How do you Make a Magazine?

After a hiatus of three years, ASIJ’s community magazine is at the printer. Emily Colosimo, communications intern, tells the story of the relaunch and the thinking behind the new look of The Ambassador, which ships this May.

The Ambassador was first published in 1994 and was intended to be an upgrade of The Shimbun, a newspaper format publication mailed to alumni. “Since its inception, The Ambassador aimed to engage both our alumni and the current school community. Our aim with the relaunch was to continue to provide readers with longform original features that had broad appeal and to celebrate our alumni around the world, while adding some new ingredients to the mix,” said Matt Wilce, director of communications. Matt is the longest serving editor of The Ambassador, having published 22 of its 36 issues. Prior to ASIJ, he was the editor of three other magazines and has worked for publications as diverse as People, Ikebana International, POL Oxygen and Fodors.

The first element of the magazine that the team worked on was how the magazine would fit in with the rest of ASIJ’s visual brand. “We wanted to give The Ambassador it’s own identity—something that would stand out from the rest of the ASIJ collateral but also have visual cohesiveness,” said Simon Wise, who worked for design companies in Australia and Japan before coming to ASIJ. Once that overarching concept had been agreed on, the team moved on to developing a range of cover concepts that were gradually whittled down to a final choice. “My aim with the cover was to create a design that was contemporary but with a timeless quality. In choosing a serif font for the masthead I wanted to allude to the school’s long history and set the new design apart from the previous Ambassadors which relied heavily on sans serif fonts.”

Once a cover concept was agreed upon, the next stage was deciding who would go on the cover. Matt explains, “We had a very unusual situation with the relaunch as there were a number of people who could be the cover story. Joan Fontaine ‘35 was slated to be the cover of the last issue, which ultimately didn’t go to print, so we already had sourced an image for her. With two much-loved teachers who had recently passed away and a third retiring after a 40-year career at ASIJ, we faced a dilemma about who to feature.” Out of the potential problem came a creative solution. “We decided for the relaunch issue to do a fold-out cover with four panels which would allow us to honor all four of our iconic ASIJers.”

Jarrad selects photos for the cover story.

With images already sourced for three of the covers, the next step was creating a cover photo. Jarrad Jinks, communications and alumni officer, who interviewed our cover star and wrote the article, would also be the one to shoot his subject. “Simon and Matt had a clear idea of what they wanted for the cover and we all agreed we needed a dramatic photo that would grab people’s attention. We had great, fun archival shots  for the feature itself, but we wanted to take this opportunity to capture a more contemplative and poignant picture,” explains Jarrad, who studied photography at the University of Wisconsin. After conducting some test shots on location, a photoshoot with the cover model was set. “We opted to use a strobist flash as a key-light, creating a chiaroscuro effect that would emphasize the black and gold of the background. An additional flash was set up for backlight.”

Simon speaks with the printers.

An initial stage of the production was to decide on paper stock for the covers and interior pages after reviewing samples from the printer. With choices made and the page count established, the printer gave an initial quote for the project. The next step was to create a rough layout, mapping out the sections of the magazine and estimating the amount of content each would have. The first part of the magazine focuses on feature stories that treat their topics in-depth.Matt explains, “My view is that a magazine is meant to be read and so I wanted our features to be longform and to have a wide appeal. Often school magazines are very choppy and don’t contain many extended feature stories. I hope the stories we chose are interesting to a reader regardless of whether they know the subject or ASIJ.”

Matt, Simon and Jarrad discuss layout decisions.

The central section of the magazine is dedicated to advancement and we wanted it to have a distinct look and feel from the rest of the magazine. Our challenge here was how to present donor lists and fundraising information in an engaging format. Simon explains, “We used our school colors, black and gold, to play on the idea of school spirit in supporting ASIJ through giving. I used strong geometric shapes and bold numbers to balance the lists. We also included testimonials from donors with their pictures to incorporate a human element to the section.” Matt said, “As this section ends with an insert, we needed to ensure that it ended on a specific page as the insert can only be bound-in at the end of a signature.”  A signature is a group of 16 pages that are printed together and then trimmed and bound. An 80-page magazine, such as The Ambassador, is made of five signatures.

Peter Grilli ’59 is interviewed by Matt for The Ambassador.

The final section of the magazine is devoted to alumni-specific content. “With an active network of alums, we can count on having several past and future reunions to feature each issue and so we wanted to create a flexible format for these that could adjust to the number and size of the events featured” Jarrad said. A new column created for the relaunch draws on ASIJ’s extensive archive that contains material all the way back to our founding in 1902. The alumni section closes with obituaries, including a feature-length piece on Ki Nimori.

Production of the magazine comes to a close once the proofing is complete and the files go to the printer. The Ambassador is printed in Portland Oregon by Journal Graphics, who have produced every issue of the magazine. “Once they receive our data their technicians run pre-flight checks on the files and flag any potential issues for us,” Matt said. Once everything is signed off on, the magazine goes to print on a web press—the type of printing press that you may have seen being used to print newspapers. Each signature is done as a separate print run, with the entire job taking many hours over the course of a day. If the roll of paper breaks or a print head clogs, there can be serious delays. Other elements such as the cover, envelope and insert are printed separately on sheet-fed printers—sometimes in another location across town. All the elements come together in the bindery to be perfect bound and then processed for shipping.

Look out for your copy of The Ambassador which will hit mailboxes this May.