Friday, 1 October 2010

Magazine work for A level

One of the most popular coursework tasks at A level is to make all or part of a magazine. For the OCR specification, this involves producing the front cover, contents page and a double page spread from a new music magazine. Usually, the task is done individually. You can work in a group of up to four people, but if you do, you have to produce the equivalent number of editions of the same magazine in a 'house style'. What I cover here is particularly of relevance to the music magazine task, but the ideas could be applied in relation to other types of magazine assignments.

Many centres choose this task because they think it will be easier to manage than video work, which may be the case, because more of the task is 'desk-bound'; this is probably true, but in my experience this task is extremely hard to do well and needs a lot of careful planning, organisation and preparation, as well as the ability to stand back from your work, take criticism and admit when you have got it wrong.

Lots of students do lots of good research for this task, but very few seem to be able to carry that research through to the final production to make something that shows they understand conventions. I think for this task, you need to consider both the magazine as a whole and the three components you have to make. So that means looking at the overall style and conventions of real magazines but also looking closely at the specifics of front covers, contents pages and double page spreads.

You might start with magazines in general and then home in on music magazines more specifically, but you need to end up looking at the sub-genre for the target audience at which you are aiming. It is very easy to get it completely wrong by trying to replicate the conventions of one sub-genre when really your audience belongs to another.

A search through google images for 'music magazine covers' gives you a good range to look at- though be careful, as you can see, some of these have been mis-filed!




The same is true for contents pages and double page spreads, though what you begin to notice is that this search also includes examples of student work, from their A level blogs!





It is really important that you look carefully at all elements of the magazine that you are being asked to produce to ensure that you really understand exactly what the conventions are and why they are there. A good way to do this is to annotate your research material as research evidence. But remember when you come to produce your own, use that annotated model and really look at it, rather than just forgetting it!

Here's a basic annotation of a cover from a student blog



Covers are usually the easiest bit to get right, but you still need to think carefully. Where is your masthead going to be? there's a reason that they tend to be at the top and from the left- that's to do with how the magazine will be displayed in a rack in the shop. If you put it elsewhere on the cover, in effect your logo/branding becomes hard to find. Why do we need a barcode and a price? What's the point of a strapline and how many of the features need to be flagged up for us on that cover? If you look at a few different magazines, certain patterns start to emerge.

Look at the colourscheme and the use of fonts- how many different colours are used on the text and how many different fonts are used? They may be different sizes but they don't vary that much. Look at the picture chosen- usually the model will be looking at the camera and in turn the viewer. Think about how that image has been posed and the probability that many images will have been taken to select from. Then consider the layout of the whole thing. How much can the model overlap the masthead without a loss of identity for the brand?

Contents pages often go wrong, but again a few simple observations will help you a lot.



This edition of Q magazine is quite typical. There is a main picture of a band from one of the lead articles and a smaller one of Nick cave from another section, so a visual sense of some of the variety to be found that month. There is a lso a list of what's in the magazine which extends to at least fifteen examples, with several elements to the 'Oasis Special!'. This gives us a sense of the value for money that we will get from the magazine. Surprisingly often, a student contents page will only feature half a dozen items, but who would pay good money for such a small publication?

Note also the use of colour and font here- it is clean and limited- simple, despite the amount of detail. The whole layout is in columns, with boxes being used to guide the reader's eyes. Your contents page needs to do the same, whatever genre of music you use. There is also repetition of the logo from the cover, smaller, but a reminder to the reader, as well as a link to the magazine's online presence at the top. All this needs to guide your thinking when you make a a magazine.

Finally, the element where most students 'come unstuck' is the double page spread. there may be a lack of clarity as to what this might mean, as some students just seem to see it as an opportunity to make any two random pages from the magazine (I've even seen a horoscope page!). What it should be is a feature article which gives you the opportunity to show what you can do with text, image and layout.



Throughout the process, you should keep full records of everything you do- all your research, your planning step by step, revisions and drafts. As much visual material as you can gather will hold you in good stead.

Have a look at the student blogs here and here for some really good examples of how you might work and what you might produce!

Good luck!

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