Monday, April 25, 2016

How we built an online photo magazine from scratch using PS, Word

A rough draft of page designation on the white board during early stages of our planning.
   Sometimes you just have to work with the tools you’ve got, and make what’s old new again.
   That’s what my Introduction to Photojournalism students at Owens Community College did when we created a 24-page online magazine from scratch.
   It was seriously daunting for all of us. I haven’t designed a publication since I was the editor of the 180th Fighter Wing’s newspaper, The Stinger, 16 years ago! And I did that using Adobe Pagemaker. Who uses that anymore? InDesign would have been preferable, but it wasn’t available, and it’s too big of a learning curve to teach the students at the tail end of the semester, anyway.
   All we had in the classroom was Photoshop and Word. The students had limited Photoshop skills, and didn’t know a thing about magazine layout and design, but we needed a change, and they needed a challenge.
   Traditionally, this class used Soundslides to showcase their final team photo project, but the audio slideshow software is outdated. I wanted a modern publishing platform that would showcase a good body of work, and require critical thinking and teamwork.
    As the adviser to the Owens Outlook online student newspaper, the staff and I have been toying with the idea of creating an online magazine. So, why not make an assignment out of it?
   I have fond memories of my days when I was as a military newspaper editor of several publications, both tabloid and broadsheet. There is nothing more satisfying and thrilling than filling empty pages with content.  Since we would make the content, I figured we’d build the magazine as we went, considering a magazine has lots of pieces and parts.
   The students, mostly commercial photography majors, thought I was nuts. And maybe I was, but they needed a challenge that was completely different than what they were used to, which was primarily blogging and sharing their photography via social media. I wanted them to boldly showcase their work in a way that would make them feel accomplished, proud and shareable.
   I confess that I tried the online magazine format in the previous class three semesters ago, but I made a few tactical mistakes that prevented the publication from getting completed and published.
1.     Last time, we shot the community story on Bittersweet Farms too late. We didn’t have enough time to complete the magazine. It was about 95 percent done, then the semester ended. 
- This time, we shot the project a month before the semester was over.
2.     Last time, only one student was tasked to design the entire publication using InDesign on his personal computer. That meant the others were sitting around watching. I tried to emulate a real newsroom, but it didn’t work. This prevented the others from designing their own pages and being ultimately responsible for their own design.
- This time, they were all responsible for their own assigned pages.
   In this blog post I’m going to share how they successfully accomplished their 24-page creation.
STEP 1:  Choose a subject that would lend itself to magazine-type coverage.
In the past, this class has covered Bittersweet FarmsCherry Street MissionWood Lane School in Bowling Green, and even the problem of arson in urban Toledo.
   This semester we visited Sunshine Communities, a residential home and outreach center for people with developmental disabilities.
   We only spend 90 minutes there, but each of the six students had their jobs to do:
  •       Nate wrote the main story and a sidebar, and shot the art studio in Maumee, Ohio
  •     Caleb shot and produced the video
  •     Kyle covered the barn
  •     Chris shot the greenhouse, and Georgette’s in Downtown Maumee
  •     Courtney and Jackie documented the vocational services and art room                   
STEP 2:  Choose a magazine format.
I chose Issuu, a free electronic publishing platform. The key word here is publishing, meaning that the magazine has to first be designed and saved in PDF format before uploading it to Issuu.
   Then we had to select a design software. Since all we had was Photoshop and Word, that made the decision easy. We also had a video we wanted to embed in the publication, and Word allows you to do that.
   The problem using this platform is that we exceeded, by A LOT, the size of the issue. The free basic package only allows you 100MB. We were over 500! So, I have to find another way to get this magazine published. However, all 24 pages on now posted on this blog.    
STEP 3: Iron out the small details:
·      Size and page count of the publication
·      Front cover photo and flag
·      Font and font sizes for stories, captions and headlines
·      What’s on each page, and who has what pages
·      Page numbers
·      How to do double-trucks, since Issuu only accepts two-page spreads as a single PDF. Alas, we did it wrong. I'll update this post when I get it right...
STEP 4:  Get the final product into Issuu:
This was a little tricky, considering there aren’t quality instructional videos or guides for the entire process. We had to learn as we went. When we got to a roadblock, we Googled how to get over it.
   One of the big hurdles was how Issuu accepts the PDF files. We had to merge the PDF pages into one using Acrobat. At first I was a little concerned about the PDF conversion, but that made it easier when using more than one design software.
   Once the students were done with their pages, we saved them as PDFs, collected them into a single folder, merged them, and attempted to upload it to Issuu. But, as you now know, our file size was too big.
   We studied quite a few Issuu magazines to get ideas, and I think the overall design worked! 
   Yes, there are mistakes. Yes, there will be people who will point out those mistakes.  But a great benefit of this project is that students need to learn you don’t have to really know what you’re doing to try it. If you have an idea, take a risk and just do it! Fear shouldn't stop the learning process or the attempt! I hope this is one of the lessons learned.

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