Saturday, September 15, 2012

Back to rock your world

Revitalising a visually exciting and emotive magazine like Discovery Channel Magazine (DCM) is no walk in the park, as SHANTINI SUNTHARAJAH  learns from its editor, LUKE CLARK

LUKE CLARK wants you to laugh, gasp and ultimately stretch your perspective—and he’s determined to help you do that.

Clark is the editor of the refreshed and updated Discovery Channel Magazine (DCM), which aims to entertain, inform and also create as many memorable moments as possible for anyone who takes the time to read it. “We are looking for as many jaw-dropping moments as we can squeeze in. We deliver fun and a wild ride. Since it’s Discovery Channel, that’s exactly what it should be!”

Clark’s excitement and enthusiasm for the prestigious title he leads is so contagious that it’s hard to resist running out to get a copy after hearing him talk about it. “I came onboard for the relaunch in July 2011 and helped our CEO and publisher Rosemarie Wallace put together the editorial, creative team and game plan for the magazine. It’s been one of the most involving and exciting projects I’ve ever been part of. I love it!”

Clark, who has been working in Asia for more than 15 years, is no stranger to the delicate balance of maintaining reader satisfaction and pushing past the ‘comfort zone’ of tried and tested article and layout formulas in magazines. He has been editor for Ink Singapore and news editor for regional title TravelWeekly, which is produced by Reed Business Information Asia. He has also written for the celebrated Forbes Asia, World Economic Forum, Condé Nast Traveler and Discovery Networks.

While the initial goal was to ‘tweak’ DCM to inject additional energy, movement and drama, Clark says this early objective soon gave way to a more revolutionary transformation. “It’s interesting. Initially, we talked about a ‘facelift’. I think ultimately, if DCM were a car, we’d have delivered an overhaul!”

Relaunching a magazine is an intricate and challenging process at best and that’s why Clark says he is relieved to be working with some of the best professional editorial and creative people in the world.

The DCM team includes the respected Richard MacLean who took on the role of Design Director and whose experience in the UK includes Bauer Media’s Grazia, MTV, BBC and the Arts Council England. There is also photo editor Haryati Mahmood who worked on a number of regional titles and illustrator Mark McCormick who is a regular infographic artist for the Guardian and Observer. McCormick regularly contributes to DCM, giving it his defining look and feel.

Grammar, writing, language and the rest of the essential editorial details that make up a great read is defined and enforced by highly proficient chief subeditor Josephine Pang. Pang, who worked on DCM previously, seamlessly became part of the new team. “She is the rock to our roll,” says Clark in his inimitable fashion.

Clark explains that the expert group assembled in the DCM offices in Singapore to begin the complex task of affecting change without sacrificing the spirit of the much-loved magazine. “Having studied the brief and the channel, we agreed that the key to delivering what we wanted would initially be visual—we had to somehow capture and convey the movement and energy of the Discovery Channel brand in a magazine format,” he recalls.

A brief like that would have had lesser editorial teams quivering in their shoes. However, Clark and his specialists were more than happy to take on the challenge and it appears that they didn’t disappoint. The new DCM delivers impact and energy with just the right dash of attitude and has been gaining fans since its relaunch in November 2011.

Clark reveals that one of the most popular issues so far was the March 2012 issue which featured an eye-popping, lime-green fluorescent cover with a snake about to jump out at the reader. “That got people’s attention! That was really an issue where the initial promise of the magazine’s new look, sections and features came together perfectly,” he explains. “We featured pirates, tattoo art, wild drives and animal hunters—and carried a range of imagery, and a style, that has really set a benchmark ever since.”

Although DCM tends to attract people in their early thirties, Clark explains that it also grabs the attention of students, parents and young professionals. “We do have a lot of people who tell us they read it, their wife or husband grabs it next—then their teenagers end up with it for their homework. We love that ecosystem!”

So how does DCM come up with their intelligent, captivating story ideas? “Storytelling is something that we work really hard at. Ideas come from a lot of different sources,” explains Clark before adding that there is a shortage of ideas as the magazine covers the entire planet with a special focus on science, technology, travel, adventure and exploration. “Storywise, it’s a case of always being on alert for interesting stories—spotting an angle from a writer, a small item on the news, or a photo from an air show that jumps out at you. Then using that to tell the story in our way.”

When it comes to standing out from the crowd, Clark is confident that none come close to his magazine’s strong visual personality. “We make no apologies for the fact that our photographs and graphics have a lot of prominence and impact. People no longer respond to screeds of dry text or poor imagery. These make reading feel too much like work! We’re dedicated to inspire learning in an exciting and emotive way,” he says. “Which is the nicest way to learn anything.”

Although many experts in the publishing industry are currently predicting the imminent death of print magazines across the globe, Clark remains unperturbed about the future of DCM. “There is still something very enjoyable about the experience of a print magazine, and we are seeing a strong uptake for DCM because of its great visual appeal as well as the strong articles.”

Clark’s confidence also springs from the fact that his incredibly talented editorial and visual team is not made up of people who are happy to rest on their laurels. “We will keep finding newer, fresher and more impactful ways to tell incredible stories. More voices, more tricks, but the same vision and focus.”

DCM is also represented online but Clark says the true essences of the magazine will always remain rooted in the real world. “There will be nothing that replaces the magazine. The arsenal will certainly expand with time but Discovery Channel Magazine, as a print product, is here to stay ... and whatever we do will only enhance, not replace that.”

Luke Clark’s tips on a well-written DCM story
“In my role, good writing has to hook you in from the first two paragraphs. If you don’t capture the reader by then, chances are you never will. So you need to write visually and viscerally, with the ability to transport the reader into the scene.

“For instance: ‘It is dusk, and a Bushman crouches silently in the tall spring grass of the Kalahari Plains, his prey mere metres away in a clearing. For several seconds, he barely breathes.’ Once you pique the reader’s interest, it is then a matter of moving smoothly through your storytelling, shifting the camera lens back and forth in terms of your perspective—to take in both the personal story and the big picture—before you ‘round out’ the imagery that you created at the beginning.

“I’ve deliberately described it quite visually, because we are working with an emotive, cinematic brand. So we want to create a story that you can see and feel—and which leaves an impression on you—regardless of the fact it’s delivered to you in print.”

Reproduced from the July-September 2012 issue of Quill magazine


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really good background to the birth of a magazine. I'm a big fan the magazine and though a believer in print, as the editor discusses, i'm also addicted to tablet publications and to the possibilities of digital publishing generally and how this effects the editors role. I would be interested in reading about that transition process if it is going to happen. Design also plays a big role in the crossover, the print version just gets better and better and has such a strong bold identity, when so many magazines have the same visual voice its refreshing to see such confidence. Look forward to more posts on print meets digital, not versus! Reese

Friday, September 21, 2012 6:13:00 AM  

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