Tag Archives: visits

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.