10 Years in the Life of Star ACT
The Digital Age
In tracing the history of our magazine last month, we concluded in March 2001, when editor Rob Gill gave a “Special Notice” in that issue titled “Editor wanted - must be clean, cheap and quick'.
Daryl Maddern's “President's Report” in the April 2001 issue, lamented the loss of Rob Gill due to the growing pressures of his other journalistic work. This simple statement didn't really reflect the significant effort involved in ensuring that the club continued to have a regular monthly magazine. Daryl's daughter Camilla had graphic arts and advertising industry training and access to professional computing equipment and software. She also had a good relationship with a newly established printing firm in Braddon. Camilla was able to take over production of the magazine at short notice and further develop its presentation.
And, perhaps as a sign of the future, Camilla lived in Adelaide for most of this period. Text and photographs were sent to Camilla both electronically and by post (reflecting the evolving nature of club members' photographic and text creation facilities). Once Camilla had compiled the material into a magazine layout this was recorded on CD and posted to Daryl who handed it to the printing company and undertook any necessary further editorial tasks.
This arrangement continued until the December 2001/January 2002 issue when Neil Mansini was appointed editor and took over most of the work that Daryl had previously performed.
Neil Mansini Becomes Editor
My involvement with the club magazine started shortly after I joined the club. I made the occasional contribution to the magazine, usually a short general interest item. This grew to be a monthly column. When the then editor Rob Gill resigned, I looked at the criteria he identified for the editorial position: “must be clean, cheap and quick”. Over the years, enough people have called me cheap to make me confident I qualified in that regard. And I figured that I could bluff the other qualifications, so I applied.
In the period from the end of 2001 till June 2002, the editors job was as described above. As a former systems auditor I tend to be conscious of systemic problems. One thing that did concern me was that the club did not have a fallback position, in the event that the people preparing the magazine had to resign at short notice. As a good public servant, I used Microsoft Word to prepare my reports and the material I wrote as manager. My experience with Word was limited to writing, and occasionally inserting a few pictures or diagrams. But I recognised that it should be possible to use that software to layout a magazine that looked structurally similar to what was being produced.
I went ahead and explored this possibility. After a couple of versions I had developed a framework that was viable as an alternative magazine structure. The Committee agreed, and it was decided that from July of 2002 the editor would prepare the layout for the magazine as well. The Development Process
As part of the development process I had to work out how to lay out a magazine. I'm an accountant, not a journalist or graphic artist, so this would require some research. I took a look at the magazines I had lying around the house. These included American and Australian motor magazines, old Playboys, and a range of others on varying topics (all boy magazines). It was quickly apparent that all the commercial magazines I sampled had a structure, and the structure was much the same in all of them.
Most magazines started with the contents page, publication information, editorial content and short items. This was followed by the general feature articles, then specific subject items clustered in a group. (In the case of Road and Track for example, these specific subjects would include motor racing and technology). The back of the magazine contained small size advertising and other stuff that didn't fit in anywhere else. Then there was the issue of readability. In all the commercial magazines I sampled, one common font was used throughout the magazine, with the exception of Article headings and in graphics. Because of the cost of printing and postage, magazines generally use a font size of around 10 point and preserve readability by using columns. I prefer the Arial font (which I understand is essentially the same as Helvetica) because it does not have decorative elements that confuse the eye.
I understand that a consistent font and layout increases the familiarity and comfort that the reader has with the magazine. Interestingly, as I was writing this, there was a documentary on television about Hugh Hefner, the editor of Playboy magazine. At one point Hefner commented that a magazine should be like an old friend, but with something stimulating to say on every meeting.
Initial experience showed that too many errors were not being detected and corrected before a draft layout went to the printer. Therefore, development of quality control procedures was a priority in the first few months of my period as editor. The most basic quality control is to electronically spell check the material before it goes into the layout and then spell check the whole magazine once completed. To make things easier both English and American spellings are accepted as correct (I don't necessarily know the difference anyway). Spell checking software is not perfect. It will not, for example, tell you if you are trying to kill a vampire with a steak in the heart. But it is a big help.
A checklist was also developed to ensure that everything was included in the magazine, and that all the necessary changes (like the date on the cover) were made.
It is a good idea that the editor does not add errors to other authors work. I try and avoid making or suggesting editorial changes, but if I do, I refer them back to the author for approval.
How the Magazine is Produced
If you are familiar with Microsoft Word you probably recognise that the magazine starts as a framework document, that I label the magazine master. This is a 16 page Word file that contains the name and club logo on the cover, the advertising on the inside front and the back covers, plus the general content of pages 3 and 4. Also, there are page headings for the Calendar, Committee, Presidents, Notes, CACTMC and Stuttgart pages. Further on there are the titles for the motoring, tech torque and starmarket pages.
As well, there are separate master documents for the calendar, the committee list and the starmarket adverts. These separate master pages were initially introduced for ease of working and to allow me to start laying out magazines several months in advance.
Material for the magazine comes from committee members, who supply regular items like the various reports, plus information on things like new members, calendar changes and items in the Notes section. You and I as members contribute items which are usually feature or technical articles. Daimler Media is the source of most news. Sometimes I reproduce items that have appeared in other club magazines or from other sources. And finally, and very importantly, there are the humour and other small items, contributed by members. These add interest and help fill the spaces inconveniently left over by the larger items.
The Daimler Media website (media.daimler.com) is a very good resource for anyone researching anything to do with MercedesBenz or any other Daimler product (Maybach, smart and the various truck brands). The site covers not just current products, but contains material going back to the birth of the automobile.
I read through all text items, correct any errors and sometimes suggest changes that may improve the article, to the author. Items from Daimler Media are usually press releases. These are, how shall we say, generous in their praise of the subject. After the extraneous material is edited from the press releases they are usually around half to two thirds their original size. However, the material still has to sound as if it comes from Daimler. Your editor cannot appear to be commenting on a vehicle he has not even seen, let alone tested. Daimler technical articles receive little or no editing.
All material that is a combination of text and photos is prepared as a separate Word document. Photos have to be cropped and resized to fit into the layout. This is usually done using Irfanview photo editing software (which you can download for free). These completed layouts are then pasted into the master Word document which now has a title like july master.docx
Once all the planned items are in the master, the index has been completed, and the checklist shows that all the necessary work has been done, the magazine is essentially finished. The whole document is then electronically spell checked and visually scanned for any obvious problems. The final action is to convert the Word document into the pdf format used by the printer. The magazine is now between 10 and 20 Megabytes of zeros and ones and can be emailed to the printer in Fyshwick via a service that handles large files.
The Unsung Heroes
Because the editor no longer lives in Canberra, once the magazine has gone to the printer, the magazine group takes over. A proof copy of the magazine is prepared by the printer and sent to our proofing officer Lukas Tan. Lukas checks the proof for potential quality issues like poor photographic reproduction or missing or jumbled text. While doing this he may also detect errors like the vampire with a steak in the heart. Errors detected at this point may incur a charge by the printer to correct, so we generally only correct those errors that affect the accurate understanding of the text.
The copy of the magazine that you receive may vary slightly from the proof. Photos, for example, may look a little too light or too dark. This is generally an issue with the mechanics of the printing. Once the magazine is printed, our hard working distribution volunteers, John Simsons and Lyn Reynolds become involved. As does our Membership Secretary, Keith Millar, who arranges the address labels. John and Lyn collect the magazines, put them in envelopes, along with any inserts, and organise the posting.
Evolution over 10 years
Looking back at the July 2002 issue of Star ACT, some characteristics of the magazine would still be recognisable to anyone reading the latest issue. The cover has changed a number of times over the last 10 years but the name on the cover still uses the same font. And the style of the title headings for Straight from Stuttgart, the motoring page, the CACTMC report, Tech Torque and Starmarket, have remained the same even though the actual names may have changed in some cases. The cover is usually the most recognisable change in a magazine. In July 2002 we started off with a cover in the style pioneered by Rob Gill, with a half page photo a little below centre and identification text above and below it. While the photos varied in size, this general style remained till May 2004.
In that month we featured our first color cover. With the anticipation that some members may wish to keep or even frame the cover photos, we reduced the text on the cover to the minimum, with just the name and the date in the top corner. Alas, the cost of printing a color cover soon varied from initial estimates, and it became uneconomic to continue this feature. However, the grayscale cover photos that followed continued to occupy most of the page, with just the name, date and club logo in a band across the top.
With sponsorship arrangements in place, we celebrated the new financial year in July 2011, with the current style of color cover (photo left). Again it was considered desirable to minimise the amount of text on the cover, to allow members to keep the photos, if they so desired. The changes in cover style over the years have necessitated variations to the layout of the first half dozen pages. But a design I like particularly is the Committee page. This design was introduced in November 2002 and has remained unchanged, except for the names and photos, ever since. The decision to include photographs of the committee members was very much an initiative of the whole committee, with David Coward, a photographer, providing the final professional touch.
STAR ACT is an important element of our club. As we saw from the history of the magazine in part 1 (last issue), it was established to allow the committee and event organisers to communicate with the other members. This remains a key function, but just as importantly the magazine is a place where members can communicate with their fellow enthusiasts.
It is the contributions of members, providing helpful information or relating other things of common interest, that makes our magazine an enjoyable read and a point of reference.
Because I didn't write enough to fill up the whole page, you get to see a picture of me. This photo was taken by David Coward back in 2002, when we all got our pictures took for the Committee page. I don't have a current picture of myself, but I don't think I have changed much. Just imagine the person above with more gray hair (and less of it).
You wouldn't want to see my passport photo. Like they say, if you look like your passport photo, then you are either on your way to the morgue, or desperately in need of the holiday you got the passport for.