Ohio Cooperative Living: Behind the scenes

Ohio Cooperative Living: Behind the scenes

The Ohio Cooperative Living staff stand looking at an upcoming issue on the computer

Ohio Cooperative Living staff, from left, Rebecca Seum, Jeff McCallister, and Anita Cook.

Larry and Gloria Brunk have a pretty good sense of what’s happening at their local electric cooperative. They’ve been members of Midwest Electric, in the northwest part of the state, for more than 45 years and like to keep up with the goings-on at the co-op.

“We read the co-op magazine every month,” Gloria Brunk says. “There’s so much in there. We read everything — about animals and insects, recipes, and places to visit, and we enjoy the tidbits about when people get promoted or retire from the co-op. There are times when I get it from the mailbox and don’t put it down until I’ve read the whole thing.”

Ohio Cooperative Living magazine exists, very simply, as a way for electric co-ops around the state to get news to their members.

While the staff does its best to provide entertaining, informative content about the state’s events, personalities, and history, it also serves as most co-ops’ official, legal means of informing members about such things as their annual meeting, capital credits, trustee elections, and more.

“This magazine is like a guest in our readers’ homes,” says Jeff McCallister, the managing editor. “They welcome us every month, with both grace and enthusiasm, and we try to repay that hospitality by creating a magazine that’s worthy of their time.”

Those efforts are being recognized not only by readers like the Brunks, but also by industry experts. Ohio Cooperative Living, in fact, was awarded the George W. Haggard Memorial Journalism Award at the 2019 National Rural Electric Cooperative Association annual meeting in Orlando. That award honors the co-op publication that demonstrates the “most forthright, concise, and balanced presentation of ideas advancing co-ops and their consumer-members.” It’s the highest award given to a statewide magazine by the NRECA.

“This is an amazingly polished, professional magazine,” wrote one of the judges who awarded the Haggard. “The covers are beautiful … writing is strong, photography and artwork are powerful, with a story mix tailor-made to invite readers of all interests and ages.”

Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, the statewide association that provides services to the 24 distribution cooperatives that operate in Ohio, has published the magazine for 60 years — the first 58 under the name Country Living.

During the readership focus-group studies that led to the name change and redesign of the graphic look, researchers heard over and over that readers consider the magazine one of the best perks of their co-op membership, and data from scientific surveys back up the opinions of the focus groups.

According to GfK MRI, one of the largest research firms in the world, 93% of those who get the magazine read all or part of at least three of the last four issues, which is a number nearly unheard of in the magazine industry.

The magazine staff — in close collaboration with the staffs at the local cooperatives — actually produces 24 individual editions of each monthly issue, specific to each of the individual co-ops whose members receive the magazine. The co-op staffs are responsible for the local section in the center, which is different in each of the editions, while the three-person statewide staff produces the rest.

McCallister decides the overall content of the statewide pages and manages the business operations of the magazine. Associate Editor Rebecca Seum not only collects and manages all the content for the local cooperative pages, but also edits and proofreads every page (more than 200 pages per month, with all the editions combined). Award-winning Graphic Designer Anita Cook creatively lays out the magazine, including many of the local sections, to ensure their style is consistent with the overall feel of the rest of the pages.

Much of the statewide content is produced by contributors, including regulars such as Outdoors Editor Chip Gross and freelancer Damaine Vonada, who has written history- and travel-related stories since 2002. The ever-popular recipe section is the work of Catherine Murray, a professional photographer who writes original recipes specifically for Ohio Cooperative Living before photographing them for the layout.

Often the staff is working on two or even three months’ issues at the same time, as several steps in the production process overlap on the calendar. By the time readers see this, the July issue, work will be well underway on parts of the September magazine.

“There are so many pieces we have to fit together to be able to give our readers the best experience possible, but it’s worth it,” McCallister says. “Electric cooperative members have a genuine affection for Ohio Cooperative Living, and there’s not really anything that could make us more proud of the work we do.”