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The Science of Editing
Waukesha’s Kalmbach Publishing unveils new leadership at its biggest title: Discover.



Two years ago, Waukesha-based Kalmbach Publishing announced a major gamble. It was buying popular science magazine Discover, a major addition to the Kalmbach portfolio. The glossy was joining the ranks of hobby-related titles such as Classic Toy Trains and Bead and Button. Its staff, however, would remain in New York City, nerve center of the English-speaking publishing world.

 

But late this summer, Kalmbach announced another gamble – a plan to move Discover’s office to the quieter environs of Waukesha County. This gamble, as it played out, didn’t appear as successful. Editorial staffers declined to relocate, necessitating a hiring boom that culminated this week with a (mostly) new masthead.

 

Kalmbach is keeping some ties with the old staff. Outgoing editor-in-chief Corey L. Powell will stay on the masthead as an editor-at-large and columnist. His forthcoming “Out There” astronomy blog will fill a gap left by last month's move of Phil Plait’s popular “Bad Astronomy” blog to Slate.com.

 

Additionally, Pamela Weintraub, a five-year veteran of Discover, will stay on as executive editor in what the company describes as a consulting role.

 

Everyone else on the newly-remade staff comes either from within Kalmbach’s existing roster or from outside the company, and many are already Midwesterners.

 

Succeeding Powell as editor-in-chief is Stephen C. George, an alum of the Readers Digest America office in Greendale, where he was executive editor of RDA’s book and special publications.

 

Don’t look for a wholesale revamp of the magazine, though, says Kevin Keefe, the magazine’s publisher and Kalmbach’s vice president for editorial.

 

After the 2010 acquisition, Kalmbach cut Discover’s circulation rate base to 550,000 from the previous 725,000. The magazine business continues to face very challenging times; Keefe notes that many other magazines have also had to pull in their circulation. But Kalmbach has high hopes. “We’re very bullish on the title,” he says.

 

Editorial strategy and content will remain the same, with freelance science writers contributing about 60 percent of the long-form feature content. Gradual shifts in content will continue.

 

“Ten years ago the conventional wisdom was, one of the things that would sell this magazine no matter what were dinosaurs and mummies,” says Keefe. “They’re still a part of what we do, but less important than 10 years ago.”

 

Rising, he says, has been coverage of human biology and medicine and increased coverage of science and the environment. Those join “classic elements of our content” – physics, space science and astronomy, and technology.

 

Extended narrative journalism remains “the heart and soul of the magazine,” and Discover is banking on that going forward.

 

At the same time, while Kalmbach is already known for its skill at capitalizing on digital media and resources, Keefe says Discover’s website will allow the magazine to ask and answer “What does it mean to be a digital publisher and what kind of products are people looking for?”

 

One way, he suggests, may be looking at how to deliver the magazine’s 30-year archive to readers. Another will be to continue nurturing the magazine’s stable of science bloggers.

 

“The blog doesn’t always work for all magazines. It works for our magazine because it draws a lot of traffic” – traffic that might be interested in other digital content Kalmbach could offer.

 

Keefe also sees opportunities for Kalmbach to use its experience producing events tied to its magazines – like the Bead and Button Show in Milwaukee each year – to strengthen Discover’s already established event-marketing niche.


In moving the magazine from New York to Waukesha, Kalmbach hopes to benefit from a lower overall cost structure here as well as the savings available by the magazine’s offices in the same building  as the rest of its properties.

 

 “We’re very efficient, and we wanted to be able to bring some of that efficiency to Discover,” says Keefe.

 

The move might be seen as risky: New York is, after all, home to important scientific institutions, both technology- and science-based businesses as well as major academic centers and institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History.

 

But Keefe insists the downside risk is small to non-existent. The biggest challenge, he acknowledges, may be The Big Apple’s other role. “If you’re not in the major media center, in New York, you don’t have quick access to other media” – cable TV programs, for instance. And this is where Corey Powell can be helpful. “When we get those calls, we still have someone in New York,” Keefe says.

But when it comes to finding actual stories, “most of the business of this magazine comes from, literally, anywhere in the world,” he says. As a science center, places like Silicon Valley or North Carolina’s Research Triangle might be at least as important as New York. “We did not feel that, in a scientific context, Milwaukee was ipso facto a disadvantage,” he says. “Even the New York people who came out here and looked the city over were very impressed with Milwaukee.”

More to the point, though, is that with a network of contributors and sources spanning the globe, “I don’t think that it matters any more” where the magazine itself is located, Keefe adds. “We’re certainly out to show that it doesn’t matter.”

 

When it came to recruiting new staff, “We were able to find them in Wisconsin or attract them to Wisconsin,” Keefe continues. “Most of them were either here or not very far away. It’s a testimonial to the kind of talent there is in Wisconsin – more than we give credit for.”

 

The Rest of the Roster: Tasha Eichenseher, a former environment editor and producer at National Geographic Digital Media, and Siri Carpenter, a Madison-based, nationally published science writer and founder of The Open Notebook, a nonprofit online resource for science journalists, join as senior editors. Associate editor-online Lisa Raffensberger comes from the National Science Foundation and will run Discover’s website. Gemma Tarlach, former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pop music critic turned international chef and travel and food writer, joins as associate editor.

 

From Kalmbach, Trains magazine managing editor Kathi Kube takes on the same title at Discover; BirdWatching photo editor Ernie Mastroianni – a former JS picture editor and photographer – becomes the science magazine’s photo editor; Bill Andrews takes the title of associate editor, moving over from Kalmbach’s Astronomy magazine; and Allison Mackey becomes Discover’s senior graphic designer after working in design for Astronomy.

 

A staff writer, Breanna Draxler, and a copy editor, David Lee, round out the list, and both are outside hires; joining them is Elisa Neckar, an editorial assistant who is a former staff editor at Kalmbach’s book division.

 

Happy Holidays: We hope Santa – or any other seasonal gift-giver visiting your home – brings you your favorite new book, magazine, newspaper, iPad app or e-reader. We also wish for editors and journalists everywhere the intestinal fortitude, ethics, and backup to do good work, and the business model to pay for it. Pressroom Buzz will take next week off but be back in the New Year.

 

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1 Comments
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Jay_Warner Posted: 12/21/2012 11:31:09 PM
 0   31    

Please pass on to the new editor in chief that archeology is also very popular, Esp. Human archeology. At least to this subscriber -- I read each of these articles.
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