You have arrived at this page to read my monthly column, so then you have already seen one of the major changes that we have made to Downtown newsmagazine with this July issue.
Since the fall of 2010, we have been featuring iconic scenes from the communities of Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Bloomfield Township on our covers. In the early days of this publication we fielded on a regular basis a number of emails from readers who questioned why the covers of Downtown were not tied thematically to stories appearing within a given issue, like you would normally find in other magazines. Our standard answer was simple: our goal was to feature scenes from the local area, highlighting everything from noted monuments to general community portraits that form the backdrop to everyday life for all of us in the three municipalities.
This was accomplished with the assistance of photographer Laurie Tennent, who operates Laurie Tennent Studio in the Rail District of Birmingham. Many of our covers since 2010 have been photographed by Laurie, or in some cases by those who were part of the studio's creative workforce.
I knew when we first set about to bring Downtown newsmagazine to market that at some point we would have to address the fact that there are a finite number of local scenes in any community to feature each month. We are quickly reaching that point. Since our launch we have highlighted on our covers well over 100 iconic scenes in our local communities.
So with this issue we are turning the focus of the cover to highlight the longform stories we produce each month. The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes longform journalism as follows: “covering a subject at much greater length and in much greater depth than a standard news article.”
Covers – created in-house but occasionally using outside talent – will serve the purpose of drawing attention to one of the longform essays inside each issue. In other words, encouraging the audience to explore the content of each issue. While we don't vie on newsstands with other publications, we recognize that we do compete as we arrive in the mail each month with other items brought to you by your postal carrier. So you can expect graphic covers that are visually appealing and at times even jarring or shocking to capture your attention.
Our move to a different approach on the cover is simply a reimagining of Downtown. Our basic brand will remain the same.
In terms of branding we have developed for Downtown newsmagazine, we are known by our strong editorial content that sets us apart from other print products in the area. No other local publication devotes as much effort on the editorial front as we do at Downtown. Our longform pieces are an intricate part of our publication each month, and we can't think of any publication in this market that is doing longform journalism. Our longform essays (3,500-6,000 words) are planned out months in advance and take considerable work on the part of the news staff which seeks out sources from across the state, country and on occasion in other countries as they do in-depth research on a topic. Our intent with the longform stories is to allow readers to explore weightier issues that affect them.
We are journalists and storytellers producing a hybrid newsmagazine that still hews to the traditional concept of providing our readers with news coverage of important issues facing the communities, including monitoring and reporting how local elected and appointed officials address these concerns. We include in the definition of local not just the three municipalities and two school districts we serve, but also the county, regional and state government units when official action or lack thereof impacts this area. I use the term hybrid because we are a newspaper, presented in magazine format on a monthly basis, hence the term newsmagazine.
We believe that the general population must be given the information necessary to make decisions and take action when they are so inclined. The three local communities have a population with the highest educational level in the state of Michigan and we think Downtown serves the residents well with this publishing philosophy.
Right or wrong, we have not fallen prey to the growing tendency in print media to produce what is commonly known as “click bait” journalism – stories that draw more “hits” when posted to a publication's website. While we post to social media and our website – downtownpublications.com – our first order of business here is providing you with a strong print product.
So as noted earlier, the basic brand in terms of quality content remains the same.
We are adding some new content to Downtown in the coming months, as evidenced by the special section appearing in this issue – Faces: Business, which will now become an annual effort on our part.
The idea from this section is an outgrowth of the monthly Faces personality profiles we created when the newsmagazine first began. Faces profiles are intended to make the community aware of people living in the area or who had lived here at some point in time and have accomplished something unusual, important and interesting.
We approached the business community for our Faces:Business advertorial section, appearing in the center of this issue, with the concept of allowing business owners to share with readers some additional background on themselves as a means of building relationships with current and future customers or clients.
Other special sections are on the drawing board as I write this column. Each of them will be unique in terms of special sections rather than the usual “canned copy” sections that appear in most other local publications – you know, the ones few people read.
Again, our goal with the special sections is to bring you something unique that you want to read.
As always, I welcome your feedback.