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Advice from the Winner’s Circle

June 26, 2013

Dog Ear Consultants

As alum mag geeks are already well aware, Harvard Medicine recently took home the coveted CASE Robert Sibley Magazine of the Year Award. (If there were an Oscars for alum mags, this is the show-ending Best Picture award, sans all the praise for mom and metaphysical beings.)

So what do they do right? We took a look at their most recent issue (Winter 2013) and found plenty worthy of recognizing—and maybe replicating. Here are a few.

BREATHING ROOM

harvardmed1

You can’t overvalue a good front-of-the-book. It’s where your short-term time-investment types go first. But it’s easy to think of the front news section as a repository for every non-feature idea you have—and to consider economy of space rather than the reader’s needs. But look at this spread. Three stories, two pages. That’s it. Clean design, lots of space to breathe, happy readers.

REPORTING

Why invest time in real reporting? Because it can provide ledes like this:

On a recent winter morning, twilight was moving to dawn as Doug Kelling ’72 made his way to the bedsides of his patients at the Carolinas Medical Center–Northeast in Concord, North Carolina. On this day, as on all weekdays, Kelling arrived at the hospital around 5:30 a.m. and would remain at the medical center until 10 p.m. During those hours, he would confer with his team of health care professionals; respond to inquiries from physicians, staff, and patients; monitor the operation of his clinic; tangle with the computer system; wade through paperwork, and, of course, do what Kelling, an internist and a pulmonologist, is trained to do—diagnose, assess, and treat his patients, those in the hospital and those in the clinic. He’d also shoehorn in time for lunch and, around 7 p.m., would head home for an hour for dinner with his wife, before returning to the hospital. Weekends he works only seven hours each day.

So, just to recap, the writer spent at least the full day observing Kelling. And not just for the sake of the lede, but to give the reader a look at the role of the modern primary care physician—and how it is changing. You can’t get all that from your desk.

COVER IDEAS

photo-3Oh, that’s good. And it’s not an aberration. The book consistently has great covers. Certainly passes the “will it make me stop as I shuffle through the mail” test.

These kinds of theme issues make cover concepts challenging. I doubt this was the first and only idea they had. Good design, good magazines—they take some time and thought. Consider that next time you want to just slap a smiling photo on the cover.

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