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Margin Notes

A national magazine for university students

The Canadian Federation of Students is apparently planning to start a magazine. Don’t do it.

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | JUN 17 2010

I have tried generally to refrain from comment about the inner workings of the Canadian Federation of Students. I am simply too far removed from their activities and have no direct personal experience about how they function. That’s not to say I haven’t been tempted, particularly when it comes to their Hotel California-like membership rules (“You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave”).

But there is one area where I can knowledgeably comment: magazine publishing. I’d heard rumours, and Canadian University Press has now reported, that CFS is planning to publish a student magazine. Assuming we are talking about a print magazine, my advice is: Don’t do it!

This may seem odd, considering that I am deputy editor of what I consider to be a very good print magazine, University Affairs, as well as the fact that I have worked in magazine publishing for more than 25 years. I love magazines, and advances in technology have made it much easier to produce a beautiful-looking product.

But magazines are also very expensive to produce, and if you don’t have a viable business plan, you’ll find yourself quickly chewing through a lot of money. The CFS may be anticipating relying on national advertisers for revenue, but it would be a shame if that draws advertising revenue away from independent student-run campus newspapers.

Having said that, I think an online national student magazine might make sense. It’s dramatically cheaper, and an online magazine makes it easier to leverage social media. You could have blogs, videos and all the other bling available nowadays to tell your stories, get your message across and further your cause. The web also gives you the opportunity to really engage with your members, get their feedback and foster debate. And, really, that’s what any advocacy group should be doing anyway, magazine or no magazine.

ABOUT LÉO CHARBONNEAU
Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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