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2009: The Year of the Hamburger at City and Regional Magazine Conference

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2009: The Year of the Hamburger at City and Regional Magazine Conference

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Please forgive any errors in the following as I’m sitting in an airport in Florida and trying to post this before I have to board. I just spent the past four days in Providence, Rhode Island, at the City and Regional Magazine Association’s annual conference.

According to Dan Brogan, president of the CRMA, 2009 was the year of the hamburger (he said just a few years ago that it was all about steak). People were cutting back last year, and this was reflected in the articles magazines printed. But I felt like the consensus of the 2010 CRMA conference was that of guarded optimism. I talked to an employee of B-Metro, a magazine that was created last year by a five-member staff who felt Birmingham magazine wasn’t providing its readers the right content. I asked her if last year was really a great time to launch. She smirked and asked, “When is it a great time to launch?”

Although many mentioned not having layoffs recently, they all did admit that if someone leaves, generally they haven’t replaced the position.

And though the economy was a topic of great interest, the thing that stole the show this year was Next Issue Media’s Robyn Peterson’s presentation. Five media giants gathered and said, “We’ve got to do something about this whole future of journalism/technology thing.” Thus NIM was born. With two board members each from Time Inc., Hearst Corporation, Condé Nast, Meredith, and News Corporation, NIM is diving headfirst into creating magazines for tablets.

Time, which has already launched its first edition on the iPad, was a great example to look at. But the more inspiring project was Wired‘s first edition. Wired wants 75 to 85 of its pages to have interactive elements. Peterson, who was really vague on some things and mentioned about 100 times that he couldn’t “release that information,” said in order to create Wired’s iPad edition, there was a 30 to 50 percent increase in production. The issue is half a gig.

Time’s iPad edition is a bit more doable for regular magazines as it only required three to six more production people and took about 12 hours to do. But Time doesn’t create both a portrait and landscape layout. Portrait is mainly a photo with text flowed in whereas landscape is a complete redesign of the page from the magazine.

Some people in the audience were excited about this potential. Others were beyond skeptical. (One participant asked Peterson if his company really thought tablets were the future. His example was Wii Fit and how everyone was so excited about it when it came out and now what? Peterson said he just used Wii Fit. It didn’t appear as if he’d considered the possibility that tablets wouldn’t be the future.) Some were skeptical about the practicality for smaller magazines. Others didn’t think people would be interested. At the end of about three hours of presentations on this topic, the lady next to me leaned over to her friend and asked, “What does he mean by a link?”

But as I was sitting at the airport this morning, I noticed the man next to me had an iPad. He’s an author, and he’s 63 years old. He says he’s canceled his subscription to the Times and to his local paper and now reads them all online. He has countless books on his iPad. He thinks – and I think – this tablet thing is here to stay.

But the conference wasn’t all about the iPad. We were given the opportunity to hear Chris Jones talk about a couple articles he’s written for Esquire (one on Rogert Ebert and one that follows a soldier’s body home). It was a fantastic Q&A session where we learned that while writing, Jones likes to listen to music. While writing “The Things That Carried Him,” Jones listened to one particular song 256 times. The article was supposed to be 6,000 words but was turned in at 22,000. Jones also wasn’t afraid to admit he’s willing to cry with a source.

We also listened to New York magazine restaurant critic Adam Platt and Los Angeles magazine restaurant critic Patrick Kuh. The two discussed how, when they were new in their careers, they would furiously take notes at the restaurant. Kuh said he bought a black notebook and would take it with him. His wife was always his dining companion. They would sit at the table and he would pretend to be interviewing his wife, when in reality, he was ignoring every word she said so he could write down his thoughts on the food. Platt also takes his wife along. But instead of using a notebook to keep track of his thoughts, he uses his iPhone. When he decided to switch to the iPhone, his wife told him, “Well, you can either look like a critic or look like an asshole.” He chose the latter.

A couple predictions for this year are: 2010 will be the year of the tablet, and video and voice will be all the rage at next year’s conference.

The big winner at last night’s awards ceremony was Texas Monthly with eight awards. Los Angeles magazine and Chicago both did well with four wins each. One of the highlights of the night was when little guys Hudson Valley Magazine beat out Los Angeles, Texas Monthly, and the Washingtonian to win the Civic Journalism category.

I saw Brian Sweany from Texas Monthly lugging his eight winning plaques and 19 finalists plaques up to his room. I asked if he needed help. He said no. I think he heard me talking about stealing some plaques.

I would go on, but a man keeps coming over the intercom at the airport to say, “If you lost your shorts, please come to the info desk,” and it’s distracting me.