This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity
Katherine Peach 00:04
Welcome to our podcast: BackMatter Rabbit Holes. This podcast is about the making of the publication BackMatter. It’s an annual issue made and released by graduate students of The New School here in New York City. My name is Katherine, I’m an associate editor for the magazine and one of the co-producers/co-hosts of the podcast. And who are you?
Tobias Lentz 00:40
I’m Tobias. And I’m also a co-producer of the podcast. And this is our second episode.
Katherine Peach 00:47
So far, so good. Today, we’re talking with all six departments of the BackMatter publication to give a full picture of what it takes to create a print magazine, website, and podcast, as well as social media and promotions all around.
Tobias Lentz 01:07
And a big release party as well. All those things that are part of creating a magazine.
Katherine Peach 01:14
And our podcast theme, our inspiration for it, is six impossible things, which is taken from the Lewis Carroll book, Alice in Wonderland, to play off the rabbit hole theme. And the quote is: “Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Tobias Lentz 01:31
Right? Do you think it’s impossible to create a magazine?
Katherine Peach 01:35
At this point? It’s looking like it might be. But I think we’re doing pretty good.
Tobias Lentz 01:40
I think so too.
Katherine Peach 01:44
We end up speaking, this week, with the directors of each department about their roles and their challenges, what it was like to work together, and how so many of these roles have to not only collaborate, but —
Tobias Lentz 01:57
—speak to each other.
Katherine Peach 01:59
So I started with Alla Anatsko. She’s the creative director of the design department.
Tobias Lentz 02:09
And I went to talk to Andrew Scott, who is the digital editor, and also the creator of the website, which we actually just saw for the first time today—it’s very, very cool. Then we’re also going to hear from Erica Marrison, who is an executive editor. She’s also the co-creator of the Social Life Of Ideas section with Vanessa Genao, another executive editor.
Katherine Peach 02:36
That’s specific to BackMatter, and we’ll let them explain it, but she’s essentially carrying two roles.
Tobias Lentz 02:46
She’s two-in-one. Go Erica!
Katherine Peach 02:51
We also talked to Ashley Fligg; she’s the communications director and she collaborates with everyone for promotions through social media, as well as the launch party. She’s all over the place.
Tobias Lentz 03:03
And then we’re going to speak to each other to discuss how we do this impossible thing of creating this podcast. Altogether, that’s the whole magazine. I mean, there are also people working under the directors, but for now, we’ll hear from the directors.
Katherine Peach 03:20
We have a full team but we just spoke with these six different departments to give a little taste of what it is actually like day-to-day to make this come together.
I’m Alla Anatsko, I’m the creative director for BackMatter magazine. My role may sound like a weird thing for people because I’m not a graphic designer, but at the same time, I think I have a good eye. My goal is presenting the direction to the group of designers more than telling them how to design things—we have Hanna Reichler for that, who is our amazing art director. She knows all the good fonts and she has an amazing sense of color.
Katherine Peach 04:13
How do you take such an interesting, big concept and put that into the creative direction?
I ask: How can we present this idea to be readable and accessible? For example, we have a lot of symbols and there are a lot of symbols we understand. At the same time, if you want to use the black hole concept, does this symbol have to be round and black? It doesn’t. So we started to think about what symbols people will understand, but at the same time, we don’t want readers to feel like they’ve seen them in every single magazine before. So that was an idea of trying to interpret graphically what we feel when we read each essay. And our designer, Ye, had an amazing idea of drawing linear downward spirals. Also, she had an idea for the QAnon article, written by Kaitlyn Stork, using the letter Q, which is oval, and making it overlap with text. So our idea was to integrate some visual elements that either resemble a rabbit hole or make us feel like we’re going deeper, like we were in the downward spiral of things. But at the same time, they won’t be straightforward.
So how it all started. We had time while waiting as our editors were finalizing their selection and started editing text, which was more than a half of this semester because there were a lot of long form essays and things they had to read. While they were doing that, we decided to see how our sensibilities and our sense of aesthetics aligned. We made pretty vast mood boards and tried to find certain ideas that connect each of us.So we started challenging and testing our sensibilities. We found out that we could work as a team perfectly because we have pretty similar sensibilities. It’s actually funny because Andrew, our web director, has completely different sensibilities, which I actually love. It’s funny looking at the moodboard of four women trying to combine their sensibilities, and Andrew is just using super bold colors, weird ideas, super digital-esque things that could not be used in print in the same way. So I kind of loved it. And it will be a very interesting experiment to see how the print production and web production will meet at the end of the semester. I just want to have this experimental streak and see how it’s going to be, so we will see.
It’s like, you gather talented people and just let them do their things. Hanna, our Art Director, was in charge of making the layout of the upcoming magazine. She presented the colors we were going to use, the fonts we were going to use, and all the small ideas that connect to the grid and layout. All the headlines and folios. All that stuff designers have to know. Her role was in cementing the vision. My role is the direction. I’m the person who reminds everyone: this is the main direction of the magazine, and this is what editors want. Editors want everything to be accessible, but at the same time, accessibility doesn’t mean it has to be primitive. So when we do design, we can do whatever we want, unless it’s unreadable.
I also encouraged everyone at the very beginning to find the most radical ideas they have. Because it’s not a commercial enterprise, right? We’re all students. So when you start thinking, “Oh, this magazine should look like all the other magazines,” I don’t think it’s working. I think only when you start from the most radical ideas—the ideas of unreadability and inaccessibility, the ideas of weirdness, and even certain ugliness—then you apply these ideas to something readable and pretty. I think that is where interesting design happens.
I’m Andrew Scott. I’m the digital editor for BackMatter. Basically, I’m designing how the magazine will look on the web.
Tobias Lentz 09:53
Can you tell me about some of the challenges in that? And what are your daily tasks? What do you do?
Challenges? I mean, CSS coding, even though the program I’m using doesn’t require coding. CSS in and of itself is very finicky. Even with the help of a site builder, things often conflict with each other. You have to figure out why you’ve set something to behave a certain way, and it’s not behaving in the way that you want it to, either because something else is conflicting with it, or you haven’t quite set a parameter to be a certain way. It very much feels like wrestling with technology at times, just trying to get everything the way you want it to be. It’s not quite as simple as just drawing something or creating a collage in the physical realm with paper. You have to train this computer to produce your vision.
Tobias Lentz 11:21
How do you communicate with the different departments so that everyone gets the product they want?
That’s actually interesting because in the last issue we noticed that the print magazine and the digital magazine were vastly different. This time, we really want to create more cohesion between the two formats. Being that I’m pretty much doing this myself, I’m looking to the rest of the design team to see what they want the print magazine to look like, and then I’m going to do my best to recreate that. I also want to do it in a way where I can do things that can’t be done in print. And in a way that makes sense for viewing it on the web.
Tobias Lentz 12:23
How is it going to be different from print?
We’re still working on it. Obviously, it’s not going to be set up like a book, it’s going to look like a website. I could set it up to be exactly mimicking a magazine where you have a cover page, and then you just click “Next” to go through all the pages, to go to each article, and so on. But I feel like that’s kind of boring. And it doesn’t make the most use of the web as a medium. I’m setting it up more like a grid.
Tobias Lentz 13:18
Where are you at at the moment? Are you stressed out?
It’s starting to get a little stressful because I’m waiting to hear back from the rest of the design team about what their cover is going to look like, and all these things that we want to incorporate into the web, and I don’t want to go off on my own too much. Although it would be very easy for me to just get it done on my own before they’re done. In that regard, I don’t want to leave too much work for myself to do later on. Another thing is, we want to have animations on the page because that’s something that you can’t do in print. I really want to have things move. I’ve never done that before, so I’m kind of having to teach myself how to make that work. Especially because we want something that looks original; making the animations from scratch is going to be interesting.
I’m Erica. I’m working on the editorial team as an Executive Editor. I’m lead editing three of the essays in the magazine, and then I’m also working on the Social Life Of Ideas section with Vanessa, which is largely focused on the history of podcasting and is tracing podcasts as a way that ideas are moving through the world in a new way—not in print. The essays were written largely last semester by students in the program. They were submitted to us as they already stood, which was as long form essays. From there, we’ve condensed them, for the most part all of them had to be cut down in length to fit in the magazine. So I’m responsible for shaping them, making the ideas clear, and making sure that they fit within the overall theme of the magazine. The essays have largely been following rabbit hole ideas. They’re narratives wherein someone has found a personal interest and then realized that it’s actually a broader political issue. The three essays I’m working on all definitely fit that archetype.
Tobias Lentz 15:53
Can you just give me a few words on the Social Life Of Ideas? How does that separate from the magazine? Because I don’t really understand anything.
I suppose the essays are pretty serious. They’re relatively long. Radhika’s is about queer spaces, so it’s still fun—she’s talking about going to concerts and things—but they’re all long and they’re analytical. Whereas the Social Life Of Ideas (SLOI) section is going to exist in the middle of the magazine. Honestly, when our professor, Jon Baskin, presented the idea, he kept saying “Social Life Of Ideas” and I was like, “What is this?” It’s really just a way to follow how ideas move through the world and this year he wanted us to focus on podcasts. We’ve asked that the design team make SLOI a more playful section, that they take a little bit more liberty than they can with the essays, because those have to be more legible. For SLOI, we’re doing podcast horoscopes, which is a section featuring what podcast you should listen to based on your astrology, which is obviously a fun thing to have in a magazine, kind of gesturing to early 2000s teen magazines. But it’s also a way to present some of the most popular podcasts right now. And then we’re doing a timeline, which traces the history of radio and oral storytelling up until now when podcasts are making millions of dollars and winning awards, which is something that just wasn’t happening before.
Tobias Lentz 19:50
I don’t know if you’re a part of this, but how do you talk to the design team or any other team? What is the connection between the sections?
That's a good question because we’ve been noticing that it’s an exercise in relinquishing control. We ultimately have a say in how it’s designed, but I don’t want to overstep my boundaries. I want them to have creative freedom because that’s their job, not mine. We’ve been in touch with Alla and Hanna specifically about the SLOI content, and saying “Here are some linked images you can use,” for example, but I ultimately want them to feel like they can choose how to present each essay. I suppose our connection with design has been relatively minimal.
Tobias Lentz 20:56
It seems like they are reliant on you guys, more than you guys are relying on them.
Yeah, which I didn’t think about before. I will say, when I started the program I was hoping to do the Design Studies minor and then I was like, “I don’t know, InDesign is too much work.” But now I find that I wish I could have a hand in the design part because it feels like it’s an extension of the essay.
Tobias Lentz 17:42
What are the biggest challenges that you’ve faced so far in your job as an editor?
I’ve never done large edits before. I’ve done copy editing and rephrasing things. I’ve never cut whole sections of pieces, or moved pieces around within the essay, or had to tell someone that, you know, chunks of their essay just don’t serve the overall piece. Also, when the pieces are political I want to get the writer’s politics right, but obviously I may not have a huge amount of time to chat with the writer. For example, Chrisaleen’s piece is about repoliticizing fair trade. She has this whole family history in fair trade—her father owns a coffee company and this has been her whole life. I have very limited experience in researching fair trade politics, so to try and get her politics clear and feel like I have the authority to even edit her piece has been a challenge. But it's also fun because it’s a learning opportunity. In each piece I feel like I’m learning something that I didn’t know before, which is exciting.
Tobias Lentz 19:10
Let’s say you read something that might not align with your political views. Is it hard to put that aside?
I haven’t encountered that in these essays. I think the ones I’m working on connect to my beliefs, but I have in the past, particularly with editing student essays when I’ve been teaching. In those experiences it’s not even so much that I’ve blatantly disagreed, but I might want to push them further. But I would never want to steer someone from what their goal is with a piece. Ultimately, I have to sit back.
I’m Ashley. I’m the Marketing and Communications Director at BackMatter magazine. And I am a first year graduate student in the MA Fashion Studies program at Parsons School of Design.
Katherine Peach 21:41
Perfect. And so you’re like me, you’re not in the CPCJ program.
No, I’m not.
Katherine Peach 21:47
How did you become involved with BackMatter?
When I was looking at classes, I really wanted to take something that was outside of my program, because I felt like it would be cool to learn from different programs and work with people outside of Parsons. I was really interested in fashion journalism last semester, so I thought that being a part of a magazine would get me better acquainted with the ins and outs of what it would be like. My main responsibilities are running social media accounts, mostly Instagram and Twitter. I am also planning the launch party for the end of the semester, which has been a lot of fun. Those are my main jobs.
Katherine Peach 22:34
I mean, they’re pretty fun jobs.
They are. It’s been fun.
Katherine Peach 22:37
Do you want to talk about what inspired you for the social media aesthetic and what you're going for, to speak to the larger publication.
I feel like I am the type of person that really likes to delegate tasks. That’s why I wanted to do marketing and social media, because I wanted to have something that I could organize and be a part of. I’m creative. So I wanted to have that creative outlet as well. But I’d say it’s tough working with the graphic designers and art directors, because I want to, you know, please their aesthetic, but also try to do things on my own. So that’s just been a little bit of something that I’m working on. It’s interesting to have a team because I’ve never worked in a social media department where I have all these other teams to collaborate with. So that’s a new thing for me, which has been exciting because I get to collaborate with other people. I’m taking from the art that they’re going to put into the magazine, but I’m also contributing my own stuff as well. Right now, I’m putting together the invitation that I’m going to be sending out. So I’ve been doing that on my own and getting assistance from the design team in terms of fonts to use and colors to use, trying to stick with the aesthetic of the magazine. Then I’m also working on putting together Instagram stories and posts and things like that, which I am kind of in charge of, but sticking to their whole design theme.
Katherine Peach 24:11
What goes into a launch party?
I don’t know, I kind of went in blind with this, too. That was a little challenging because venues are very expensive. I didn’t know how expensive they would be going into it. But luckily we were able to find a spot that was perfect for what we’re doing. That was the first step. Now we’re trying to figure out how many people can attend the party, and do we want to include food and catering? Do we want to include drink tickets and things like that? Those were kind of the main things that I did at the beginning of party planning. Then I put together the invitations and RSVPs. I was figuring out how many people can attend, who can bring plus ones, etc.
Katherine Peach 25:10
And just to round it out, do you have any advice for someone who wants to go into social media or just marketing in general; things that you’ve learned along the way?
It’s really important to be open to collaborating with the people on your team. When communicating with the people that you’re working with, and being able to compromise on design aesthetics, it’s just really important to have a good relationship with your team and be able to work with them and communicate with them.
Katherine Peach 25:48
Yeah, and we’re all grateful for it.
Tobias Lentz 25:50
Our turn to explain what we do: I’ll interview Katherine a little bit and she’s going to interview me. We’re going to explain what we do every day while we’re trying to get this going. Why don’t you explain what our role is in BackMatter?
Katherine Peach 26:12
We’re the Co-Hosts, Podcast Producers, and Podcast Editors. The idea is that we complement the print publication and the website in this new format. This is the first time that BackMatter has had a podcast. We have really been able to make this up from scratch, which is the idea of the publication anyway, to just let the graduate students make what they want.
Tobias Lentz 26:41
Our day-to-day role is mainly collecting interviews, finding expert groups, and also planning whenever we can meet together and make a program. It’s kind of a freer role because we are separate from the other departments. The editorial and design departments, for example, are working extremely close together, and we’re more rogue. Every time they’re going through their deadlines, we’re just kind of on our own. We do talk to design because we have to come up with our logo for the podcast. So we do work together with the other departments, but in a different kind of way.
Katherine Peach 27:28
We’re definitely trying to complement the other departments. We get the fortune of being able to talk to everybody about their roles and what they do versus having to necessarily depend on them for materials or text in the same type of capacity.
Tobias Lentz 27:42
If there’s one department that we work with the most, it would actually be Ashley in advertisement. When she’s posting things on social media, she’s oftentimes looking for sound, she’s oftentimes looking for video, and we can help her with that. She is someone we’ve been talking to the most in terms of teamwork.
Katherine Peach 28:03
I should say: the idea that we had was to not only create these episodes for the podcast, but also to get audio from each of our authors so they can speak in their own words about their piece. That’s something that can not only live on the podcast, but live on the website as an additional multimedia aspect for people who are coming to read their work.
Tobias Lentz 28:27
Another question: What are you working on right now, Katherine?
Katherine Peach 28:32
We are in the midst of Episode Two. We had to do extra interviews this week, and make sure that we were just coordinating with everyone while they were super busy trying to coordinate schedules. I feel very grateful that everyone took time out of what they were already doing to come speak to us. I think that’s been one of the main priorities. And, of course, to keep on deadline because Michaela will always remind us of the deadline because that is her superpower and her job.
Tobias Lentz 29:03
And she’s very good at it.
Katherine Peach 29:04
She’s incredible at it.
Tobias Lentz 29:05
Michaela is someone that we actually didn’t talk about today because she’s not really part of a creative department, but she’s basically running the whole thing.
Katherine Peach 29:17
The reason we didn’t talk to Michaela, who’s the Managing Editor, which I feels like is one of those more nebulous roles within a publication—it can mean different things, and I don’t think everyone always knows exactly what it means—but we’re going to feature her pretty prominently in the next episode. So she got a break this week but only from the podcast because everybody else has been keeping her on her toes.
Tobias Lentz 29:45
Another good question: Why did you choose to become part of the podcast team?
Katherine Peach 29:50
I’ve made a podcast with friends kind of on a whim. A former coworker and I, we worked in PR together so we’re used to just talking a lot for a living, thought it would be fun to get together and make one of our own. Everything was on Zoom because it was actually the pandemic, we were not in the same room together, or necessarily in the same state. But I wanted to be able to collaborate with somebody and be able to start something else from scratch. I consume a lot of podcasts. I think they’re really interesting and fun. Whether I’m doing the dishes, or walking to class, or I just really need a break and a walk, it’s nice to have what feels like friends or people that you know chatting about whatever’s happening that day.
Tobias Lentz 30:37
Katherine Peach 30:41
Topical news, but I usually much prefer the trashy celebrity news that I would never sit down and read in a magazine.
Tobias Lentz 30:48
Don’t we all?
Katherine Peach 30:51
I feel like your credentials are way more impressive than mine to be able to work on a podcast. I don’t know actually, but you make music, you’re very interested in sound design.
Tobias Lentz 31:03
So I think the reason why I was very drawn to the podcasts, first of all, for the last five years in college, I was an English major. I’d just been working with text and reading and writing. I was very curious about speaking and creating something with audio, because that’s been a big hobby of mine, but not something more serious than that. So I thought this was a great opportunity. At the same time, I’m also part of a print publication. But again, it’s just kind of like an aid to that. I don’t have any experience in podcasts.
Katherine Peach 31:35
Well, fortunately, you have experienced editing audio. That’s something we can talk about as well, because that’s what you’ve been doing a lot this week.
Tobias Lentz 31:45
Figuring out mics and picking up equipment.
Katherine Peach 31:49
But even on the back end. I don’t think people necessarily realize how labor intensive it can be to edit everything together. Not only to make yourself sound legible and clear, but to have something that’s engaging. Putting together all these different interviews is a huge task in and of itself.
Tobias Lentz 32:09
I think you’re right. The editing process often is the longest. When we relisten to it, and someone else has an edit, you have to go back in and edit that, so it’s just a ton of very detailed work. But I do enjoy it. It’s time intensive, but fun. Sometimes. Most of the time.
Katherine Peach 32:35
I would love to hear you talk about your inspiration for the introduction to our podcast.
Tobias Lentz 32:41
Yeah, that’s something we haven’t really talked about. We decided on the theme rabbit holes. Funny enough, with Alice in Wonderland, she falls down a rabbit hole and it makes sense. So I was YouTubing all of these old Alice in Wonderland film clips and I found these snippets that I really liked that matched our theme. She follows Mr. Rabbit and, finally, she falls down the rabbit hole. She says curiosity leads to trouble. I had a moment of realization that it fit perfectly because that’s what rabbit holes do. They confuse us, but we learn from them. It was fun and introduced our podcast pretty well, I think.
Katherine Peach 33:28
We had the idea that we could create one total podcast, we could make multiple episodes. Our goal was to make shorter episodes of like 20 minutes. So far, we’ve always gone over, because it's actually much harder to make a shorter podcast than a longer one. Do you want to speak to that at all?
Tobias Lentz 33:49
What we really wanted to do in this series is also kind of let the listener be part of it while we’re learning, because we’re definitely learning as we’re going. And to truly be transparent about the process and the errors that we’ve made. For example, in the first episode we planned to talk for about 30-40 minutes, so we could edit that down to 20. We ended up speaking for an hour and a half, much more than we planned. You learn from that because that’s going to be an enormous job afterwards with all the audio. You learn to keep your answers more concise. To be smart about the recording process, because it’s going to help you on the back end.
Katherine Peach 34:46
Everybody says to writers that it’s important to have an outline, but it is really helpful for us to just map out, in a very loose fashion, all of the points we want to hit. It’s always something that we can refer to.
Tobias Lentz 34:58
Which I hope also shows in this episode. It’s going to be a different form which we like to experiment with. We don’t want to make the same podcast every single time, it will be a little different as we go, and we will see what works and what doesn’t.
Katherine Peach 35:15
It's just been interesting to be able to experiment along the way and see exactly what is working, like our audio this time. Crystal clear?
Tobias Lentz 35:24
We’ll see. We have two mics today. Last time we had one; we’re upping our game. Next time we’ll have three!
Katherine Peach 35:32
We get to do transcriptions of each podcast. Not only does it make it a little more accessible for people, it also means that we get to be part of the print publication. We’ll have all of the transcripts live on the website for anybody who wants to be able to read them in that format as well.
Tobias Lentz 35:49
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for listening. We will be making a third episode very soon, which will be about…
Katherine Peach 36:00
The next one should be all about advice. Reflections from the authors, editors, and our brilliant professors, Jon and Kayla. We also talked to a previous Editor in Chief, and they’re going to talk about their experience in making BackMatter last year. The idea for that is “I was just giving myself some good advice,” which is another Alice quote. Hopefully they’ll give us some good advice as well.
Tobias Lentz 36:36
We’re going to need it.