I’ve been a magazine editor since 1992. After my first post, as managing editor of River Styx (a literary arts magazine), I worked as assistant editor at WHERE-St. Louis Magazine, editor of marketing publications for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and as editor-in-chief of St. Louis Bride Magazine, the St. Louis version of Citysearch.com and St. Louis Homes & Lifestyles.
In those years, I learned a bit about a lot of things: poetry and short stories, wedding cakes and veils, restaurants and art galleries, the local real estate market and interior design. I’ve interviewed and written about poets, historical reenactors, chefs, shopkeepers, home builders, tightrope walkers, rock and roll singers and mechanics.
But it’s the seven-years-and-counting I’ve spent as editor-in-chief for magazines published by Barnes-Jewish Hospital that have delivered the greatest challenges–and the greatest personal satisfaction. In this role, I’ve witnessed and written about kidney transplantation and brain surgery. I’ve worked closely with busy nurses, physicians and researchers so I can publish stories that reveal their dedication to evidence-based medicine and their innate compassion for the people they treat. To say I’m honored to serve in this capacity is true–and also an understatement.
Creating Curiosus magazine
I work with a team of science writers from Washington University School of Medicine and freelance writers from across the country to make Curiosus, a magazine about the art and science of medicine, happen. I also developed, and work closely with, a network of medical professionals at the university and hospital that helps me identify stories that will be timely and engaging for readers while meeting the expectations of the constituents and institutions I serve.
The result of this teamwork is Curiosus, a biannual magazine distributed to more than 170,000 consumers in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, as well as to select medical specialists within a 500-mile radius of St. Louis. The distribution plan also includes magazine racks in the hospital, which make Curiosus available to visitors, patients and employees.
Before the first print edition of Curiosus was mailed, I collaborated with the hospital’s marketing team to develop a magazine that would convey to consumers (aka potential customers) and potential referring physicians the breadth and depth of expertise available at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. All of us on the planning team agreed we wanted to create something that would help readers consider the hospital and its Washington University physicians in the same category with the other great U.S. medical institutions that are household names: Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Massachusetts General, and so on.
The hospital’s marketing department and I carefully chose the criteria that would identify our “subscriber” base. We want readers who are interested in and fascinated by medicine and research. The resulting mail list, which is “pulled” a month before a given issue mails, is made up of readers who are active in the community and often engage in cultural activities. Our readers are well read and curious. They care about their health and the health of their family and neighbors.
To keep these readers–and the medical specialists we mail to–engaged, I strive to develop stories that keep up with, or anticipate, trends I see in other world-class print and digital publications, from newspapers to medical journals, social media to talk shows. I want Curiosus to participate in the larger, national conversations being had about medicine and medical research. To develop each issue’s storyboard, I also solicit story ideas from medical and marketing experts at the university and hospital.
Yes, it’s a marketing piece, but…
There is no marketing jargon in the magazine. Here’s how that plays out in the magazine: instead of publishing a story about the hospital’s new diabetes clinic, for example, Curiosus will instead publish a story about diabetes: what is it? why is it so prevalent? how does this disease affect peoples’ lives? The new diabetes clinic may get a mention, but it won’t be the focus. Instead, the story will use Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital experts to present a story with a more subtle marketing message: Here’s an important issue; our experts understand it; you can trust your health to our experts.
Why this approach? Because we want readers to rely on Curiosus to give them real information, not hype. Brochures tend to get tossed out. A well-designed, well-written magazine gets read and reread–and maybe even passed around.
And is this approach working? Yes! In all my years of editorial experience, I’ve never received as many enthusiastic letters from readers. I can tell when a new issue of Curiosus has dropped because my inbox begins to fill with emails. Some writers just want to say “thank you” for a beautiful, well written and informative magazine. Others want additional copies or reprints of a specific story. And some want to make sure their names stay on a permanent mail list so they don’t miss future issues. Of course, I also get mail from people who don’t want to receive Curiosus. I’m happy to get these, too, because I can then be even more sure that the magazine is going to be appreciated by those who receive it.
Another win for Curiosus is the enthusiastic response it has received from doctors, nurses and other clinicians working at the hospital and university. These professionals trust Curiosus to tell their story, whether it be about research in the field of cancer immunotherapy or about effective ways to address the epidemic of violence in the community.
Accuracy is everything
In a magazine like Curiosus, facts matter. I hire writers who can accurately tell a complicated story, and tell it with style. I help guide writers’ research and interview work by identifying the goals I have for the story. And once the stories are written, they go through rigorous, multi-reader rounds of review and editing. A story about innovations in brain surgery for glioblastoma must be error-free.
Writing about research is especially tricky business. I work closely with science writers and editors at Washington University School of Medicine to ensure all stories about medical research are clear and accurate. The story mustn’t misinterpret method or results. Again–trust is the issue.
Stories, not content
Content, I believe, is a one-way conversation: Hey! Listen to me. I have something to say, and I want you to hear it. Stories, on the other hand, are crafted to engage in a way that makes the reader an active participant rather than a passive recipient. To do this, stories pay attention to voice, to word choice, to structure and attitude. When these things are taken into account, a story becomes a form of communication, which is a two-way conversation.
A good story knows who its reader is and what that reader needs and wants. An effective story respects the intelligence of the reader. Content, on the other hand, doesn’t really care. An engaging story is a form of communication, asking the reader to consider, or reconsider, valuable information.
Curiosus is made up of stories that are accurate, engaging and considerate of the reader. At its best, Curiosus is a form of communication, conveying new insights and important ideas that are worthy of its readers’ consideration.
Because Curiosus magazine is an extension of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, it must embrace the hospital’s mission to take exceptional care of people. Essentially, every aspect of the magazine, from story development to its design (including font, paper, color palette, illustrations and photography) is tasked with honoring that mission.
I’ve discovered that there is nothing particularly easy or simple about putting together a magazine like Curiosus. The commitment to trust, accuracy, communication, design quality, audience and mission requires scrupulous attention to detail. But I’m happy to embrace that commitment. One happy result is that I have a uniquely satisfying job.