Tales From The Trenches:
Jonah Ogles

On April 16, Jonah Ogles, associate editor at Outside Magazine, paid a visit to the editors of SFUAD’s publication, Glyph. Outside Magazine is a magazine focused on outdoors, with offices based in Santa Fe. Ogles explained the job and atmosphere of the magazine, both in terms of working in Santa Fe and in working with a well-known athletic magazine. Ogles’ focus at Outside is the travel section, as well as fact-checking.

Of the outdoor environment, Ogles explained: “I thought when I started here, ‘I’m gonna be surround by really athletic people.’ I was a bit scared! But while we have some professional athletes [kayakers, runners]—the vast majority are ‘good’ skiers, ‘good’ runners. Then my sport is fly fishing, so for a few of us our talent is…making pies. We are all outdoorsy in our own way…I’m surrounded by people who are smarter than me, which is what I look for in a job, so that I can constantly improve. ”

April 2014 cover of Outside Magazine.

April 2014 cover of Outside Magazine.

He explained Santa Fe as one of the main attractions to the job. Working with a magazine that has such a broad audience typically places someone in cities like New York, but Ogles called this job, “the best of both worlds.” Ogles said everyone at Outside feels the same, and often quickly finds a home in Santa Fe: “The sun shines six out of seven days, and I can camp and be far from everyone on the weekends.”

Each issue of Outside is put together and conceptualized roughly six months in advance; Ogles just sat down to work on the October issue. Writers send him options for trips, and he picks the best fit for the issue—writing and editing six or so articles at a time.

Ogles wasn’t always headed for journalism, and this was a topic that perked up the ears of many in the room. The Glyph editors are a mix of poets and fiction writers, with the closest companion to a journalism track being creative non-fiction. Ogles was a poetry and fiction writer himself, and fell deep into journalism when he realized how much he loved interviewing others.

“I realized I love talking to people. I enjoy writing poetry and fiction more now because the pressure is off to write something that can be sent out to journals and publishers. Plot was always an issue for me, too. In journalism, it was there for me, the plot was decided on. I got to do all the descriptive writing without the pressures of coming up with an “original” plot…sometimes it’s freeing to write in restraints, like following a form in poetry.”

Envisioning futures we all will face, with balancing a job and writing on the side, the editors pried him about how he finds the time. His answer showed true dedication: “In the winter, I write a lot of poems because it’s cold out and I’d rather write a poem than go out and walk my dog. I make a point to write at least 500 words every morning.”

With this worry out of the way, the editors began to ask for advice into the world of freelance journalism. Ogles gave a hard truth:

“The success rate for people pitching ideas in freelance journalism is probably 5 percent. Which means you have to send alot out to a lot of different people. I’ve probably pitched 20 to 25 long features to magazines, and I’ve probably gotten one published. You just keep going, when one magazine denies the pitch, I revamp it and send it to another magazine.”

In regards to submissions, he placed knowing the magazine above all else:

“We get a lot of pitches that can clearly show they haven’t read the magazine. Someone will send us a pitch about a cooking show, or a pitch on a destination that we just wrote about. The successful ones have read our magazine, they have a clear connection to their idea, and they know where it goes in our magazine. For example, ‘this will go well on this page of this section of your magazine.’ …Editors think, ‘I have this type of hole in this type of issue to fill.’ If a writer says what month and section their pitch would fit into, that shows knowledge and I’ll respond.”

May 2014 cover of Outside Magazine

May 2014 cover of Outside Magazine

The Glyph editors asked if a submission should be shaped, in size and voice, to fit the magazine. Ogles didn’t necessarily agree, saying the work one is most proud of should be the writing sent forward, rather than the writing tailored to the magazine. “A good strong voice goes a long way,” he said. In regards to length, 3,000 words was a good stopping point for one, long piece, with two short pieces sent in, to show a variety and ability to get to the essence of a point in fewer words.

Finally, Ogles left with crucial advice for the seniors: “Don’t be afraid to take a job to pay the bills. Just because you’re not writing doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. You can always write on the side; you can always quit a job. Don’t put aside niche publications, sitting publications. They’re overworked and understaffed—they need people and will be open to your ideas. [Finally], networking is the most important thing you can do. I used to think this was a raunchy thing, that involved going to sleezy mixers—but all networking involves is ‘Hey, do you know anyone who works at… [blank]?’”

The room of writers sat, taking notes from someone who’s in the world, placing good work out there and allowing his own creative nature to continue.