Harry Potter and the Special Issue: Tips for Launching a Themed Edition of Any Sort

In the most recent issue of College Media Review, I profile last year’s transformation of The Ball State Daily News at Ball State University into The Daily Prophet— in honor of all-things-Potter.

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I also provide a few tips for editors and advisers looking into launching a special issue of their own on areas far beyond the HP craze:

1) Make the special, well, special. It’s time to start fresh, and think beyond an annual holiday or traditional campus event. Special issues generally have grown stale, delivering satire on April Fools’ Day, guides to college life during freshmen orientation, and glimpses into a school’s past on homecoming weekend.  Piggyback instead atop a cultural trend, an in-the-moment school scandal– or even a mega-movie premiere.

2) Timing is everything, in planning and execution.  The Daily Prophet issue worked because it fed off the excitement of the latest “Potter” movie premiere.  It also worked because Daily News staff gave itself enough time to conceptualize and carry out the vision– even without a grand plan behind it all.  The lesson: Brainstorm early– even a semester in advance– about events, calendar dates or passion projects that you want to turn into full-blown issues. Put a team in place to make it happen, and establish deadlines for the development of the section.

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3) Content is just the start.  Along with running related stories, you must ensure a special issue’s overall aura embodies the topic or event serving as its inspiration.  The issue’s layout, fonts, photos, masthead, and more must pitch in.  Utilize multimedia extras and your website as additional core parts of the issue.

4) Go all in.  Not everyone is a “Harry Potter” fan or will understand all the Quidditch references, but the Daily News staff rightfully decided that if it was going to commit to the concept, it would commit fully.  Don’t worry about a special issue being too niche or geeky.  Readers in the know will appreciate the 100-percent effort.  The clueless readers will ask their friends what it all means.

5) Just do it.  Even with the most talented, impassioned staff, a special issue will never be perfect.  There will never be enough time to flesh out all ideas.  And breaking news inevitably will interfere at the wrong moment.  Embrace the flaws and chaos and simply soldier on.  As former Daily News chief designer Jen Minutillo said, “Go big or go home.”

Separately, check out my cover story on college media censorship.

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