I

always tell my kids that there was no way I could have correctly answered the question “What do you see yourself doing when you grow up?” because the concept of a frum weekly magazine in English hadn’t been born yet.

I first joined Mishpacha’s English experiment as a translator working from home, later segueing to editing and development. Back in those early days, many of the original team members had experience reading, writing, or editing for newspapers. But a frum weekly magazine was a new creature whose strengths and capabilities we hadn’t fully assessed. In internal meetings and in general staff meetings, we discussed how this product differed from a newspaper, what our readers expected in a magazine, what opportunities and challenges this format held. With time we crystallized some of the differences between magazine production and the newspaper business — and used that understanding to shape virtually every stage of Mishpacha’s creation.

If you’re a writer, the most thrilling freedom afforded by the magazine format is the full-length feature. One of the hallmarks of virtually every magazine is that intensely reported, seamlessly structured, multi-section feature. When you’re reading a newspaper, you don’t expect to turn a page more than once within a single piece. In contrast, the length of a magazine feature — the tantalizing prospect of getting lost in an intense, immersive read — is part of the appeal.

But length is a very shallow parameter. I think there’s a deeper difference between newspapers and magazines. When you open a newspaper, you’re looking for information. When you open a magazine, you’re hoping for an experience. You want to be taken somewhere, to be introduced to someone, to feel along with a character. That kind of writing calls for a different skillset. On the editorial end, it calls for brainstorming long before we contact the writer, building an assignment so it’s far richer than “Call this source on the phone and ask him a list of questions.” It might mean sending someone backstage during a HASC concert, spending the night in a hotel lobby to capture the shidduch vibe, taking someone back to their childhood neighborhood, or even volunteering at the zoo for a day.

Something else we’ve noticed is that magazines are better suited than newspapers to showcase writers’ unique voices. Many newspapers have a uniform feel, with tighter structure and more rigid boxes and a distinct sense of purpose. A news story must achieve a, b, and c. A food column must provide d, e, and f. As such, writers have less options and less chances to experiment with voice and style. Magazines are places where individuality can sparkle. A creatively structured piece, a novel opening, a lyrical tone, a flashback — we want that variety and we want our writers to be able to leave their stamp on their work. In fact, when done well, these are the pieces we’re often proudest of.

The differences don’t end with the writing, though. They extend to the presentation. Newspapers are about the text. Magazines, on the other hand, are about the interplay of text and visuals. Design in a newspaper is functional — a clean, clear design lets the word dominate. Design in a magazine, however, is an integral part of the read. Newspapers can and do use that one strong photo that tells a story — but in our magazine, different features will be given different colors, fonts, and “moods” because the visuals are part of the story too. In the best case, we don’t pick a great picture to accompany a great story — we build the text and visuals as one unit, sometimes even mapping out the feature with rough scribbles or PowerPoint slides before assigning it to a writer.

One of the nicest things — and daunting things — about working for Mishpacha is that we’re in constant development mode. Just as last week’s model isn’t good enough this week, last week’s insights are a given already. So how is a magazine different from a newspaper? We have a pretty good picture — but as we keep testing our limits, trying new formats, we hope we’ll keep discovering more answers to that question.