Magazine department reflects on three semesters of speaker series

By Tamara Rasamny

May 12, 2014

The Magazine Department Speaker Series at the Newhouse School began in the spring of 2013, with the aim of bringing in writers and editors who represented all areas of the industry and of course, had some good stories to tell.

Before the series began, the magazine department would bring in speakers but the process wasn’t as organized or targeted as it is now, says Melissa Chessher, chair of the magazine department.

“In the past it was kind of random” Chessher says. “…But (now) we’re really gunning for people who the world is talking about and who are doing big things.”

Associate Professor Jim Shahin, who coordinates the series, says he works to bring a diverse group of people involved in all aspects of the magazine industry. Students and faculty submit ideas on speakers they would like to hear from and the series works to bring in writers and editors from the print and digital sides of the business, Shahin says.

“I think we’ve been pretty successful in bringing people who represent the magazine industry in its many evolvements and forms,” says Shahin. “The feedback I've heard from students has been very positive. Students tell me that they like hearing about the pathways into the business and the back stories of the speakers.”

One such speaker was Keija Minor, editor-in-chief of Brides magazine, who came and spoke at the Newhouse School during the spring 2013 semester. Minor is the first African-American to be named editor-in-chief of a Condé Nast publication. Syracuse University was the first school she spoke at after her appointment.

“So to me that’s like history in the making,” says Chessher. “All of these people are memorable for different reasons, but I’m just very proud that we got them here.”

Speaker Series Guests

Damarys Perez Ocaña, executive director of Latina Magazine

Mitzi Miller, editor-in-chief of Jet Magazine

Norie Quintos, executive director of National Geographic Traveler

Robert Draper, writer for New York Times Magazine, GQ, New Republic, National Geographic, and Texas Monthly, among others.

Lauren Bans, GQ associate editor

Matt Stopera, senior editor at BuzzFeed

Keija Minor, editor-in-chief of Brides magazine

Other speakers have included: Matt Stopera, senior editor at BuzzFeed; Lauren Bans, associate editor of GQ magazine; and Damarys Perez Ocaña, executive editor of Latina magazine, who spoke at Newhouse this spring.

“We’re pretty much attuned to the digital sensibility of media and magazines, but we’re also very much attuned to the all-encompassing sense of what magazines are,” says Shahin. “So that we do continue to include print and reach out to digital, and we try to get those that bridge the two gaps.”

Coordinating speakers’ schedules is always challenging but Shahin and Chessher say it’s worth it.

“We work months in advance to try to get them,” Shahin says. “These are extremely, extremely busy people.”

Shahin says he’s working on his wish list of speakers for next semester. He plans to continue bringing in people who represent the fast-changing magazine industry who can share their experiences and advice with students.

Chessher wants to see the series continue to attract speakers producing high-profile work.

She hopes “that students develop an anticipation and excitement for these events that’s on par with Mayfest,” Chessher says. “But maybe that’s shooting a bit high.”

Tamara Rasamny is a sophomore international relations and newspaper and online journalism dual major.