Campus magazines navigate the impacts of COVID-19

MUSE Magazine, Undergraduate Review are finding new ways to reach readers

Anna McAlpine is the Editor in Chief of MUSE Magazine.
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Editor’s note: One member of The Journal’s Editorial Board is one of the Editors in Chief of the Undergraduate Review.

As COVID-19 keeps students at home, campus publications are pivoting to reach readers.

MUSE Magazine (MUSE) is launching its first online issue on Thursday.

“This is our first online issue, so that was a really big challenge for our layout team because their skillset isn’t necessarily in website design—it’s more in Photoshop or Illustrator,” Anna McAlpine, editor in chief of MUSE, told The Journal. “We ended up hiring a few new people to help transition from print issue to an online issue.”

McAlpine said money was the main factor in transitioning away from print this year.

“Initially, I asked all of the Heads to make three business plans. I wanted to see one for 100 per cent online, one for online in the fall and in-person in the winter, and one for 100 per cent in-person—just so we were prepared for every outcome,” she said.

“It became pretty clear before those were even due that it wasn’t worth doing the 100 per cent in-person one. Every week, for a while there in the spring, it was [asking] what’s different this week?”

She said the magazine’s fundraising model has changed this year because they’re no longer able to make money from in-person events, or depend on small businesses in Kingston purchasing advertisements.

“They’re not in a position to advertise with us in the same way that they’d normally be able to,” McAlpine said. “We understand that.”

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The magazine is also funded through an optional student ancillary fee, which she said students opted into at a “pretty consistent” rate compared to previous years.

She said the online format also makes delivery and distribution easier.

“It’s not safe for us all to be in the ARC touching the magazine and handing it out in the way we normally would. It’s also [a way we’re] able to reach students who aren’t in Kingston.”

MUSE launched its 20th issue in the spring, though the pandemic pushed distribution to the fall term.

“We were distributing [the last issue] through [Common Ground Coffeehouse] and through our Shopify, so we’re able to ship it Canada-wide,” McAlpine said. “It’s just different because there’s more traffic through the ARC and other buildings on campus where we’re able to reach more people, whereas this year you had to seek us out.”

McAlpine said they’ve had significant engagement with first-year students, despite the remote learning environment.

“I was surprised by how much we’ve been able to reach first years, which is something I thought might be difficult because most of them aren’t on campus, and, even if they are, they’re pretty sectioned off in residence.”

“I think, in some ways, because people aren’t on campus and aren’t going to class, they’re even more eager to get involved than they would be otherwise. I think it’s been great for us.”

Hannah Bush, one of the editors in chief of the Undergraduate Review (UR), said UR will still be printing the magazine this year.

“We’ll still be doing a physical copy and it’ll still be distributed,” Bush told The Journal. “[W]e’re trying to help with the mailing costs so students who aren’t here in Kingston will also be able to get a copy.”

UR will also be working with local stores to distribute the magazine in the community.

Bush said one of the biggest challenges this year is finding ways to explore different types of artistry when gatherings are restricted.

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“[W]e can only add photos, written works, paintings, or drawings to the actual magazine,” Bush said. “We don’t have these opportunities to explore other types of art works, like singing, dancing, or spoken word poetry. Things that can’t go into a book. We would usually have events to promote those types of things.”

She pointed to Art Fest and the Art Gallery, two events celebrating artists working with the magazine.

“We usually have live bands or spoken word artists. That’s something that can’t be added into the magazine, things that are live and deal with music, or any type of performance,” Bush said. “[W]e just won’t be able to do that this year.”

“Instead, we’re trying to push for those things through social media. Thankfully, we’re in a time when social media is so big and there are so many different opportunities for us to show these live artworks, like Instagram Live, or Instagram takeovers, posting videos.”

Bush said the current team is also trying to promote past editions of the magazine by having copies archived in the public libraries in Kingston.

“[It’s] a goal this year to make artwork throughout the community and combine the everyday life and artwork together,” Bush said.

“That’s one of the themes we’re working with this year—trying to get the community into the magazine a lot more.”

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