Category Archives: Vox Magazine

ICYMI: Vox Magazine at the RJI Tech Innovation Showcase

I clearly need to work on my public speaking, but for a last second presentation, this wasn’t half bad. For a quick rundown of Vox’s digital innovation this semester, watch this video:

[9:49] Our Blue Highways — Ride along with Vox reporters and digital editors as they discuss this award-winning multimedia project from Fall 2014.
Members: Atiya Abbas, Bryan Bumgardner, Jenna Fear and Carson Kohler

[16:44] Vox on social media — There’s a right way and a wrong way for publications to use social media. Vox social gurus share some of our success stories, including Renz prison, the Antlers and CoMo cups.
Members: Christine Jackson and Dan Roe

[1:22] Vox’s new website — Publication websites are in a state of constant development. Vox students took a leadership role in the relaunch of Vox’s spiffy new site last summer.
Members: Laura Heck and Justin Paprocki

[26:38] Q&A

More information about this event:

Vox Digital: Organizing talent and fostering creativity

I’m a Teaching Assistant for Magazines Across Platforms, a class run by Sara Shipley Hiles, Digital Director of Vox Magazine. These students, known as Digital Editors, make up the majority of the Digital Team, the web-based half of Vox.

As Digital Managing Editor, I’m basically the quarterback of the Digital Team, making sure we’re successfully producing digital content, maintaining our brand across social platforms and constantly exploring new storytelling mediums.

Last semester we only had 6 students, meaning our brand and production power was shoestring. This semester we have 16. I like to say the Digital Team’s accomplishments last semester attracted more students, but who knows?

Either way, this growth presents challenges for our organization. How do we engage these students each week while also hitting our production goals? Can we make this pedagogical, considering improving their skills will improve our content?

Here’s my major goals as a Digital Managing Editor for this semester:

Don’t let the organization descend into chaos. Our strength lies in our ability to organize, making sure everybody knows what they have to do and when. We’ve built a huge color coded spreadsheet with various shifts for each job we’ve defined, and each job has a perfectly clear statement of responsibilities and associated “How-To” documentation. Organization allows for forward planning and less on-the-spot attempts to produce content.

Discover, master and share digital storytelling tools with the entire Vox Magazine staff. The key to improving our digital content is showing people what we can create. If we show the staff all the interactive quiz, graphic design, and social aggregating tools we have, they’re more likely to implement them. Pair this with clear and concise how-to documents and innovation will spread.

Practice a clear and transparent style of leadership. Everybody knows what must happen and when they’re failing or succeeding. I want to drive all my students to improve upon themselves and practice loyalty to the organization. They will tell me what they want to learn, what works and what doesn’t, and how they think we can improve.  When they need help, I will be there. Office politics and drama will be at a minimum if everyone knows their role in the machine.

We know this is how to engage millennials in the workplace, so why not try it in class?

Innovate every single week. Digital organizations are in permanent beta, constantly changing and improving with every version of content. This goes hand in hand with technological advancement. We are no different. Each week we should build on the lessons we learned in the previous. As we continue, we set the bottom line for production quality higher and higher.

Teach every single student how to learn. The most important part of digital journalism is teaching yourself brand new tools. Because this industry requires multi-talented and multi-perspective journalists, that’s what we need to create. We need to create young professionals who both know the skills and understand theories. In the end they will adapt just as quickly as their industry changes.

Establish persistent and scaleable digital production methods. I know we don’t really know the best way for legacy print organizations to evolve in response to digital demands, but by God we’re going to try. Already I’ve established some methods that elevate our digital presence – hopefully by the end of the year we’ll have serious, long-term strategies laid in stone.

Here’s to hopefully having the best semester ever for Vox Digital.

How to Survive at Vox Magazine: 6 Lessons

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a student in your first Missouri-Method placement at Vox Magazine.

And you’re probably a little intimidated too, considering during your first week you’re helping launch an issue.

But fear not! Hundreds have come before you, and countless more will follow you. You need to focus on yourself now and the opportunity you have.

Here’s five pieces of advice to help you survive your semester at Vox, from somebody who has done it before.

1. Embrace the chaos and immerse yourself in the flow. Go forward and write every single meeting in your planner for the rest of the semester. Schedule your daily routine around Vox. We have a crazy workflow, but the sooner you embrace it and understand it you’ll see the genius.

2. Ask everyone questions and find your heroes. It’s common knowledge that Managing Editor Anna Seaman is a walking database of meeting times, class schedules and phone numbers of Vox employees. Half the time I ask her what I’m supposed to be doing. Ask people questions – they want to help you. Helping you helps the machine work.

3. Learn the language. I’m not talking about our official office language of sarcasm, I’m talking about communication. Learn how to ask, discuss and brainstorm with the right lingo and you’ll pick up quick. Learn those editing marks, and remember handwriting on galleys!

4. Don’t just hit the bottom line. Use this opportunity you have to boost your skills set, your connections and your clips. You’ll have the chance to enrich yourself and pitch the stories you want to cover. This is your chance to stand out from the crowd and make a difference for your career.

5. BREATHE. Stress is a side effect of our industry – learn to deal with it. Step back from the problem and go get Chipotle. Take a walk around the rotunda to clear your head. Freaking out about something doesn’t solve the problem. Learn how to mitigate and control your stress. Stay chill, dude.

6. Cherish every moment. Before you know it, you’ll be done and looking for job offers. Take every learning opportunity you can find. Genuinely get to know people. Stretch out of your comfort zone. This isn’t just a class, it’s an experience. Make the most of it.

The Oscars: Proof we’re all still racist and sexist

This post originally appeared on

As you probably know, the nominees for the 2015 Oscars were announced today.

As you also probably noticed, the internet is pretty upset about the intense lack of diversity in the nominations. Various excuses have come forward, from the homogeneity of the selecting voters (an overwhelming majority are male and white), to the selection of an African-American Cheryl Boone Isaacs as president in 2013.

These excuses excuse nothing.  These nominations prove that, even after a year of intense racial, gender and class conflict, nothing has changed. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, an organization of esteemed filmmakers, actors and cultural icons who deeply influence the evolution of American society, still don’t give a damn about black people or women.

This is a problem.

The Wikipedia page for The Oscars list the awards as “an annual American awards ceremony honoring cinematic achievements in the film industry.” What defines these achievements?

Did not Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma, deserve recognition for her bold and poignant exploration of the Civil Rights Movement, during this time of reopened wounds of racial inequality? The film has a 99% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes, a virtually impossible ranking to achieve. Doesn’t showing the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr., the biggest civil rights hero in American history, count as “elevating film-making?”

No. Instead, the academy prefers Budapest Hotel, a beautifully-shot but totally culturally disconnected film about a fictional hotel and a man who likes perfume too much.

Did not Laura Poitras, the director of Citizenfour, deserve recognition as a director considering she literally cannot reenter the United States for fear of government seziures due to her connection to Edward Snowden? She sat in the room with Snowden as he described what is arguably the most important governmental scandal of the decade. Citizenfour is in the running for Best Documentary, hardly the esteem it deserves.

You could argue “But the academy is actually picking good movies! Look at American Sniper!”

I would argue these awards are just as symbolic as they are literal. Look at how Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize — that award was an effort by the Nobel Committee (and the entire European continent) to show their approval for Obama’s initiatives. (They’ve since asked him to return it, further proof of it’s symbolism.)

Has the academy not seen the year we’ve had? The people who have died in Ferguson, New York and recently Nigeria as a result of racial inequality? Has the academy not seen what’s happened to free speech in Syria, Paris and our own country?

I’m not asking the academy to throw their votes. I’m asking them to recognize the influence of film-making on our world and to respond in kind.

I’m asking the academy to recognize their roles as social influences, as leaders who drive the cultural discussions in this country, to take responsibility for improving the world around them. I’m asking them to take responsibility for the influence they have to make this world a better place.

In that regard, they clearly don’t care. So continues the Wes Anderson Hollywood Love Train. 

What do you think? Comment below, tweet at us, or comment on our Facebook page. 

Bryan Bumgardner also does Twitter. 

Inside Vox: A Revolutionary Restructure

Vox Magazine is a lot like any other magazine.

We have editors, departments, budget meetings and contributors.

We also have a website and a pretty developed digital team.

Much like any magazine, we’re concerned with providing the best content to our readers. This inspired a pretty revolutionary shift in our internal workflows that we’re excited to start this semester.

Given that each semester Vox’s staff rotates, each semester we can reinvent ourselves. Sometimes this poses challenges for advancement or innovation. For spring 2015, every member of the Teaching Assistant Editorial Team, the administrative core of Vox, has already worked at the magazine for at least one semester.

Because of this experience, we’re taking a leap to ensure we’re delivering the best storytelling and content we can.

First, you have to understand where we’re coming from.

The legacy way

For most magazines, including some massively successful ones, their digital presence is a limited one. Sometimes the magazine simply dumps their print content to the web with little differentiation. Sometimes this isn’t the best – sometimes I’ve read an entire month’s issue of GQ before my print version even comes in the mail.

Sometimes organizations have a hybrid version, where print content is shared alongside digital-first content. This is common at Complex, who has built a vibrant internet community, and Scientific American, who has arguably the most-read scientific blogging community on the web.

This hybrid is what Vox does – we have print exclusive content that gets some slight modification for web, and we have consistent blog content.

Few of these magazines mesh their digital and print storytelling, which reveals a secret: nobody really knows the best way for print magazines to provide web content.

The new Vox way

In our first few meetings of the semester, our Editorial Director Heather Lamb proposed a shift in priority. No longer are we a print version and a website and a blog – now we are one being, the Vox brand. Our focus shouldn’t be on producing content for the magazine or writing things only meant for blogs.

We should focus on a multiplatform approach. Instead of pitching specific items for specific platforms, we have a new question:

On what platform can you tell your story the best? 

Some of our most vibrant and visually stimulating graphic designs bring life to our print edition that can’t be translated to web.

And some of our digital content lives so well online it can’t be replicated on paper.

Now we’re asking our students to not consider the simple requirements of pitches for web and print. We’re asking them to consider the quality of their storytelling and how it can be done the best.

To support this shift, we’re restructuring our magazine. Before, there was a separation between the print, digital and design aspects of our magazine. This created dissonance and difficulties in cross-platform production.

To fix this, we’re putting increased emphasis on Departments – Music Arts and Books, The Scene, Food and Drink, and others.

Headed by Editors, each department will have Reporters, Digital Editors and associated designers and Convergence reporters. They will tackle stories as a department, with each member of the multi-platform team considering the best way stories can be told.

You can’t pitch something exclusively for print anymore – if the story can be told better on the web, that’s where the Department will focus.

This opens our Vox brand to tons of different opportunities: linked Web and print content, live digital support of a print topic, social media campaigns to support stories, and increased emphasis on video production.

We aren’t sure if it’s going to work, but we’re super excited about it. Stay tuned for more as the semester goes on.

Mobile Reporting at Roots ‘n’ Blues ‘n’ BBQ

This is a long time coming.

See this press release from Mizzou detailing how Vox Magazine Digital Editors and reporters used a whole handful of new digital reporting tools in our coverage of the Roots ‘n’ Blues ‘n’ BBQ Festival in Columbia. 

We kicked ass at the festival. Here’s some quick notes on our strategies for mobile first live coverage.

1. Show, don’t tell. We are visual creatures, and when you’re doing mobile journalism, it’s best enjoyed by other mobile users. Keeping both these in mind, focus your efforts on visual content.

Rosanne Cash performs “Modern Blue” alongside guitarist John Leventhal on the Missouri Lottery Stage. #RNBNBBQ

A video posted by Tess Marie♡ (@tmcatlett) on

2. When doing live coverage, show people what’s happening and where. Your audience is both people at the live thing and people watching from home. Give people context when you show them what’s happening, like describing what stage you’re near, or what cross streets you’re on.

3. Do a service for people. People are more satisfied with your work if you add value to their experience. Show them where the free water can be found, where the best bands are playing, or the best food deals.

4. Use your natural digital publishing instincts. We’re all digital publishers, whether we’re posting on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. You know what works best with your social network, or what your followers like the best from you. Stay true to those instincts and embrace the #foodstagram.

I couldn’t agree more. #rnbnbbq @voxmagazine

A photo posted by Ciera Velarde (@ciera93) on

5. Prepare your equipment. Take charging sticks, extra batteries, extra pens, water, business cards, anything you’ll need. The Boy Scouts have a great motto – be prepared.

6. Don’t just do mobile reporting. While you’re on scene, you’ll discover stories and sources. Take that nice DSLR with you and do extra reporting on top of your mobile coverage. This way you can pair in-depth coverage later with your live insight.

7. Be a human being. The worst thing I’ve seen is people who make “professional” social media accounts and post super boring things to a tiny audience. Embrace the fact you’re a real person and do this reporting from your personal account – just make sure that personal account is an accurate representation of who you are.

Graycie Gregory, the 3-year-old selfie queen, wanted to take my picture, too. #RNBNBBQ #kidsofRNBNBBQ #precious

A photo posted by Tess Marie♡ (@tmcatlett) on

8. Join already established discussions and communities. Our plan wasn’t to launch a new hashtag, but rather join the one already existing. As a result, our content and coverage was injected into an already shared and populated discussion, and in no time our work dominated the stream. Our brand and reporters were plastered on live billboards and shared all over the internet. Unless you have the brand power of somebody like Coca-Cola, you can’t start a hashtag and expect people to communicate on it.

9. Make it about the people. Connect with people you talk with. Social is the platform, so make sure we’re not leaving people we’re reporting on out of the discussion.

10. Have fun! Be creative. Mobile reporting isn’t a clearly defined art – make it your own and you’ll discover new ways to tell stories.

Featured Photo: Jeff Lautenberger, Flickr.

Vox Visits: David Wilson, founder of the True/False Film Festival

Vox Magazine’s staff hosted renowned filmmaker and Columbia native David Wilson, co-founder of the True/False Film Festival, for the weekly critique of the magazine.

Although Wilson isn’t a magazine journalist, he understands quality when he sees it, a side effect of his critical director’s eye.

He also understands the challenge the Vox staff faces as both students and editors. He talked a bit about his experience as a student in film school.

“When you leave film school, there’s a moment where you stop having excuses,” he says. “When you’re putting something out into the public, you don’t have excuses anymore.”

“You just have to let your work stand.”

Even though the Vox staff has other responsibilities as students (Lord knows I do) we compete with full-time journalists at large local magazines like Feast and Inside Columbia.

“That’s the kind of high bar that’s set for you all,” he says. “And generally, pretty impressively, Vox pulls it off.”

After the short pep talk, Wilson dove into some critical review of the issue, bringing new perspectives to certain stories. He focused heavily on the questions reporters asked through the stories, imploring reporters and editors to pose deeper, more insightful questions to the interview subjects.

“If I’m being interviewed, I’m totally down to answer some hard questions,” he said. Are your questions hardball enough?

“Really good interviews take me out of my comfort zone,” he said. Wilson is often interviewed about True/False, and sometimes the interviews fall below par.

“I can almost always predict 75 percent of the questions,” he said. “If I can do that, I don’t need to be thinking. If I’m not thinking, I’m not going to say anything profound.”

Posing harder questions will generate better stories, but with a city magazine that covers lots of local arts and culture, simply grilling interview subjects or writing more critical reviews won’t create good content.

“There’s an idea that art coverage promotes the things that are going on,” Wilson said. “One is rightfully hesitant to level harsh criticism to give a bad review of something, to call someone out on something.”

The intimate nature of local coverage gives these criticisms more weight.

“If it’s gonna be a negative review, [the author] better have a sense of what they’re saying,” he said. “I don’t need to see positive reviews, but I need to see smart reviews.”

He pulled an example of a film critique done for a class that, while negative, wasn’t intellectually driven. The critique was the only English-language review of the film online for five months.

This is an example of how local reporting, due to the relationships between reporters and local sources, is highly sensitive.

“I would welcome a careful criticism of my films, but it’s gotta be smart and you gotta be ready to stand behind it,” Wilson said.

Take these insights and apply them to your work going forward. Good luck!

Vox Visits: Justin and Amanda Heckert

This article is the first in a series of advice, guidance and inspiration from professionals in the journalism industry.

On October 10th, Vox met with Amanda Heckert, The Editor-in-Chief of Indianapolis Monthly, and Justin Heckert, a freelance writer published in GQ, New York Times Magazine, and others. Needless to say we were starstruck – the staff was far more well-behaved than usual.

I exaggerate.

The husband-and-wife power duo came to Vox and imparted their wisdom, both about how to help the magazine grow and how to survive in this industry. There’s a few lessons we learned:

1. There is no clear path to success, so don’t be afraid to forge your own. Amanda graduated with a degree in advertising before deciding to flip into the editorial side of magazines. “I wondered two things,” she said. “Am I really good enough to do this, or am I going to bomb spectacularly?”

She grabbed her first job for a magazine with a two-room apartment as an office – now she’s one of the youngest editors of a city magazine, and her magazine recently won an award for General Excellence. Her advice? Chase your dream while you’re young and don’t ever stop.

“Sometimes you just have to take a leap and see what happens,” she said. It most definitely paid off.

Justin started as an editor at Vox as his capstone at Mizzou, and took a postgraduate internship at ESPN Magazine. After bouncing around city magazines he launched himself into freelance reporting, building connections and networking himself into writing stories for The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, GQ and Indianapolis Monthly.

“I wanted to see if I could do this thing that I dreamed out, writing about things for big magazines,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m just going to try to write.”

Now he’s written a cover story for the New York Times Magazine and he has contacts at several major national magazines.

“Nothing that you do will ever prohibit you from getting where you want,” Justin said. “You can take weird paths and go your own ways.”

The common denominators of successful people? Dedication and a good work ethic. At her first job, Amanda helped clean the office, paid bills for the magazine and answered phones. Eventually she landed a temporary job at Atlanta Magazine when an editor left on maternity leave.

“I thought, “At the very least, this is going to be a chance to learn new skills,” she said. She spent that time exploring all different parts of the magazine and gathering as many skills as she could.

She ended up keeping the job, probably because she made an effort to understand and improve her workplace – and she communicated well with her bosses.

“I’m a really big believer in telling your editor or superior what your goals are,” she said. “If they’re any good, they’ll help you get there.”

Be groundbreaking – it’s the key to making an impression. Justin recalls making radical content while at Vox, from editing first-person essays written by drug users to crazy porn star coverage. Amanda challenges writers and editors to push into new territory.

“If we want to cover something, how can we push this farther? How can we help the reader make a connection they wouldn’t have otherwise? She said. “Be format-breaking.”

A high risk, high reward way of getting into magazines is freelancing. Justin started freelancing to get his foot in the door different magazines, a difficult way of life that’s easier when you’re young.

“When you’re just starting out – that’s the best time to freelance,” he said. It can be difficult to support a family or “adult” bills on the inconsistent salary. “But it’s a good way for a young person to get their foot in the door at places.”

Follow Amanda and Justin on Twitter.

Stuntin' @ Vox.
Stuntin’ @ Vox.

Behind-the-scenes at Vox Magazine

So I’m a first-semester graduate student in Convergence at the University of Missouri (Mizzou.) I’m also the Digital Managing Editor of Vox Magazine, which means some crazy person put me in charge of the magazine’s website. 

The website got a redesign back in the spring of 2014 to a WordPress custom platform, an iteration of the Genesis theme.

The theme itself is beautiful. The website (while not responsive) is easy to navigate, clean and coherent. It also presents content way better than Django, our former CMS. WordPress is arguably the best CMS out there for a variety of reasons. In most cases, young people have started their own angsty blogs on WordPress, so they’re familiar with the layout. It’s also free and comes with tons of customization options. Even the New York Times uses a WordPress CMS, and if it’s good enough for the Gray Lady, it’s good enough for me.

Like all websites, Vox has equal helpings of success and problems. On this blog I’ll be posting behind-the-scenes views into the efforts of our Digital Editorial Team, sharing strategy, content and solutions.

Expect Vox Magazine to become an even bigger force in Columbia’s digital news scene.