Archive for October, 2009

h1

You want to start a new magazine? Hear what the man, Roy Reiman, who started 18 of them has to say

October 30, 2009

Roy Reiman, founder of Reiman Publications (Country and Taste of Home among many others) and current publisher of Our Iowa magazine, was the keynote speaker for the 26th annual Fall Journalism Week at the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media. He spoke about the Gloom, Doom and Zoom in the media industry. I asked Roy after his presentation what will he tell someone who asks him what does it take to launch a new magazine in today’s marketplace. Click on the video below to hear his answer.

h1

Romancing Journalism and other words of wisdom from Bob Guccione, Jr.

October 28, 2009

“Romancing Journalism” would have been a great title for the speech that Bob Guccione, Jr., founder of Spin and Gear magazines gave during Journalism Week at The University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism yesterday. Guccione spoke to the students about his “labor of love and seeking truth” during his career as the publisher of Spin, Gear and Discover magazines. I had the chance to catch up with Bob after his speech and asked him about the essence of journalism. What is the utmost importance to journalists today and what role should technology play in this whole new ball of wax we call new media. Click on the video below to hear Bob’s answer:

h1

Roger Fransecky on Prose, Poetry and Plumbing

October 26, 2009

What does it take to run a remarkable business and not just a good business? Roger Fransecky, founder and CEO of the consulting group APOGEE, has the answer to this question using his famous three Ps: Prose, Poetry and Plumbing. View his answer below.

Roger spoke today at the opening of the Fall Journalism Week at the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi.

h1

Stack America: Bringing “Magazines That Matter” to Your Home

October 25, 2009

Picture 1
There are over 7,000 magazines distributed on the nation’s newsstands every month and few of the aforementioned magazines ever makes it to the heartland of American homes and customers. In fact more than 3,000 independent magazines never engage in any type of direct mail solicitations, so they remain unnoticed by many.

Well, not after this coming January. My friend Andrew Losowsky, author, writer, editor and co-curator of the independent magazine forum Colophon, has embarked on a new venture: Stack America. He writes about this new subscription service, “Think of it as a private magazine club that brings a fresh perspective on the world every two months. It’s the perfect gift for anyone who works in editorial, graphic design or advertising – or even a doctor or dentist looking for something fresh to put in their waiting room. If you live in the USA and you’re at all interested in modern storytelling, Stack America is for you.” (Just a side note, did I mention that those magazines arriving at your home are Ink on Paper magazines and not digital entities!)

The goal of Stack America is “to help connect amazing magazines with curious readers, showcasing the best in imaginative, independent publishing.” The idea of Stack America comes from Stack Magazines, a subscription service that was founded in London in 2008 by journalist Steve Watson, to bring the best independent publishing to a wider audience. The majority of its magazines are European-based. Stack America is its New England-based offshoot, sending out mainly American independent magazines.

The subscription price to Stack America choice of magazines is $71.99, quite a hefty price compared to the majority of the traditional American magazines. So I asked Andrew:

Why do you think people will pay such a high price for magazines they do not know about? While the average sub. price is still under $25, why do you think readers are willing to pay that high price?

AL: Part of Stack America’s mission is to help people rethink what they understand as being a magazine. In reality, we’re talking about two different kinds of magazine.
Those who have subs under $25 are the big name glossy magazines, where much of the editorial is sourced from press releases and PR. Though there are occasional exceptions, these are publications created for advertisers ahead of readers, and by editorial teams who are scared to innovate much, in case they lose their market position and put off a potential advertiser.

Stack America, however, deals with a very different kind of magazine: publications created by imaginative, groundbreaking people outside of the mainstream, telling stories through words, design and images as they want them told. Not all of these are successful experiments – but when they get it right, they point to a future for print, showing the mainstream how and where to go next. Their biggest problem is distribution – which is where Stack America comes in. We’re handpicking only the best magazines to showcase to an audience that we think will love them too. No magazine can pay to be part of Stack America – the credibility and selection is our guarantee, and we think that people will agree it’s worth the price (which still works out cheaper than buying the magazines individually).

It isn’t for everyone – and we don’t expect the majority of glossy magazine buyers to sign up. However, those people who love great design, storytelling, creativity and imaginative publishing are in for a treat.

SH: What are the obstacles that you envision to see in the near future?

Stack America is only as strong as the magazines who are a part of it, but for the next few years at least, I’m not worried about that. There are plenty of fantastic magazines out there that we’re either talking to already or will be soon, about being a part of Stack America. It’s amazing the work that’s being produced out there, and a tragedy that it isn’t reaching its natural audience. I’m hopeful that we can help make at least a small difference in giving them a boost.

Thanks Andrew. It you have started such a service years ago, you would have saved me hundreds of dollars in airline tickets traveling the country searching for those magazines, because I knew that I can’t find them in small-town USA. Indeed, a fantasy service for magazine lovers all over the United States, a fantasy that can now easily be fulfilled. Sign me up!

h1

Death+Taxes magazine: Using Technology to “Rock” Your Print World

October 21, 2009

DT1
In a letter to a friend, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The aforementioned death and taxes have been the idea behind “the smartest, coolest music magazine in the world: Death + Taxes.” In fact, I selected Death + Taxes as one of the “most notable launches of the year” four years ago, and I am glad to hear one of its editors Stephen Blackwell saying, “I am happy to say we’re thriving.”

After 21 issues of print only publication, the editors of Death+Taxes magazine, through what they labeled as their first interactive issue of the magazine, have added technology to the two unavoidable things in life: Death + Taxes. “For the first time, print media and new media have merged — not as a gimmick, but as a truly new experience,” write Death + Texas editors in their Nov./Dec. issue of the magazine. They explain that this new experience has been created by “combining the best of the print world (gorgeous photos and great stories) with the immediacy of the digital world (music downloads, videos, sound clips, and so on).” All what you need is a copy of the printed magazine and a phone with a camera, and, voila, you have an experience that amplifies the future of print rather than nullifies that future.

Mr. Blackwell, Death+Taxes magazine editor told me that “this is not a traditional piece of print media. It is the first magazine that utilizes mobile technology and cloud computing to deepen the editorial experience for readers.”

DT1-1I asked Stephen Blackwell few questions regarding this latest innovation in amplifying the future of print:

Samir Husni: You present this issue of the magazine as its first interactive issue, why and how did you decide to do that and do you think the future of print will include interactive media to complete the experience?

Stephen Blackwell: The technology we used to produce the interactive issue, which is called Mobot, has been around for a couple of years. It’s been used in out-of-home marketing campaigns as well as advertising campaigns in a few magazines. Basically, people would take pictures of ads and get coupons in return. We started discussing its possibilities with Scion and we figured, instead of making advertising interactive, why don’t we make our editorial interactive? We ran an editorial on a great guitarist named Marnie Stern. If you take a picture of the page with your cell phone, you’ll get a video in return where you can watch her perform and experience what we’re writing about. We’re providing another editorial dimension via the print magazine. The technology is a little limited — it compresses the content and can only deliver about 30 seconds of material — but our imaginations still ran wild with it. Our partner Scion loved the idea and really made the experience a reality.

SH: How much of a lesser experience do you think DT will offer if there was no interactive link with the mobile technology?

SB: Death+Taxes came together after the social network and blog bubbles happened, so it’s in our DNA to be as innovative as possible. To us, creating an interactive issue was an irresistible idea, mainly because it was a way to get a group of artists to collaborate with each other in way they never have before through our magazine. That said, print is still the most aesthetically and mentally rewarding form of media when it comes to diving into long-form editorial content. As an experience, the depth offered by a well-written and well-designed magazine article isn’t rivaled anywhere on the web or in a quick video clip. Print is not an incomplete experience, so I don’t think delivering a product without interactivity will lessen the quality of our magazine, or any magazine for that matter. But we do embrace the opportunity to explore different dimensions with new tools that technology makes available.


SH: Where do you see innovation in print is heading and how can we use technology to amplify the future of print?

SB: Magazine titles need to use technology to leverage their brands however possible. The days of shipping your product to a newsstand in hopes of obtaining readers through a flashy cover are over. That’s not say magazine covers shouldn’t be flashy and attention-grabbing, but developing a constantly updated website, developing an iPhone application, and developing readership through social networks all fall under the hat of a magazine editor these days. At Death+Taxes, we’ve never thought about print as being in competition against online. They are both avenues for creative people to deliver different types of content, and they can have a symbiotic relationship that drives readers to and from the other. I think we’re just starting to see the start of that.

So what are you still waiting for? Head to a nearby newsstand and pick up a copy of the Nov./Dec. 2009 issue of Death+Taxes and let technology rock your print world.

h1

Looking for some “tweets” about magazines? Look at what the Magazine Publishers of America has done

October 20, 2009

I am not in the habit of posting blogs based on press releases or such, however, I received an e mail from Howard Polskin, Senior Vice President, Communications & Events at the Magazine Publishers of America with a link to a short, two-minute video about the vitality of magazines. Howard says, the MPA calls it “The Twenty Tweetable Truths About Magazines.” The MPA wanted each “truth” to be short and simple to understand, which is why they’re 140 characters or less.
The video shows how vital, alive and kicking the magazine industry is today, and, for a change, is a step in the right direction of promoting what we do best: create great magazines with no apologies needed. Check if for yourself here.

h1

Bob Guccione Jr. on journalism, the future, innovation, newspapers and the return of creativity in the magazine world: The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

October 16, 2009

The Mr. Magazine™ Interview
Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni interviews Bob Guccione, Jr., founder of Spin and Gear magazines

bobgBIGIt there is one word that describes the founder of Spin and Gear magazines Bob Guccione, Jr. , that word would be PASSION. I have met hundreds of magazine publishers and editors, but never saw such a passion for our business as I saw the evening I had dinner with Bob in New York City. I met him in person for the first time after years of reading and following his journalism career. From the prototype of Spin to the prototype of Gear, from his days at Discover to his work at Prestige, Bob wasas I always felt, and after my meeting and interview with him confirmed, is my counter-part in the magazine world in the professional domain. My domain is and will continue to be academia, but both of our work is and will continue to be aimed at an industry we both cherish and love.

Bob discovered magazines and his love to magazines at an early age. He was quick to take the lead and venture into magazine publishing when he was still in his twenties. Spin changed the music publishing scene, and Gear offered a different kind of men’s magazine. However, Bob’s love to magazines and print is not limited to ink on paper or pixels on a screen. His love is to our profession, to journalism and the preservation of its future.

We were so engaged in our discussion at dinner that after almost four hours we felt that the conversation was just beginning. So we agreed to follow up with a phone interview and than with a visit from Bob to the campus of The University of Mississippi to visit its newly created Magazine Innovation Center and speak to the journalism students at the School of Journalism and New Media.

What follows is my interview with Bob Guccione, Jr. starting with the sound bites first and then, in the usual Mr. Magazine™ Interview style, my lightly, and lengthy, edited conversation with Bob.

The Sound Bites:

On newspapers: There is no escaping the fact that the product of a newspaper is and has been – since the 1600s – unchanged. Effectively, completely and in every way, they have to change.

On good content and the internet: The Internet allows for any level of content to take up space along side. So, you can have inferior, inadequate content on the same footing as the most superb, superior content. That is the problem with the Internet, and, ultimately, it will lead to a deflation of the Internet’s commercial value, as people realize that a lot of what they’re reading is not really worthwhile, while the natural competitiveness of traditional media, due to the limit of space, brings in a quality that is traditional media’s great advantage.

On the changing landscape of the industry:
Our destiny is in our own hands. There’s no doubt, and I don’t think anybody will disagree with that. There will be a Darwinism of traditional media that’s a healthy thing, sort of like a forest fire.

On the wakeup call for the traditional media: The wakeup call has already come and some people slept through it. The wakeup call has come in that the absorption of technology into households is so mainstream that it is no longer the oddity of those kids in the corner.

On the solution to our problems: The solution is startlingly simple, incredibly simple. It is to turn the telescope around. We are looking through the wrong end. We are seeing everything in miniature, rather than everything large, because we’re looking at it the wrong way. Instead of being intimidated by this great beast that is the new technological world, we must tame that beast.

On brand expansions:
People have to be realistic about their channel. I often refer to what I think is the DNA of a given magazine. Once you understand the DNA, the appeal to the magazine’s audience, then you understand how to market more products, whether books, special issues, new magazines, spin-offs or television shows that are from the same ideology. Obviously, the website is supposed to have the spirit of the publication.

On the role of journalists:
Journalists must first and foremost understand their obligation and their vocation the same way a priest does. A priest can be confronted with all the different ways of delivering a sermon, but a priest must remember that his first obligation is to serve people and to try to help them wherever possible.

On humans and the technology:
We are three-dimensional. I believe we like to hold and read products. We like the tactile feeling of a product. It’s just the way we are. It’s human nature. It’s part of us. It’s not a judgment for or against traditional media and technology. It’s simply a comment that things are often overlooked. If technology really was such an apocalyptic event in traditional media, there wouldn’t be any traditional media left.

On the role of individuals in the media business: I think this is a great time for an entrepreneur. I think it’s a great time for a creative person. I think we are entering into an age, when media will once again be dominated by creative people. It’s a pendulum, simple as that. Creative people started it. It drifted into being dominated by financial and corporate people. Now, the pendulum has swung to the outer edge, where private equity investors, who are actually uncomfortable with ownership, dominate it. You could say the process has devalued creative talent.

On print today:
For me, print today is like the gold rush in the early days of northern California. These are all wonderful assets, well not all, the ones I’m looking at are wonderful assets that are prone to benefit tremendously from all the forms of new media available. If this isn’t a time that calls for passion in all walks of life, then what is?

On innovation and creativity:
The problem will really be solved by innovations we cannot imagine today that will be the products of great creative people, great collaborations and great aggregations of innovation. I have nothing but faith.

On the problems with journalism today:
They think readers want sex, gossip, cooking, and tips to flatten their stomachs. That’s when publishing is sort of descended into this blandness of just being ink and paper.

On what’s missing from today’s journalism:
The biggest thing missing today in media is romance. Who are the romantics? You have to have a romantic notion that what you do is worthwhile, and the people you’re doing it for are worthwhile.

On journalism students and degrees:
I don’t think any journalist should leave your school without making a pledge that they individually are going to change the world. They should have to cite a pledge, put their hand on their heart and say, “I intend to change the world.” Then you say, “Fine, here’s your diploma.” That should be the last thing a student journalist does.

And now for the full interview…

SH: Let us start with the easy question: Is there a future for newspapers and print in general?

BG: The problem with newspapers is also part of their charm. They’re tradition soaked. The generation that succeeded the previous generation was taught by that generation, so the increment of differences is very small. It’s like the Vatican. The new pope is conditioned, trained in and molded in the ideology of the guy he succeeds, so he can bring very little free thought and free movement to the church. It is the same with newspapers. In the 70s and 80s, newspaper editors would say to me, “How do we get your generation to read papers?” I used to say, “You’ve got to make it interesting.” I think one of the problems is that they haven’t made it interesting to young people. They have not made it relevant. They are literally anachronistic. Until they accept and realize that, they cannot begin the treatment that will save them. Many will not come to that realization. They will not allow themselves to accept that, they will not get treatment, and they will die. It is clear. There is no escaping the fact that the product of a newspaper is and has been – since the 1600s – unchanged. Effectively, completely and in every way, they have to change. The debate is not whether Twitter undoes the newspaper or Google replaces the newspaper. That debate is not going to happen. Google has its monopoly of classifieds and other like services, and Twitter will be the fastest way, at this point, for people to convey the breaking news on things that are not that interesting with reports that are not that interesting.

What newspapers and traditional print media have had is a natural inherited survival advantage. It is a competitiveness that’s Darwinian. In traditional media, whether it’s a television network, a magazine or a newspaper, there’s competition – a natural competition – between the people who create the content, the writers, and the editors over who will get the jobs. There are many people who would like to write articles in magazines, and not that many are good enough to compete for the best slots in the best magazines. Competitiveness weans out the best, and the cream rises to the top. As a result of that, they have honed the skills to make their product very worthwhile, at the top end. The best writers create the best product. The lowest end of that is passable, or maybe just below passable. The Internet allows for any level of content to take up space along side. So, you can have inferior, inadequate content on the same footing as the most superb, superior content. That is the problem with the Internet, and, ultimately, it will lead to a deflation of the Internet’s commercial value, as people realize that a lot of what they’re reading is not really worthwhile, while the natural competitiveness of traditional media, due to the limit of space, brings in a quality that is traditional media’s great advantage.

Traditional media have been so scared and traumatized by the advance of technology and new media that they have forgotten their strengths. They have not lost them. They have forgotten them, and I think that’s a massive difference. It’s like somebody making me a car for $500. It just isn’t as good as a car for $12,000. People are selling cars for $500. But, they aren’t good enough, they aren’t as good. They’re shopping carts, they’re golf carts, they’re beach buggies, it’s not the same thing. I think traditional media has forgotten and lost sense of their power.

We have descended into a debate, and this is beyond newspapers. It goes to all media and certainly all print media. We have descended into a debate, which is really the wrong one. It’s one of “us or them?” “Who’s going to survive because the internet is going to fail?” It’s not true. The internet isn’t going to fail. It’s going to have gyrations. Tectonic plates are going to move. It’s going to have earthquakes, and these are going to create lakes. They’re going to create arid mountains and deserts. It’s going to have its own geological life so to speak. It isn’t going to go away. It is, however, going to change, and I think people’s perception of it is going to change. I also think people’s consumption of it is going to change. We’ve already seen that. People’s relationship with it will change. Those are the things I absolutely predict assuredly.

Our destiny is in our own hands. There’s no doubt, and I don’t think anybody will disagree with that. There will be a Darwinism of traditional media that’s a healthy thing, sort of like a forest fire. A lot of what will go away is not exclusively a bad thing. If not then, it might look good in hindsight. We’ll look back and say, “Well that wasn’t the greatest thing.” We’re starting to see magazines go away. We’re starting to see newspapers close. Are they really great products? I have yet to see a really great magazine that has closed. A big magazine was Domino. They aren’t my cup of tea, but I understand from the people who love it that it was amazing. That may have been purely an economical decision at home.

I think that the destiny of traditional media is in it’s own hands and we have to evaluate whether or not we are putting out the best product. I would like to say that a magazine that sells subscriptions for $7.99 like Esquire, which I think it’s a very tedious and dull product, has brought the problems they have on themselves.

SH: What’s the solution? Should we just continue to watch those who are supposed to be the cream of the crop, creative people, freeze in this technological black hole and wither away? What should be the wakeup call?

BG: Two good questions. The wakeup call has already come and some people slept through it. The wakeup call has come in that the absorption of technology into households is so mainstream that it is no longer the oddity of those kids in the corner. It’s logical, it’s here, and it has changed the world as profoundly as the telephone changed the world. We no longer share news with each other via writing letters and putting them on the back of old steam trains. We use the telephone and the Internet. The world is dramatically changed, that was the wakeup call, and it came in 1990, a long time ago.

The solution is startlingly simple, incredibly simple. It is to turn the telescope around. We are looking through the wrong end. We are seeing everything in miniature, rather than everything large, because we’re looking at it the wrong way. Instead of being intimidated by this great beast that is the new technological world, we must tame that beast. I look at the Internet, and I look at the ability of mobile phones to become media centers, as great opportunities and great tools for myself as a media entrepreneur to learn how to use, and then produce more product to extend, increase and expand my business.

To me, this is marvelous. I can’t wait for more of these technological breakthroughs. I don’t know what is left, but I couldn’t have foreseen what came already. It looks very exciting and very useful. I couldn’t have foreseen the VCR. I thought when the VCR came out that it was as good as the moon landing. I know that sounds silly today, but I thought it was just unbelievable. What an idea. I am easily startled. I’m easily impressed. But each time I say, “Wow, what can we do with that?” I think the problem is that too many people in traditional print media are not taking the time. They are probably not allowed to take time by their corporate bosses in many cases, or their experience has been so long ingrained in this one way of thinking that they’re not taking the time to look at this vast great wave that looks like it’s about to land on the shore and say how do we use that? How do we harness that? How do we tame this force so that it becomes useful to us? If this were to happen, they might say that there is plenty I can do with this. Certainly, it is not going to consume my world, it has it’s own problems, and it’s not actually going to change human nature. But it may change human behavior a little bit. So, the things repeated yesterday are going to be repeated tomorrow. They may have to change a little cosmetically. It has to be more modern and current. But if people still like science, they’re going to like science magazines. They’re not going to quit liking those things. So, if you took this time and said, “Oh, this doesn’t necessarily signal the end of my world of magazines. It may increase the breadth of my world as I know it if I handle this right.” I don’t think enough people are doing that. The result is that there is great fear, great panic in traditional media, which is paralyzing. If there wasn’t that great fear and that great panic and if there was more rational reasoning of the situation, I think more people would say that this helps.

An analogy is that it is similar to the time when color printing first came in and an awful lot of people thought, “Oh, we don’t need this.” Then people said, “It may be more expensive but, you know what, it actually produces a better product.” So, they accepted it. They accepted it in dimensions, going from one dimension to more dimensions. It is a weak analogy, but anyway, I think there’s a truth there!

It’s been said over and over. Every new media form that came along was supposed to crush the life out of existing media and nothing did. Radio didn’t, TV didn’t, DVD’s didn’t, VCR’s didn’t, and the internet hasn’t and inevitably won’t. All that is true. I’d also like to add that, with each iteration of new media, the totality of media has expanded. I believe that even in this recession that is true. Although ad spending and the economy are down – this is a dip we’re in – when we come up from the other side of that bowl I think you’ll find there is actually more media, more consumption of media by individuals, more advertising will be spent against it, and more revenue in general will be generated by it. Media is merely expanding.

When we’re in anything, we can only see our immediate environment in the immediate moment. I think we look at “Oh, circulation is down, Oh, revenues are down, advertising agency fees are down, and advertising pages are down. The world is over.” It’s not. It’s a moment. When a boat makes a sea crossing, it isn’t like rowing a boat across a placid smooth lake. It’s a big sea given to many iterations at any given time. When you make that sea crossing, you will in fact come across several of those violent changes, and, at times, your boat is going to get rocked like mad and some boats sink. It doesn’t mean you should not make sea crossings. The best captains make it through the rough weather and rough water. A good sailor knows what speed to go, what precautions to take, what is safe and what isn’t, and they get through it. It’s not pleasant. No one comes out of it saying that it was fun. But you have to in the course of your career. A sea crossing is the trajectory of ones career. You’re going to have some real bad weather, and it’s down to the skill of the captain to get through it. I’m a great believer that the solution is that you just have to first stop and say, “Wait a minute, this isn’t the enemy. Technology isn’t the enemy. This isn’t like an accidental nuclear explosion, and we’re all going to die from radiation.” This is merely a fantastic tool and energy source that you can use.

Another part of the solution is that people have to be realistic about their channel. I often refer to what I think is the DNA of a given magazine. Once you understand the DNA, the appeal to the magazine’s audience, then you understand how to market more products, whether books, special issues, new magazines, spin-offs or television shows that are from the same ideology. Obviously, the website is supposed to have the spirit of the publication. Once you understand the DNA of your product, your magazine, then I think you understand also how to create things of interest within the parameters of your audience. What happens is, in my experience, magazines do a website, and all of a sudden they want to be Perez Hilton-size. They don’t realize that they’re not those products. They don’t flow in those channels. No one seriously thinks that Perez Hilton creates a better product than Scientific American. Without knowing the exact numbers, I am pretty sure Perez Hilton has more unique viewers than Scientific American. Scientific American has to understand the channel in which it operates, the channel in which it flows, and it has to be realistic about who are its true followers and not try to blow it up to 10 million uniques. It’s not important. What is important is to find as many of the people who are attracted to your product as you can and serve them, contain them and inform them. That is how you build a healthy business. I think the part of the solution is to recognize what you’re not doing right, and what expectations you have maybe irrational. Expectations have to be rational and sober, and your focus has to be clear. You just keep doing what you do well. If you make a good magazine, you probably have lots and lots of ideas of how to entertain your audience. So, you stay on that path, and you use each media, whether it’s a website or television or a mobile telephone. Each medium should be used for what people use that medium for, so your media content is appropriate to that medium, rather than just being weak carbon copies of what you do in print.

SH: You’ll be coming to speak to my students in a two weeks. How can you translate this message and this solution to future journalism students? What should they be concentrating on, and what should they be learning? What type of curriculum prepares them for this new age?

BG: First of all, journalist students have two things to consider. One is the media that they will be conveyed on. Those media are now more varied and vastly different than when you and I were breaking into the business. Secondly, they have to understand the unchanged and unchanging obligations of journalism, which are to by whatever road possible and with all best efforts find the truth. This is the single most important thing of journalism. It’s not being faster than somebody else. It’s not, can you put emoticons on your blog post. It’s not do you blog more times a day than your competitor. Journalism is valuable and patronized, because people seek the truth. Journalists inform us and they bring us to discovery, whether it’s news, or it’s profiling. An obituary can be as informative as breaking news. Journalists must first and foremost understand their obligation and their vocation the same way a priest does. A priest can be confronted with all the different ways of delivering a sermon, but a priest must remember that his first obligation is to serve people and to try to help them wherever possible. You can get confused by the plethora of new media and the various upgrades and technology, but you must understand that the prime objective is to seek and tell the truth. Then your students have to concentrate on the hardest thing, the skills to be the best. That is not merely to get all the facts, but to develop a voice that is attractive enough to get attention and to convey something provocatively.

It is scientifically understood that the human brain responds best to visual imagery. That’s sort of one of the byproducts of technology, that we get so much more visual imagery. Whether it’s visual, oral or written, when we read it, we are discovering. We want discovery. Journalists write about the Haldron Collider in a science magazine, they write about the passing of Walter Cronkite, they write about the intricate politics of Libya and England, or what’s going on this week with Iran and the UN. They have to learn and find the truth and sort through the crap. Hopefully, they will develop the skills to be the most evocative and to create images we can best understand, allowing us to have the best and fullest understanding of the issues. I’m sorry for the long-winded answers.

SH: Sometimes we as educators, we get lost in this technological dilemma. When you and I went to journalism schools, nobody taught us how to type. Nobody taught us how to make paper. Nobody taught us how to make ink. Do we teach the technology? Do we teach how to develop a website? Is that journalism or is seeking truth and telling the story more important than the delivery or the channel, as you said?

BG: I would absolutely say the answer is no. They must be taught to tell true stories well.

SH: That’s the biggest thing going on in journalism schools now. What do we teach?

BG: It’s bullshit. I hate to say bullshit, but it is to say journalism departments are lost. Everybody is confused by this giant wave out at sea that looks like a tsunami that’s going to crush you. I say it’s not. I say it’s a fantastic energy that is going to nourish us, fuel us to do better jobs. It’s not going to hurt us. We should learn to harness the portion of energy we can use and need to use. In many ways it’s kind of like after the first atom bomb, when everybody was terrified by nuclear technology. Then people started to say this will power submarines, power boats, power electrical grids for entire cities and is actually a wonderful thing. We went from being completely paralyzed by fear of the genie out of the bottle to saying this is a very helpful genie to have around the house. I think media will do that too. We’ll say, “Oh my God, we’re all doomed” to “Wow, what a fantastic multi-dimensional advancement it has been for us.” We just happened to be trapped in the snapshot of the moment, where media is recognizing that we have to change. It’s like that snapshot, where your mouth is agape and eyes are wide open. That’s not the way you spend your entire life, the moment the snapshot is taken. We are in that moment of amazement and recognition that we have to change. That passes and then starts the process of understanding how to bridle that change.

We’re teaching journalism students. First of all, you’ve got to teach them what journalism is. I know you’re doing this Samir. I’ve been in classes and they’ve asked me questions about this [learning how to use video and computer programs], and I don’t know. I don’t care. I could care less. I look at my profession very philosophically, and, as much as possible, I look at it in context of what was here before, and what is coming as much as we can imagine it, and always in terms of human nature. We are a species that reacts three-dimensionally. We don’t react the same way two-dimensionally. We really react three-dimensionally. We go to the Grand Canyon to see it when in fact IMAX does a better job of showing it to us. We’ll see more detail, more breadth and more of it if we go to an IMAX theater. But we go to the Grand Canyon, and we peer over it with our limited eyesight. We look at it and go, “Wow!” We still go to Tuscany to look at it. We don’t look at the beautiful photographs and beautiful books. That’s not satisfying. We are three-dimensional. I believe we like to hold and read products. We like the tactile feeling of a product. It’s just the way we are. It’s human nature. It’s part of us. It’s not a judgment for or against traditional media and technology. It’s simply a comment that things are often overlooked. If technology really was such an apocalyptic event in traditional media, there wouldn’t be any traditional media left. How long does it take for the apocalypse? Slow apocalypse…

I think we’re in that period of transition, that moment of amazement and recognition. That’s part of the process, which we will come out with a certainly changed media landscape. In many ways a hybrid landscape and in many, many ways, one we can’t even imagine today, which I think is positive.

SH: What is Bob Guccione doing now? What is your next project? I know you can’t sit still.

BG: Except for this interview. I’m sitting very still. Happily so. No, I love our chats. I mean our dinner went on for four hours. We can talk you and I. I enjoy that very much. I enjoy this friendship. One thing I’m looking at, I can’t name the titles that I would like, but I’m looking at a couple of magazine companies. One is a single title with spinoff titles. I’m very interested in the regional magazine field. I’m interested in the shelter field. I’m looking at four different things in the publishing field any and all of which I’d be very delighted to be able to buy. I would happily buy more than one. The plan in any of those iterations would be to acquire them as soon as possible. I think this is a great time for an entrepreneur. I think it’s a great time for a creative person. I think we are entering into an age, when media will once again be dominated by creative people. It’s a pendulum, simple as that. Creative people started it. It drifted into being dominated by financial and corporate people. Now, the pendulum has swung to the outer edge, where private equity investors, who are actually uncomfortable with ownership, dominate it. You could say the process has devalued creative talent. It’s been replaced by very shrewd business managers, who, perhaps, have lost some of the innovation essential for the change of the environment. So, now the pendulum is on the down swing. When it hits that sweet spot in the middle as it comes back up, the other side is where we are now I think. That’s the time of creative people. They’ll be innovative, they’ll be imaginative, and they’ll welcome with wide stretched arms all forms of technology, because they will feel it’s all the more colors for their palette. That’s how I look at it personally and I’m not alone. I’m aware I’m not alone, and there’s a lot more creative people out there already doing what I’m saying. I can only speak for myself. I think we’re entering this era of the creative and innovative person being an essential lifeblood to the media. I’m very excited by this time that’s coming. On top of that, being an entrepreneur who’s ineffably optimistic and tirelessly self-believing, it’s a perfect time to be out prospecting. For me, print today is like the gold rush in the early days of northern California. These are all wonderful assets, well not all, the ones I’m looking at are wonderful assets that are prone to benefit tremendously from all the forms of new media available. If this isn’t a time that calls for passion in all walks of life, then what is?

SH: I love the way you phrase it, that the creative torrent will come back to the ownership, rather than the financial people. More than the Internet, more than technology, more than the economy, what hurt our business most is the financial folks running the business as something that has to answer to shareholders rather than to customers.

BG: Exactly. It’s like anything else. There’s a certain percentage of this that is wonderfully natural. It improves and expands the business and too much of it drowns it. What happens is, in too many instances, financial people back middle or higher-level management, corporate management. There was a swelling where administrators and business managers only ran ownership. They had disproportionately replaced creative people and what happened was the perceived value of creative people declined. So, it made things more generic and more repetitious. In the most extreme case, they became dull, empty and lifeless. We then began to think of magazines more as ink and paper than the words and pictures on that paper. We’ve obviously got a problem. So, I think that ‘s definitely happened. The private equity guys will say, “All we can do is back the right people.” And sometimes they back the wrong people. The proportions will change in that creative people have to come in. It requires that skill now. Believe me, as creative people take over, there’s going to be corporate management coming in to give it more structure. In the meantime, I think there’s going to be a golden age where creative people, very innovative people, will make very innovative media. And that will solve all the problems that you read about in Ad Age, which is “how are we going to do this, how are we going to modernize that, is advertizing dead, is advertising not dead, is it all two dollar CPM’s online now, and is everything fragmented to death?” The problem will really be solved by innovations we cannot imagine today that will be the products of great creative people, great collaborations and great aggregations of innovation. I have nothing but faith.

SH: Just two days ago, somebody was telling me how, in the “good old days”, folks like your dad and Hugh Hefner used to spend so much money without even thinking about the money on trying to defend the First Amendment and doing things that had no financial return, but just to pursue that creative aspect of what your are doing. He said now the corporate owners would not even spend a penny in that, because they don’t see an immediate return on investment. They don’t see the big picture anymore, they see the stock options.

BG: Right, it’s so sad. They really don’t care because they have no life-blood there. My father, it was his mission in life to create Penthouse Magazine and it was his mission to adhere to principles and freedom of speech, which he manifested far more in attacking the Nixon administration and going after Jimmy Carter, Reagan, the FBI, the CIA and the NSA, much more so than breaking any nudity barrier. That was a pretty simple barrier to break. It was broken, end of game, move on. For years he did fantastic investigative reporting, which is really why he had so many enemies. Those enemies chose to chase him and Hefner on the obscenity issue, but what they were really trying to do was silence the voice that was irritating to them. To take this a little further, how much money is spent on investigative journalism? People think, what the hell, why spend it? They think readers want sex, gossip, cooking, and tips to flatten their stomachs. That’s when publishing is sort of descended into this blandness of just being ink and paper. The thing that was never boring was that it told you stories you didn’t know. It surprised you. I’m sorry, I love food magazines, but I want to startle. A recipe for risotto isn’t going to surprise anybody, yet an article exposing what this or that administration is doing to deprive us of our rights and our lifestyles, that’s something that’s worth reading.

I think the perspective has to change so that what we do is worthwhile. That’s what I start with. If it wasn’t worthwhile, I’d open a restaurant and live in Italy. When I’m retired, that’s what I want to do, go live on a vineyard in Italy. In the meantime, I believe what’s worthwhile is words, the images and the balls to stand by them. I stood up for an awful lot of issues at SPIN and Gear and received some of the same harassment and some of the same enemies, powerful corporate enemies in the drug industry because of our AIDS coverage in SPIN. But I did that, because I thought that it was worthwhile. I didn’t back off. I think what’s missing today, in a lot of assessments of young people, is the sense that they’re aware enough, smart enough and sensitive enough to care about the world as a whole. The idea of, “Hey, you’re a kid, and you must love music. Hey, well here’s an article about your favorite long faced new musician.” It’s like patting them on the head and treating a 21 year old like they’re a Sesame Street kid. You have to have more faith. Your instincts say, “Hey, I know you’re 21, and that your hormones are raging. I know all you do is listen to music all day long and dream about having sex. But, I also know that inside of you is a curious, evolving human being. I think you might also find interest in this article on AIDS, this article on politics and this article on how this works. I think you might find an interview with this scientist as interesting as this interview with this musician, because we’ve discovered this scientist is very interesting.” You can be panoramic, but you have to have faith in the audience. A lot of that is missing. I think too much media is run by people who didn’t start the businesses and who didn’t start with that romance. The biggest thing missing today in media is romance. Who are the romantics? I’m clearly one of them, but there aren’t enough.

You have to have a romantic notion that what you do is worthwhile, and the people you’re doing it for are worthwhile. They’re not merely clicks of a turnstile. These are thoughtful individuals, who honored you by paying you a number of dollars for your product. I think you owe it to them to take them seriously too. I really passionately feel that, and I want to convey that to your students. I want them to change within themselves. I want them to realize they’re not merely video camera operators, so they can go online an hour later and post their video blog. That has about as much ambition as being a bus driver. You have the ambition to be a journalist, accept the glorious dimensional romance to what that means. I don’t think any journalist should leave your school without making a pledge that they individually are going to change the world. They should have to cite a pledge, put their hand on their heart and say, “I intend to change the world.” Then you say, “Fine, here’s your diploma.” That should be the last thing a student journalist does.

SH: That’s an excellent ending. Thank you.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,640 other followers

%d bloggers like this: