A conversation with conference speaker Jessica Ross
Jessica Ross had just reached the top of Homemakers' masthead when, in 2011, TC Media announced that it was shutting down the 45-year-old women's lifestyle magazine. The decision came just as the new acting editor was about to take maternity leave. "There were a lot of unknowns for me," she recalls.
TC Media offered her a brand new role managing its various tablet apps. The position is an amalgamation of her entire career — a communications professional, turned online editor, turned print editor, turned Ryerson University instructor and consultant on editorial workflow. The latter, she says, is the backbone for all steady teams, whether they work on print products or tablets. Editorial workflow is also the topic of one of her two Alberta Magazines Conference sessions on March 15, 2013 in Calgary.
Without giving too much away, could you tell us about the Optimize Your Workflow session?
I'll help people understand what workflow really is, and why getting it right can be complicated. I'll demonstrate this by tracing through a basic workflow that involves a print magazine product with a website. We'll talk about what happens when you add new elements to this—social media, video, tablet editions and eBooks—so you can see how the timeline needs to be stretched, like an elastic band, to accommodate new things.
If your workflow is off-kilter, how do you even begin to catch up?
I'm going to take us through the primary reasons workflow can get out of whack, ask attendees for specific symptoms and offer suggestions on how to fix the problems. The symptoms can be a range of things, from new types of work, to personalities that don't lend themselves well to sharing information, to confusion around budget.
Your new job has a more fluid workflow, closer to your ad agency days. Do you miss the old structure?
I do miss the structure, absolutely. But it's fun—I'm really enjoying meeting with all kinds of people and thinking about what's possible. With this medium, we have the opportunity to deliver readers services in new ways. There are software packages with analytics that show what people are looking at, and for how long. It gives you editorial feedback that you've never had before!
Your other conference session is about improving writer-editor relationships with solid assignment letters and contracts. What's the most common assignment letter mistake you see?
The most common thing is having no assignment letter at all. I hear this more from writers—editors won't fess up. If you don't set up a story assignment in a way that structures you for success, then it's really hard to follow-up on a number of levels. You don't want to get into messy situations, or have to pay kill fees because you haven't been clear about the terms.
Your entrance to magazines in the '90s started with Ryerson night classes, and now you're teaching in the same program. Comparatively, it's a very uncertain time for magazines. What do you tell your pessimistic students?
I always tell them that jobs aren't incredibly plentiful in the business, but things are opening up. The way we're working is cracking open and reconfiguring, so there are a lot of opportunities for a variety of new skills. The great thing is that many of the tools you need to develop those skills are free and very accessible.
To learn more about the Alberta Magazines Conference, and to register for Jessica Ross’ sessions on editorial workflow and assignment letters and contracts, visit www.albertamagazines.com/conference. The early bird deadline to save on registration is Feb. 21, 2013 (the final deadline to register is March 7, 2013).