling vertical layout and adding interactions such as clickable videos. For example, this article about cockatoos, which needed images, quotes, and a video.
Looking back at this even a few days later, it’s clear how I could have done put everything together far more quickly and efficiently.
My last day, and also where I started to feel like I was getting the hang of what I was doing. My final project- adapting a magazine feature into its iPad and iPhone equivalent- was where I had the most free reign during the week. It was also the part I most enjoyed of the week, as I could see where I’d improved at creating layouts. Also, this layout needed the fewest revisions, with only two elements needing to be changed (and most of that was because my laptop lost access to the quote font, so I had to guess at what size the quote bubbles should be).
My biggest surprise with the digital work was how strongly everything is templated and guided: I was expecting to spend a lot of time looking at a blank page attempting to make something from scratch, when in reality everything is very precise and mathematical in how it was laid out.
The last task was a bit of a confidence boost, as I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do well, but ended up getting up to speed and even finishing the last task early.
Before going to Focus, I finally sat down and asked myself the question of what I want to get out of it. I’d kind of been avoiding that question, as pure curiosity didn’t seem to be the best answer. Originally, I found the uni magazine project so interesting partly because magazines were a format I’d always written off, for no real reason- spending time actually developing one meant I appreciated what they could do. So I’m interested in exploring them more, to find out if they’re an area of communication I could spend more time with.
Also, as so much of situation around the uni magazine felt like luck, and what I had done felt completely like beginner’s luck, I wanted to try this opportunity to see if I actually had any ability or whether the group-magazine project was just a fluke achieved by our group working well together… again, that’s not an explanation I’ll give anyone in real life!. Another aspect was to get a better look at digital publishing – based on my existing interests, it’s a skill I’d love to understand, and I currently don’t have much experience with it. Our magazine was solely intended for print and, as good as it was, I can see parts where digital integration could have made it even better. So, what I wanted to get out of this week was:
- Experience working to a brief/under instructions.
- Experience working on a collaborative project.
- Better understanding of the processes that go into creating a publication (while we did that to some extent on the uni project, it was on a much smaller scale and was also mostly remote/through Facebook).
- Figuring out what is needed to create more digital publications in future (and whether I’d be able to do it myself for other proejcts)
- Finding out whether I have it in me to do more of this (although that’s more of a question for myself, not for the job.)
For point 1, I definitely got that experience. Point 2, less so- while the overall magazine was collaborative, my assignments were for me to do myself and then seek approval, rather than to do collaboratively. Point 3 was also a solid yes, just listening to the conversations and meetings around me during the week helped me understand the work involved. Points 4 and 5 were the messier ones and the ones I wasn’t sure if I could get answered.
For point 4, I’m a little more sure than I was before going into Focus- I know that I can at least do some of the tasks involved to some degree of accuracy. That’s much better than the worst-case-scenarios I had imagined before the week. For point 5, I came out of that week wanting to know more and learn more about digital publishing- I know it’s something that I want to explore more as an interest. Any further than that, I’m still clueless, but the week was definitely valuable for setting another idea in place.