Behind the Scenes at 48 Hour Magazine



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Heather Powazek Champ / Flickr
Sarah Rich and Mat Honan employ post-it note technology

Day Two

7:30 p.m. Saturday

When I arrive back at the offices on Saturday night, the project has kicked into new gear.  Not every one of the 1,502 submission had been read by at least two people, which had been the goal, but most had -- and it seemed like everything had been read at least once. Friends and colleagues are fact-checking and editing pieces the selected pieces. Heather Powazek Champ, a former community manager at Flickr and one of the magazine's founders, is taking photographs of the process. (She gave me permission to use some of her photographs along with this post.)  It isn't really a raucous atmosphere; people are quiet and very focused. It's   strange to be in an office environment in which nobody is fooling around on Facebook or trying to look they they were working when they're really chatting. Everyone seems to be actually working.

8 p.m.

InDesign crashes for the first time. Don't worry, designer and founder Derek Powazek says, "I save like a fucking motherfucker."


Sometime between 8 p.m and 11 p.m.

Designer Dakota Keck strolls into the office. She is still dressed for a night out, decked out in a tiered dress and heels. She will proceed to work steadily throughout the night and produce an infographic for the magazine in a matter of hours. When I return the next morning, she will still be there in her party clothes.

10 p.m.

Brief break for a family-style dinner of Vietnamese food. Donuts, coffee, and white rice: a dangerous diet, even for 48 hours.

10:30 p.m.

I go back to fact-checking an article about baseball. I know nothing about baseball. I do it anyway.

Nearing midnight

The editors begin the complicated process of organizing how the selected articles, photographs, and illustrations will fit into the magazine. What pieces need to be grouped together? How will the theme shift from section to section? This is a high-tech process. They use post-it notes.

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Heather Powazek Champ/Flickr
3:51 a.m. Sunday, eight hours to go

5:30 a.m. Sunday

Reports of "hooting" and maniacal laughter. I'm in bed, so I miss this. So does the documentary filmmaker. 

8:35 a.m. Sunday

With less than four hours left before the magazine is supposed to be sent to the printers, the mood in the office is intense and a little grim. There are discarded shoes in corners, and blankets on the floor where volunteers tried to catch an hour or two of sleep. On the plus side, someone has apparently used the shower in the Mother Jones bathroom; there is a towel hanging inside. 

9:00 a.m.

Editor Honan comes into the conference room, where most of the volunteer fact-checkers and copy-editors are gathered. "If it seems like we're freaking out, it's because we are,' he says.

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Coffee, beer, aspirin, the AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style: David Harris has everything a copy editor needs
9:25 a.m

Editor Rich distributes printed-out copies of the magazine's PDF pages. Some are still blank. The copy editors split up the pages and begin proofing them by hand. 

11 a.m.

The documentary filmmaker arrives to capture the last frenetic hour. 

11:02 a.m.

Honan turns the livestreaming video back on, just to amp up the pressure a little more.

11:15 a.m.


"It's a quarter past 11," someone says.

"Shhhh!" a copy editor replies.

11:17 a.m.

Walking up and down the hallway is taking too much time. Madrigal breaks into a jog.  

11:47 a.m.

Derek Powazek, the designer, is still tweaking the cover, which features a blurred black and white photograph of people in motion, and a 48HR logo in hot pink.  "I really want this to punch everybody in the face," he says. 

11:53 a.m. 

"I think for real it's pencils down," Madrigal tells the proofers. Jennifer Prior, WIRED's copy chief, is still entering all of the edits into the PDF of the magazine. ("I do love these people," she will say in a few minutes, without stopping her work. ) Everything else is done. "I say we still celebrate at 12," Madrigal says.

12:00 p.m.

Somehow the countdown to noon has started, and everyone is clustering around the computer where Powazek  has completed the final version of the magazine's cover, and then everyone is cheering and hugging each other, even though, as someone points out, some people must smell pretty bad by this point. Madrigal throws his hat into the air.

"The afterparty should be a nap," someone suggests.

"What day is it?" Powazek asks.

12:15 and beyond.

The documentary filmmaker starts conducting follow-up interviews. He gets Madrigal in front of the camera.

"Do you think this experiment was, in itself, a hustle?" the filmmaker asks.

"Yeah," Madrigal says. "I  mean..."


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