What Can Student Journalists Learn from Time’s Rise in Popularity?

A recent survey on college students’ favorite brands revealed a surprising entry atop the magazine pile: Not People or Cosmo or Glamour or SI.  Instead, Time, a purveyor of (mostly) serious news with only a dash of sports, fashion, and celebrity thrown in.

What can student journalists learn from their peers’ apparently unmatched love of Time?  To my mind, five main things:

Politics is in (and maybe here to stay, at least short term, in Obamerica): Don’t be afraid to delve into campus, local, state, national, and international political coverage.  The climate is ripe, and students’ appettites whetted, for Time-style coverage:  a mix of the horse-race, behind-the-scenes profiles, and explanations of how the politicos and their measures will actually impact the public they represent.

Students will ante up for serious news:  A sentiment too often exists among student (and professional) journalists that serious news is akin to a youth reader death knell and might as well be a manual instructing them flip to what’s next.  And yet, students have revealed themselves as devoted to Time!  The magazine boasts serious news coverage, but it’s often presented in more accessible feature-story form and at times even with first person reportage built atop a journalist’s eye for detail rather than polling data or statistics.

Snazzified design elements, in moderation, are appreciated: I have no doubt that, along with its hipper writing, Time appeals to student readers more than other newsy (and not so newsy) mags simply because it looks better.  It’s been increasingly visually inventive in recent years.  Its photos and graphics and page designs are colorful, even quirky at times, without overdoing it (see People and Star).  Also, save for the hideous “Pop Chart” feature, the layouts and images are professional without coming across as sterile as a corporate newsletter (see Newsweek).

New media story packaging pays off in print form: Time lovesssss lists and year-end recaps and quotes of the week and extremely tight summary packages such as “A Brief History” and “Postcard” (delivering news of the moment from somewhere in the world).  It is a non-story, new media-type sensibility that I extremely admire and it’s the main reason I’ve grown to like Time over Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report and The Economist in recent years.  I’ll read The Economist when I’m feeling reflective or on a plane with hours to kill.   But Time is much more “readable” quick and easy in the loo or on the subway or in a waiting room or over a quick dinner and is more aligned with our short-attention-span, scannerific, story-last reading philosophy in the Internet age.

A hint of activism and opinion is all right with undergrads: Time doesn’t shy from espousing ideas or ideals, whether it’s about the environment or impactful inventions or just its Person of the Year.  It is a magazine with an obvious liberal, pro-change, pro-technology, humanitarian bent and it sticks to and return to its core themes repeatedly, a tact to which students have obviously warmed.  The lesson here: It’s OK to be subjective, to stand for something, to use your media outlet as a vehicle for positive change.  It goes to the very heart of what student journalism should be.  And as students have reported, it’s about Time.

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