Three pubs emerge from Mobile Mag Contest with $1K prize

By Zane Warman

February 25, 2014

Last weekend, seven teams of graduate students presented concepts for all-digital magazines at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, competing for a prize of $1,000 to fund the winning team's first issue.

For four hours last Friday (Feb. 21), each team brainstormed magazine concept ideas for the second-annual Mobile Magazine Competition and discussed content, design, business strategies and what the publications’ digital presence would be, all with the help of three professional guest judges. Each of the judges was experienced in journalism and/or publishing, and teams were eager to hear their insight while developing ideas. Brian Floyd, managing editor of sports website SB Nation, said the major contribution the judges made was advising students on the finances of the magazine business.

“They come into it without the business side or sales side; they're all from the creative side of developing a magazine,” Floyd says. “There's got to be some kind of way to sustain it and get it off the ground. Part of what we've been doing is harping on that advertising (and) business finance side while meeting with them.”

Each team was asked to create a unique identity and mission for their magazine. The winner of last year's inaugural mobile magazine competition, Vertical Floor, served a niche that was mostly young men but worked to expand to a female audience.

This is the second year of the contest, which was developed by Newhouse professors Corey Takahashi, Melissa Chessher and Aileen Gallagher.  

After spending Friday afternoon in development mode, each team was given 20 minutes to present their ideas on how the magazine would function and attract advertisers and investors. The judging panel then questioned each presenting team for about 10 minutes.

Many of the magazines, including one of the finalists, Bellwether, were marketed to a younger audience. Presenters insisted that the portrayals of young people, such as those you may find in Cosmopolitan or Vogue, were unrealistic, or simply did not exist. Their approaches to representing this demographic ranged from acting as a guiding hand through post-grad life, to sharing stories of fellow 20-somethings, to helping New York City residents find trendy, affordable apartments. The group that spearheaded the Bellwether magazine said that after deliberating, they thought creating a magazine that could engage a group they could empathize with would help them generate content that was both high-quality and helpful.

“We wanted to reach people who were educated, who had a good head on their shoulders, who want content that is accessible, useful and applicable,” says Jillian Thaw, a magazine, newspaper and online journalism graduate student at Newhouse.

“All the hypothetical story ideas we came up with were either situations we've all gone through or family and friends have gone through, or the type of information you wish that you knew or think you should already know,” says Katrine Dermody, also an MNO journalism grad student.

The judges announced three finalists on Saturday: Bellwether; App Next, an app review and preview magazine; and Verbatim, a publication dedicated to performance poetry.

Finalists were instructed to read feedback from the judges and begin preparations for video pitches. The final winner will be chosen by the end of March and will use the $1,000 award for the capstone project, a requirement for a Newhouse graduate degree. Winners will come back over the summer and work with Newhouse faculty to develop the concept into a published product.

“I think out of everything, that's one of the most rewarding experiences: seeing your final product for this course in the iTunes store, that you could go and download or send out to your friends,” says Doug Strahler, an adjunct professor at Newhouse who works with students on the summer capstone. “That's the really cool part about it. It's crazy at points, trying to get everything done in six weeks, but it's doable.”

Zane Warman is a student in the Newhouse School.

Photos by Newhouse student Katy Beals.