For the past half-year, I’ve had the distinct opportunity to work for an ailing, on-its-way-out print magazine as a full-time music editor. While this might not seem like such a bad proposition for a writer in his early twenties (I’m spoiled, I know), it’s been a disheartening experience not because it’s not cool to work for a music magazine, but because it’s not cool to work for a music magazine that doesn’t know how to function in the digital age. When I was in college, I imagined working for some New York City-based publication and it being the most interesting job in the world. The decor would be trendy, the desks would be glass and the chairs ergonomic. Coffees would be drank, cigarettes would be smoked, and everyone would be working hard for the sake of quality journalism.
But alas, as you might’ve noticed by now, print is dead (read: dying), so working at a New York City-based publication (or at least the one I’ve been working for) isn’t what you’d expect. Simply put, when you don’t adapt to the current circumstances of your industry properly, you create a trend of over-dependence and over-expectation (because you don’t know what to expect, how long it takes to do things, how to execute said things), leading to a toxic work environment in which every employee (in an already-bare-bones staff) is overworked to the point of exhaustion. But I don’t mean to sound like a cynical downer, here. My time at this unnamed publication has definitely been interesting, and I’m grateful to it, but mostly because it has illuminated a lot of truths about how to do things the wrong way. So, this piece will ideally give you (maybe you’re a writer or an editor or a burgeoning media mogul) a quick rundown on how to not run a print publication (or really any company) in the modern era.
Be late to the internet. When all of your competitors invest time, energy and manpower into building up their online presence on this thing called the Internet, dismiss it as a passing fad. Eventually, rebuild your site but don’t make it aesthetically pleasing or user-friendly, and make sure not to hire any online media experts to help run the site, because the less everyone deals with that whole Internet thing, the better.
Copycat that. When it becomes clear that you sort of have to do this online thing, make sure to study the online content of your competitors and blatantly copy it. Do not make any attempt to cover this up (i.e. call your “franchises” by the same names as theirs). As you have a smaller staff, even your copycatted work will be far worse than the original, but hey, “it works for them!”
Be very cynical and very nostalgic. When having meetings with your staff, make sure to use phrases like “this industry used to be different” and “times have really changed” with extreme regularity. Also go on to discuss (at length) how different (read: better) things used to be.
This is Sparta! Run your company as a dictatorship in which the underlings are neither respected nor trusted. In creative meetings, make sure to shoot down every creative idea besides for your own. Emphasize your control by literally saying things like “This is not a democracy. This is a dictatorship.”
Overproduce, underutilize. Instead of focusing on creating specialized, unique content with your young and energetic staff, simply make sure that everyone shits out enough mediocre work every day that you get a certain number of “hits.” Remember – hits are good.
Bring ’em in, shit ’em out. As an established brand, you have the lucky ability to make people want to work for you. Since they do, hire young journalists (preferably right out of college), pay them minimum-wage, and hand them an unreasonable amount of responsibilities almost immediately. Make sure to incessantly remind said journalists that they are inexperienced, thereby taking the proverbial wind out of their proverbial sails. By doing this, you will make them weak and thirsty for your approval, mimicking an abusive parent-child relationship. Eventually over-work young journalists until they can no longer produce quality work or handle the pressure, and quit. Repeat.
Embrace self-delusion. When the employees quit, they’ll likely give you a fake reason for their departure (i.e. “I want to spend time with my family,” “I don’t like journalism anymore”) so as to not endure your verbal wrath. Accept these false excuses as truth, and do not take them as a hint to re-examine the work environment you’ve created.
Fear the mighty. One of the basic rules of good journalism is that you cannot be biased in who you cover, and how you cover them. But, as a print magazine for a niche music genre that needs a handful of cover stars per year, you must pray at the altars of these cover stars and stray from speaking poorly about them in any capacity, for you need them more than they need you. There are a lot of desperate magazines out there looking for a cover star, but a finite number of stars who can grace those covers. So be careful!
Don’t talk to me. Preach good communication in the workplace, but establish a reality in which you are literally unreachable via email, and when you happen to be in your office, you close the door so that you can eat pizza and watch The Simpsons in peace.
Wait. As you slowly barrel toward your company’s imminent doom, continue on running your company the same way it was run a decade ago. Just wait. It won’t be long.