When you work at a magazine every day, it’s easy to forget that readers are curious about the process: how we choose story ideas, what’s involved in putting together a piece, how it goes from our minds to the printed page.
Sometimes a story idea bubbles up through several channels at once, such as letters to the editor, social media and the buzz that’s always created when mainstream media jumps on a disability-related story. That’s what happened with our Push Girls cover package. As Facebook lit up with preview videos and links to Hollywood PR, we started getting direct mail from readers who were genuinely excited about this new reality show.
As it happens, we were down a man at the time. Editor Tim Gilmer was laid up with a severe case of cellulitis. To add to the pressure, our original cover story plan had just fallen through. Though we knew it would be tough to pull off, we decided the universe was telling us to pursue the Push Girls story, even though we hadn’t yet seen an episode of the show. What if it bombed? we worried. “It’s still important, even if it sucks,” I said to managing editor Josie Byzek. “But let’s really hope it doesn’t suck,” she said. Agreed.
So Josie contacted the Sundance Channel and requested interviews with all of the girls. She spent hours talking with them and days poring over their words. The release of the first episode kept getting delayed, so we still didn’t know if the show was worthy. “Too bad, the deadline is coming, so we have to set up a photo shoot,” I said. I called our man in L.A., Christopher Voelker, to see if we could pull it off. “Absolutely,” he assured me. “I know all the girls, and I can get them in here next week.”
“We will be in production next week,” I said anxiously. “What if we don’t get what we need?”
“We’ll get it,” he said. And he should know. He’s shot more than 20 NM covers, including one of himself for a story we did on his success as a quad photographer in the entertainment industry.
We put our trust in Chris, and he shot until 4 a.m. one night with all the girls and their makeup/hair artists. They did several costume changes. They brought such energy to the shoot, you’d never know they were totally sleep deprived.
While Chris was bringing home the studio photos, Josie was chasing down stills from the set and sifting through pages of interviews, trying to find the heart of the story. Finally, she saw it: The girls were friends first, and the show developed naturally out of that bond — instead of the forced relationships found in so many reality shows. She started pounding out the article and individual mini-profiles.
Only one problem. We still didn’t have an example of the actual show. Now it would really suck if the show bombed. We had invested weeks of time, a lot of money and a great deal of faith that the piece would be worth printing.
Finally, while I was designing the layout for the piece, Josie got the first episode from the Sundance Channel. We held our breath and … hurray! The show was good — very good. She worked some of what she saw into her article, and we moved some ads to another part of the magazine to give the story more space.
We tweaked it here, there, everywhere. It had to have polish and style to match those glamorous girls. In the end, we looked at it with bleary eyes, but we knew it was good — very good.
Tim came back to work in time to proof it and give us kudos, but we really knew we’d caught the wave at the right time when the letters to the editor starting pouring in. By the time readers got the issue, a few episodes had aired. They loved the show — and our coverage of it. Phew.
And then … our next cover story fell through … welcome back, Tim.
New Mobility Magazine