“The Internet and print are not in competition and the way we work here at The Fader is when we’re pitching stories for web or for the print magazine, we do it in the same way.” Naomi Zeichner
Street-smart and dedicated to emerging music and artists whose stories haven’t always been told, The Fader magazine is celebrating its 15th year of publication with a new and improved attitude and a desire to expand its coverage of the music scene to many other facets of that community, from the culture of dance and comedy to the sometimes shadowy world of drugs and their usage.
At the helm for the christening of this new journey is Naomi Zeichner, who originally joined The Fader in 2010 as a music intern, and proceeded to work her way up to associate editor, and more recently senior editor, before leaving to join BuzzFeed as music editor earlier this year.
Coming back to The Fader, Naomi is passionate and excited about the direction the print magazine and its digital component is heading and was exuberant about sharing The Fader’s past, present and future with me.
So, sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Naomi Zeichner, Editor, The Fader. You won’t be disappointed…
But first the sound-bites:
On The Fader’s fusion of print and digital: All of that is a part of what we’re going to do here, but I think that said, in my opinion, it doesn’t come into conflict with print; they go together very well.
On whether there will ever be a day when The Fader will not have a print component: I don’t think so, not anytime soon.
On what the audience should expect from The Fader’s new editor: I think our readers should expect that we’re going to be doing more journalism daily. People used to look to The Fader and still look to The Fader, for the very special, reported stories that drop six times a year. And now I don’t think they’ll have to wait as long.
On why The Fader has survived for 15 years when others have failed: I think it’s much like I said before; it’s that we really stay true to our mission, which is we tell stories in a way that people haven’t told them; we dig below the surface.
On the challenges The Fader has faced: I think with any media organization a big challenge is just how quickly the web changes and how quickly the way we are able to tell stories changes and I actually think some of the most important people in journalism right now are developers and people who know how to code, they give journalists the best tools.
On whether the changes at The Fader will alienate the magazine’s core audience or expand their audience: I think that if we did it in a wrong way, if I said, oh I’m just going to start posting recaps of scandals every week; then yes, people would look at that and say, what the heck is this?
On whether the magazine has a mentor or another website or publication it strives to emulate: Yes, there are lots of places that I love. I wouldn’t say that I have one mentor or one particular place that I’m looking at for ideas.
On what keeps her up at night: So what keeps me up at night is the idea that I have the responsibility to some of these people, whose music has changed my life and made it better, and to share them with the world and bring them maybe from a small audience to a bigger one, at least to the Internet.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Naomi Zeichner, Editor, The Fader…
Samir Husni: Most people are transitioning from print to web and digital, but you’re reversing the trend; are you a futuristic person and know something everyone else doesn’t?
Naomi Zeichner: Well yes, I do think that I’m a futuristic person, but no, to be serious, we’re not reversing the trend, I think we’re just going to go in both directions at once. It’s a big goal of mine here to expand what we do online, we hired a new video producer, and we’re working on potentially doing more coverage at night and on the weekends, bigger interviews and more features online, doing more of what we’ve always done in our magazine more often and the place to do that is of course on the web, and doing more news reporting and really trying to expand the type of journalism that we do on breaking news daily online.
All of that is a part of what we’re going to do here, but I think that said, in my opinion, it doesn’t come into conflict with print; they go together very well. And the way I think about our magazine; our reader reads online every day, every minute on their phone and they follow everything with Fader and it’s giving and telling them information and it’s exciting, but it’s nice also at the end of a couple of months to have a yearbook of it, a little digest that gives the reader an update on everything, with what’s happened in the world over a couple of months and gives you something to keep and remember it by. And to capture that history, because I think for young people right now the world is moving so quickly, especially in The Fader’s market, which is emerging music and I think music moves very quickly today.
We have the resources to do wonderful journalism. A lot of the artists we cover, other people don’t do substantial interviews with them or there isn’t other photojournalist’s covering those scenes, so because we have the resources to do that we’re really creating a historical record with our print magazine. Also, it’s beautiful and fun to read, so we think of the magazine as an archive of all the work that we’re doing online for history, but also a gift of entertainment to our readers and something special for them to keep.
Samir Husni: Are you saying that you’ll never see the day where The Fader will not be in print?
Naomi Zeichner: I don’t think so, not anytime soon. I’m not a psychic (laughs), but for now, for the next year and the foreseeable future, we’re very committed to print.
Samir Husni: Tell me, with the experience that you gained from working with BuzzFeed and your history with The Fader; it’s my understanding that you started there as an intern…
Naomi Zeichner: Yes, that’s true.
Samir Husni: What are your plans; what should your audience expect from the new editor at an established magazine like The Fader?
Naomi Zeichner: I think our readers should expect that we’re going to be doing more journalism daily. People used to look to The Fader and still look to The Fader, for the very special, reported stories that drop six times a year. And now I don’t think they’ll have to wait as long.
Many of the people who work at The Fader, including myself, didn’t go to school for journalism and are not necessarily traditionally-trained journalists, but that’s that. Everybody here is very intelligent, creative and we all work well together, so a part of my goal is that our whole staff will become more aggressive, thorough and tenacious journalists. I think that’s a big part of it, breaking news and investigative stories that matter about the musicians we cover and also the culture surrounding them.
I also want to expand our cultural coverage, both online and in print. We already do a wonderful job of covering music, but I also want to dig deeper into the culture surrounding them, so things like comedy, dancing culture and drug culture; just an array of topics and just the things that matter to young people in America. Books, writers and television, things like that. So we’re going to work to expand our coverage of those things.
I really don’t have any big plans for a dramatic change. I think The Fader is wonderful and that’s why I wanted to come back and be a part of it. It’s survived for 15 years because the people that it covers really care about it and love to read it. And coming back here, I was so thrilled by how many people reached out to me, writers, friends and musicians because The Fader means so much to them and I don’t think that people necessarily feel so personal toward a publication as a whole anymore, so their caring means a lot. I think we’re just going to continue creating strong content that our readers trust.
And we’re going to continue to grow the partnership programs that we do and making sure that when we team up with Vitamin Water or whoever, that we do really amazing stuff.
Samir Husni: Why did The Fader survive where others failed in this genre of magazines?
Naomi Zeichner: That’s a very good question. I think it’s much like I said before; it’s that we really stay true to our mission, which is we tell stories in a way that people haven’t told them; we dig below the surface. I believe that in emerging music, like I said, a lot of these artists are not covered by general interest magazines or by newspapers and they’re certainly not covered by newspapers before they’re covered by The Fader. We’ve always been game on spending money to send reporters to travel, to send photographers places and really uncover new things. And for that reason I think The Fader is indispensable. While other people were sort of picking up what was already in air and working on expanding what they were doing online by aggregating things; The Fader was sticking true to its mission to tell reported stories.
Also, The Fader has just stayed cool. Artists really, even though we might have a more intimate audience, they want to work with us because they see The Fader as a place that’s really going to show their truth and make them look good. So I believe that’s part of the reason we’ve survived.
And The Fader has always been very bold; it has never shied away from doing a topic that’s very experimental. The result of that is a lot of people are looking to The Fader. I always say that Drake, a very famous rapper, I think is reading The Fader to decide who he’s going to work with next. It’s not just the younger readers who are looking at us, but it’s the artists as well and it creates a community and the community is able to participate in our events and because we created that whole world, not just a news organization, but an actual cultural service to everyone, that’s another part of why the magazine hasn’t gone away.
Samir Husni: You sound as though you are painting a very nice picture of a rose garden (laughs); what are some of the thorns that you have encountered or expect to along the way? What stumbling blocks do you anticipate having to face and how do plan on overcoming them?
Naomi Zeichner: I think with any media organization a big challenge is just how quickly the web changes and how quickly the way we are able to tell stories changes and I actually think some of the most important people in journalism right now are developers and people who know how to code, they give journalists the best tools. And I think about that all the time; how do we make our CMS really nimble and I think that’s a challenge, but it’s not a challenge just for The Fader, it’s a challenge for everyone.
I think change is always hard for everyone. If we at The Fader can make our authors feel free to try new things, new ways of telling stories; maybe instead of doing an interview as just a normal Q & A, doing a longer report or making it more like a list, we will continue to grow. Just experimenting with different types of storytelling and that’s something readers expect now, they want to read new and exciting things. I think the readers are more experimental than ever and get their content from many different types of media. And that can be a challenge for any writer, to always be trying to grow and do new things. As I said earlier, a lot of the writers here at The Fader don’t come from traditional journalistic backgrounds and they’re people that love music and are a part of the culture. And that’s another challenge for us as a team, to always help each other become better writers, reporters and journalists.
Samir Husni: You mentioned earlier that you are going to expand the coverage of The Fader to have more than music; you’re going to include culture, books, drug culture, you name it. Do you envision any problems with doing that, such as losing your die-hard, core audience who for 15 years have loved the magazine the way it is? Or do you think the expansion will help you gain more readers and a larger audience?
Naomi Zeichner: I think that if we did it in a wrong way, if I said, oh I’m just going to start posting recaps of scandals every week; then yes, people would look at that and say, what the heck is this? I could get this anywhere else. But if there’s a comedian that really matters to all Fader readers that is a part of the same culture that the musicians are a part of and we want to do a reported feature on them or put them on the cover, I don’t think anybody would blink an eye.
Musicians today and how they promote themselves and how they think about themselves, they’re just as much cultural figures as they are musicians and sometimes who a person is and the story they have to tell is just as important as the music they make. Knowing that, I think we’re all very eager to cover other figures in this world. People who are Internet celebrities or Internet poets and people who design programs have the same stories to tell as people who are making music. And they’re all interacting with each other on the Internet anyway and they’re all being talked about on our Twitter timelines, so I think we’re just true to telling the stories of the people who we really think matter that haven’t been told elsewhere.
Samir Husni: There is nothing new in our magazine media world; what do you look at to get new ideas? Does The Fader have a mentor, another publication or website that you look to and strive to emulate?
Naomi Zeichner: Yes, there are lots of places that I love. I wouldn’t say that I have one mentor or one particular place that I’m looking at for ideas. I love how Billboard engages their charts, I think they do a great job at really explaining them and I love the fact that they cover so many different genres with the same respect. That’s something I love.
I love how Bloomberg Businessweek looks in print, it’s amazing. I don’t follow the stock market, but I can read Businessweek cover to cover. I love New York magazine and how they blend print and online seamlessly, even though they’re two very different projects for them and I think that’s something that The Fader can aspire to. I love stuff like Adult magazine, it’s not print only, but it’s like an art-type, print-only publication. I love sitting down to read something like that.
But I read stuff from all over the web. Readers today are not married to any publication; they’re married to a good story. So aggressively, online and in print, we’re going to work really hard on good stories.
I believe there are so many great publications out there right now. And I feel very lucky as a young editor, but also as a person who grew up loving magazines and loving the Internet that we’re actually at such a healthy place right now. There is a lot of bad news in media, but there’s a lot of good news too.
Samir Husni: And which side do you think you lean toward more; the bad news or the good news?
Naomi Zeichner: The good news.
Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add or emphasize?
Naomi Zeichner: Just that the Internet and print are not in competition and the way we work here at The Fader is when we’re pitching stories for web or for the print magazine, we do it in the same way. The only big difference is the content in the magazine is on a more rigid schedule and more hands touch it, because literally the printers touch it, but the editing and thinking processes are exactly the same. For me, they’ve just never been in competition. I believe we’re very lucky here to have owners who believe in print and let us do a really fun thing that we are really proud of. And we feel very proud every time we publish a story
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Naomi Zeichner: (Laughs) I’m thinking about how to introduce new templates to my website so we can build crazier types of stories. I’m thinking about how my writers can write the best headlines. I’m thinking about all the new songs that are going to come out tomorrow or the mixed tape that I downloaded today that I love so much. I’m thinking about how much I would like to talk to the producer of a song that I love. I’m thinking about how excited I am to come into work and see what my coworkers are wearing.
I’m thinking about a lot of things, but I came back to The Fader because it’s a very exciting place. I stayed here a long time and we all worked very hard, very long days on a small team, but I’m genuinely excited to walk into this building every day and I also feel that the artists we cover are looking to us to tell their stories. So what keeps me up at night is the idea that I have the responsibility to some of these people, whose music has changed my life and made it better, and to share them with the world and bring them maybe from a small audience to a bigger one, at least to the Internet. And that’s what keeps me up at night.
Samir Husni: Thank you.