March 1, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

Omaha Magazine publisher Todd Lemke fondly remembers several magazine covers from his 35 years in the local magazine business. But he is particularly fond of the November/December 1993 issue—a poster of which hangs on his office wall. The cover features a beautiful model wearing a Russian fur hat and coat. The lead story? “Revelations on Russia.”

Here’s the behind-the-scenes scoop: Lemke and the author of the cover story, Sandy Stahlstein, had traveled to Russia over the summer. While abroad in the land of “czars, caviar, and communism,” Lemke had proposed to the writer. And she said, “Yes.”

For many years, covers of Omaha Magazine featured one person’s portrait. Often it was someone whom the public could easily identify and read about in the magazine’s inside pages. Five years ago, the 30th anniversary issue changed that idea like a light bulb popping over Lemke’s head.

“I was talked into being the cover subject by Bill Sitzmann, who told me that readers want to know the faces behind the names in business, and that includes our business,” Lemke says.

That was one of the first conceptual covers of Omaha Magazine. Lemke liked the idea so much, he and the creative team began creating unique covers for subsequent publications. 

As lead photographer, Sitzmann saw concept covers as a way to stand out from the crowd, also noting that his skill set suited him to the work. The covers have won awards, inspired and intrigued the viewer, and brought an unparalleled feel to the publication.

“The cover that has won the most awards was the black-on-black cover with the spot gloss on it,” Lemke says of 2014’s Best of Omaha issue. The spot gloss varnish meant that while nearly the entire cover was black, there were words on the cover that were glossy while the majority of the cover was matte. “You had to move the cover around under a light source to see the words, but the cover really engaged the reader.”

Conceptual covers also enable Omaha Magazine to feature Omaha stars in uncommon ways. One of Sitzmann’s favorite covers is the July/August 2014 issue featuring Chuck Hagel.

“I got that done in two days,” Sitzmann says. “I flew to New York and drove straight to D.C. with all my gear. I shot at the Pentagon, spent the night at a friend’s house in New York, and flew back to Omaha the next day.”

He also enjoyed shooting the July/August 2015 cover with Keystone Pipeline activist Jane Kleeb holding a black snake and covered in chocolate syrup to emulate oil.

“She was all in,” Sitzmann says. “I gave her the snake idea, and she went for it.”

Other favorite conceptual covers include Mayor Jean Stothert on the September/October 2013 issue featuring the headline “Leading in a Man’s World” (with her head Photoshopped above a man’s hairy arms) and the September/October 2017 issue’s double cover on indigenous language revitalization (tribal elders translated text into the Omaha, or Umoⁿhoⁿ, language for the front with equivalent English text on the inside).

Bringing together these covers involves strategic meetings of the minds of everyone on the creative and editorial team.

“I am proud that each cover is a team approach between edit, photography, and graphics as to the selection and the composition of the design,” Lemke says. “Not everyone agrees all the time, but we are able to respect one another’s opinions, and I think most people walk away from the table saying, ‘Yes, that will work.’”

See the magazine’s current staff at http://omahamagazine.com/articles/35-years-on-staff/

Read Omaha Magazine at omahamagazine.com. Subscribe to support community journalism. 

November/December 1993

March/April 2013

September/October 2013

Best of Omaha, 2014

July/August 2014

July/August 2015

September/October 2016

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.