Students get pointers from Reader’s Digest

If you want to start your own magazine, the best advice would be to follow the lead of someone with more than a few years in the business.



Fourth-year Media, Information & Technoculture student Jenna Jacobson shares her experiences travelling through Asia in Express, a magazine produced by students in the Program in Writing, Rhetoric, & Professional Communication. The publishing course received funds from Reader’s Digest Canada.



With the help of a household name like Reader’s Digest Canada, The University of Western Ontario is offering students a rare glimpse into the world magazine publishing.  


Many writing enthusiasts take courses in the Program in Writing, Rhetoric, & Professional Communication in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities to master the English language. Those looking to take their writing one step farther and get their name in print are encouraged to take a publishing course to learn the art of producing a contemporary magazine.  


This year, the famous pocket-sized magazine, through the Reader’s Digest Foundation of Canada, donated a $9,000 sponsorship to the writing program’s publishing course.The money supports visitors from Reader’s Digest Canada during the 2008-09 academic year and the travelling costs of two Western students to intern at the magazine’s Montreal office. 


The Reader’s Digest Foundation of Canada has supported Western in the past, however this is the first year the magazine has had direct involvement with the Writing program.  


Unlike most university courses, the Writing 2294-Publishing class runs like the newsroom of a busy start-up magazine. Instructor Patrick Kennedy, who has a long history in the news business, guided students through the process of developing a readership profile and mission statement, working out the editorial formula and content, as well as offering advice on the design and layout of the final product.  


The end result is Express, a glossy 16-page magazine covering topics such as Facebook, going green, sleep patterns and what to get for Valentine’s Day.


“My job was to provide a structure and framework for the project, but all of the decisions were made by the students themselves,” he says. “They have a right to say I own this and I participated in the production of this work.”


During the first semester, Reader’s Digest Production Editor Michele Beacom Cant paid a visit to the class and offered students insight into the magazine business and job expectations, and provided feedback on Express.


Two students from the course, which is offered in both the winter and spring sessions, will be offered an internship at Reader’s Digest Canada. Cant says the internship will likely last three or four weeks.


“They leave here knowing a lot more about actually working for a magazine than when they started,” she says, adding the experience could open the door to a full-time job. “We’ve gotten a decent amount of staff through (internships).”  


Reader’s Digest is a trusted publication and “people have confidence in its content,” says Kennedy. “To have that kind of professional interest in what we do raises the bar of student performance.”  


Copies of Express were sent to Reader’s Digest and each student received several issues for their portfolio.  


“It really contributes to experiential learning,” says Kathleen Fraser, acting director of the Program in Writing, Rhetoric, & Professional Communication. “We encourage (students) to get out into the world and sell their work and publish it.”


Having the name-recognition of Reader’s Digest attached to the Publishing course gives the Writing program a significant boost, she adds.  


Fourth-year, Media, Information & Technoculture student Jenna Jacobson wrote a travel guide for those looking to experience the smorgasbord of what Asia has to offer, including some hidden tourist gems. The article was based on her own travels, and the presentation included her own photographs.


“Usually in university we are asked to think and just write something. But here, we have something that we did,” she says. “In the end, I think it looks amazing. It looks like a ‘real’ magazine. It doesn’t just look like something a few students threw together.”  


Jacobson, who is considering a writing career, is glad to have a professional-looking magazine for her portfolio.  


Twelve students were involved in the magazine’s production and work by each student was represented in the final product.  


For information on theprogram, visit