One of the many satisfying things about working at a magazine is the physicality of the thing. You’re far less alienated from the fruits of your labour than Karl Marx would have feared, and at the end of the month (give or take a couple of weeks for the printers) a gloss-covered product of your blood, sweat and litres of rosé lands on your desk with a satisfying solid thump.
But it’s more than the final product – it’s the whole process of building a magazine over weeks and often months. Stories are a long time in the planning, involving the chasing of correspondents, developing pitches and navigating bureaucratic red tape the world over. For every breakthrough in access or interview acceptance, there’s always a tidy trail of emails and phone calls.
I’ll admit that these bulging folders of chasing leads aren’t the pinnacle of job satisfaction. But once setup is complete and it’s logged on the story list, then watching an article solidly progress up the magazine food chain – from its earliest days in “raw copy”, through the photo desk, on to art and then honed by the sub-editors – is something like watching a stumbling child grow into a well turned-out adult. It’s a physical process that you can track every step of the way.
There’s one corner of our office that illustrates this best. It’s called The Wall – capital T, capital W – and rules Monocle with an iron fist. It’s where we pin each page of the magazine cleared by our production director Jackie, and when The Wall is full it’s a veritable Christmas display, a riot of colour, pictures and dense blocks of reporting. When The Wall is empty however it’s a white cliff face that looms over the editorial floor with blank menace, Jackie’s reproach to the eternal shortcomings of section editors.
The Wall is more than just essential to the running of a magazine; it’s a good lesson for business in general. Keeping an overview of a complicated project is almost impossible without a physical reminder of your progress and can become dispiriting. I learned this story late in life, mocking my little sister for the elaborate constellations of work-flow diagrams that she pasted across her bedroom walls come summer term, and then later, trying to ignore her consistently trouncing me in exams.
Now I’m not suggesting that offices everywhere should start printing out their every output but having some kind of physical reminder of where you’re going can be a welcome antidote to the digital muddle that we often find ourselves in. Viewing a Gantt chart on a flickering screen is one thing, but it’s got nothing on The Wall.